Welsh shoegaze darlings The Joy Formidable have been touring almost nonstop for over a decade, most recently opening for the Foo Fighters after the release of their acclaimed 2018 album “AARTH.” During our 30-minute conversation by phone from Utah, where bassist/vocalist Rhydian Dafydd and lead vocalist/ guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan both reside, they discussed their forthcoming album “Into the Blue.”
When the pandemic hit, the band found themselves without the chaotic rhythms of a new city each night and moving onto the next show before dealing with yesterday’s problems. The last year has been a journey of healing, self-compassion and growth following the breakup of a romantic relationship, professional difficulties and dealing with personal demons.
“I feel like Ritzy and me have had our own personal experiences with manipulation, gaslighting and cognitive distortions, and it’s extremely damaging,” Dafydd shared, who immersed himself in reading about psychology while working through these traumas. “And from that, I think the album talks quite a bit about embracing uncertainty. We don’t get anywhere by actually denying and facing away from it — in fact, the way is through it.”
While their last few albums occasionally flirted with pop sensibilities, the title track of the new album is so effervescent, bubbly and bright that you may think the band is now married to a pop sound. Fans, rejoice. Fuzzy feedback, distorted guitars, breathy melodic vocals and melancholic, esoteric lyrics all remain. Just listen to “Bring It to the Front.” But the album also marks a transformation for the band after a year of self-reflection.
Scorching guitars open the second track “Chimes.” With poetic lyrics “A new sky full of little signs,” it’s the expansive beauty of Utah that informs this song about battling demons head on instead of running away over and again. “Only Once” is sweeping with layered vocals, staccato drumming and blaring guitars. “Farrago” is a swampy stomper, all muddy guitars and bluesy swagger — another murky ode to miscommunication.
Bryan explained that the album is about trying to speak openly and freely to understand ourselves and each other.
“It’s just peeling away the layers of yourself to really get to the heart of who you are, and just trying to get to the truth in your relationships with other people. That’s what I really value: being able to see people for who they really, really are.”
“There’s no meeting in the middle now // I won’t go back to nothing // How it was,” Bryan sings on another standout track, “Back to Nothing.” A song about refusing to compromise to keep a bad relationship chugging along, the song captures the overall sentiment of much of the album — climbing down into the crevice to emerge on the other side, scarred but stronger.
Several songs embrace a softness and subdued beauty. Dafydd sings the lovely verse “The only forever is now” over Spanish guitar in the lilting “Something New,” and the final song “Left Too Soon” begins as a melancholic lullaby before waking up to a brave, bold and soaring sound.
“I do feel the album feels quite free,” Dafydd stated. “It’s about celebrating lots of things, and having a sense of faith in yourself.”
Bryan added, “It’s the first record where we haven’t been juggling touring and making a record at the same time. I suppose with touring being taken away last year, we could throw ourselves into making the record without any of the disruptions.”
The songs were written in Wales, recorded in Utah at the studio of Bryan and Dafydd, and Thompson’s percussive tracks were recorded separately from the UK.
While recording the album, the band’s TJF Music Club has offered a series of online concerts for fans. Doing new arrangements — often acoustic of favorite tracks, deep cuts and covers including classics by the Buzzcocks, Dolly Parton, Ramones and more — and incredibly engaging encores organized by Thompson, The Joy Formidable has maintained an intimate connection with fans.
“It ended up being a really busy creative year in spite of a huge part of what created The Joy Formidable, which is obviously the live side, going away,” Bryan said. “There’s been a huge, thriving energy in spite of everything.”
The band will be touring in support of the new album, but after so many years on the road, they are taking their time before heading back out again.
Bryan, who lived briefly in D.C. during a short-lived stint as a nanny after graduating from university (which she says was probably one of the weirdest experiences of her life so far, even considering she’s been on the road for over a decade) states the District will likely be one of the stops.
“Hopefully, people will realize how much they’ve missed going out to shows, [and] feeling and valuing music,” Bryan said. “It’ll be very interesting to see how the lifecycle goes now when things start moving back to how they were.”
“Into the Blue” will be available digitally and on limited-edition colored vinyl via Enci Records in North America on August 20. Check out the video for “Into the Blue” here. Learn more about the band here and follow them on Instagram @joyformidable.
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