By M.T. Richards
The Joy Formidable first achieved popularity in 2008, when their quixotic debut single "Austere" became a hit in the United Kingdom. The Welsh rockers have since signed to Atlantic Records, but the Joy Formidable vocalist Ritzy Bryan notes little difference between fans on her native soil and those across the pond.
"We've got a very loyal fanbase," Bryan says. "Both sets [of fans] share a passion for music and are quite exuberant."
The enthusiasm is understandable. With discordant riffs and mesmeric, thunderous vocals to spare, the Joy Formidable are a face-melting rock band in the vein of Sonic Youth. The band's songs have a woozy, punishing sense of grandeur that is equally suited for a live atmosphere or the studio.
Since the release of its first full-length, The Big Roar, in January, the band has played at SXSW in Austin ("It was quite chaotic, an intimate club situation," says Bryan) and booked upcoming gigs at the Coachella Festival in Indio, California, and the Dot to Dot Festival in England. Their recordings gain heft and explosiveness onstage, but the Joy Formidable's music is exhaustively intimate and best absorbed on headphones. Indeed, The Big Roar takes deep, repeated listens to fully digest. Notes Bryan, "We self-produced; in that sense, we get close to the recordings we make."
Musically, The Big Roar is stunning, but Bryan says it is the meticulously scribed lyrics that warrant closest attention. "It's not just a personal record," she insists. "It documents different things that are general and social as well."
"It's about conviction and having belief in your songs," Bryan continues. "It's about having a distinctive voice and something to say. Creatively, that's the only pressure."
Prior to The Big Roar, Bryan -- along with vocalist/bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas -- released an EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, in February 2009. Full of booming arrangements and skyscraping hooks, the EP was indicative of the Joy Formidable's future work. Reception was so positive, in fact, that many felt the group was the logical heir to established acts like Arcade Fire and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That's a welcome comparison with Bryan. "They've been so consistent," she says of Arcade Fire, pointing to that band's recent success at the Grammy Awards as testimony to independent rock's broadening appeal. "That is to be much celebrated for bands and music in general these days."
The Joy Formidable has spent much of the last month performing in Europe. Bryan sounds tired, her voice amiable but hushed, as if she is wearied by the demands inherent in fronting an up-and-coming indie-rock band. Given the rigor of their touring schedule and the periodic nature of the band's recorded output, it seems unlikely that the group is logging much studio time these days. Nevertheless, Bryan appears content with the path her career is taking.
"Maybe it's a bit jarring in that it doesn't follow any traditional structure," she says. "But I kind of revel in the way we've done things."
The Joy Formidable, with the Lonely Forest. Saturday, April 23, at the Riot Room.