Welsh alt rockers The Joy Formidable have been longtime friends of PHILTHY, from their days of super sweaty gigs at Johnny Brenda’s, to ginormous shows at Union Transfer, and their recent stops at Underground Arts, but this weekend the band will be playing likely their most intimate Philadelphia gigs yet, when they headline Boot & Saddle this Saturday and Sunday (11/30 and 12/1). On Black Friday The Joy Formidable will be kicking off a run of US dates (starting at the Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington DC) celebrating their debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, released in 2008. Last month the band released a special, double-album edition of the record, which includes Y Falŵn Drom, a Welsh-language version. A few months ago I got a chance to chat with The Joy Formidable’s vocalist/guitarist Ritzy Bryan about the band’s history and their current mindset.
Izzy Cihak: Until you announced this re-release and tour, I hadn’t realized that A Balloon Called Moaning had been out for more than a decade now. You’ve done such a ton since then. What do you feel like are the biggest differences in The Joy Formidable in 2008 and The Joy Formidable in 2019, other than the obvious additional success and exposure?
Ritzy Bryan: I know, it’s a tiny bit surreal for me, too! Feels like yesterday in so many ways, even though we’ve packed a lot in in 10 years. I don’t think the values or the roots of the band have changed very much at all. We still love creating, feel passionate about each other and the music we make. I would say the biggest difference would be our own individual journeys and I can obviously only speak for myself about this side of things, but I definitely feel stronger and more at peace with me than I did 10 years ago. I think angst unfortunately can be creatively inspiring, but it’s exciting that confidence and a sense of peace can make art, too. I enjoy touring a lot more now, the “game” feels more laughable than it did 10 years ago. Obviously, because a lot of this industry is ridiculous. Nice big strides through it.
Izzy: Are there any of the album’s tracks that you’re still especially proud of, fond of, or particularly enjoy playing live? I understand with the acoustic re-recording and tour, you’re kind of trying to return to your roots to a degree. Are there any songs that you feel like especially accomplish that? (I also realize this is numerous questions, haha.)
Ritzy: All good, ha. The Welsh translation was quite a challenge, but it really made me have to dig deep and really remember back to ABCM, where I was when we were writing it, what was I feeling. Because a literal translation didn’t always work, I had to think about feeling and find new ways of expressing what I felt back then. I think the song that fell into place the easiest with that in mind was “Ostrich/Estrys,” always loved that song, lyrically/musically and the way it first came around.
Izzy: And do you, personally, have any favorite re-release/anniversary double-albums throughout musical history? I wish I could think of more at the moment, but The Cure’s re-release of The Top and The Stooges’ 35th anniversary of Fun House definitely stick out for me.
Ritzy: The Born to Run boxset is pretty tasty, some nice live stuff on that from 1975.
Izzy: On a somewhat related note, you’ve always brought really great support acts on your tours. I’m a huge fan of Blood Red Shoes and Tancred, especially. So, I’m curious, what are some other contemporary artists that you find to be either especially inspiring, or just especially cool?
Ritzy: I love Boy Azooga, Bryde (who is joining us on our anniversary tour), Rosehip Teahouse. Some great Welsh music at the moment; Candelas, Chroma, and Islet who are all playing Formidable Fest with us. And check out Walt Disco and Ninth Wave, from Scotland.
Izzy: Since this is a Philadelphia publication, I have to ask about your particular favorite memories or thoughts on this city? You’ve played here a ton of times, from Kung Fu Necktie to Johnny Brenda’s and the North Star Bar to Union Transfer and Underground Arts (I’ve missed a few throughout the years, but every time I’ve seen you it’s been great.)
Ritzy: Thank you. We always enjoy playing Philly, the people are chatty and a little bit rowdy, if you don’t mind me saying, which I’m fine with, haha. Every time we play Philly, I grab a bite at Govinda’s; it’s a TJF tradition that I always look forward to. Bands and food, eh!
Izzy: Finally, I know these dates go through basically the end of the year. What are you planning for 2020? Anything you’re especially excited about?
Ritzy: We’re making a new album; I’m moving back to the UK for a bit to work on a book. Rhydian has a solo record in the pipeline; I do too, if I get a second to myself! Lots of creativity and some time with friends and loved ones in Wales.