By Gareth Moore
On Friday, March 25, the Joy Formidable will storm the Black Cat. The last time they played here they left dozens of bruised and weary bodies in their wake. Long after the band left the stage the crowd remained in a state of unbearable glee, still screaming for more. The fact that I am still high off the show means I am not ready to take this drug again, but that’s not going to stop me. When this band comes to your town it is imperative that you check them out; this is some of the finest rock & roll around. Now that they have released their second album (or first for those who consider A Balloon Called Moaning an e.p.) the band is attacking the states. I was lucky enough to chat with their bassist Rhydian about his homeland Wales, musicians with bite, strange remixes, and the joys of their craft.
BYT: Listening to your music has reminded me that a few of my most cherished bands have come from Wales: Young Marble Giants, Melys, and Super Furry Animals. Melys and SFA have put their Welsh identity into the music. Is it important to you that your band does the same or is it unimportant?
Rhydian: Well, it’s absolutely something we treasure, but I wouldn’t say…well, maybe there is an element of the Welsh identity to it, but it’s quite weird because we’re right at the top of North Wales and there really hasn’t been a hell of a lot coming through. It’s really a strange place to grow up since we’re right at the border and it seems to add a schizophrenic identity. I’m a Welsh speaker, it’s my first language, and I had just as much trouble growing up speaking Welsh as I did speaking English. It’s an area where, in a way, it’s not very clear what your identity is.
But we’ve just concentrated on what we’re doing. We’ve always felt like we’re in a bubble. We’ve lived in Manchester, we’re living in London now, and we lived in North Wales for a time, so we’ve always felt like we’re in a bubble. We’ve never felt like we were part of a scene, but we’re happy with that. We just keep out head down and get on with what we’re doing.
BYT: Speaking of Wales, I found in a previous interview Ritzy (JF’s singer/guitarist) said the motto for your band is “Dyfal donc ar dur y garreg.” I’ve read different translations of the term: “Persistence breaks the stone,” “catch up and try again,” and others. What is the correct translation? Do you have a personal motto for the band?
I don’t have a personal motto for the band. I think “Persistence breaks the stone” is what she meant. I don’t think there is anything particularly that we are trying to break, but it’s all about consistency for us; the constant pressure you put on yourself, to be utterly committed to the art you’re making. We do put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but we enjoy ourselves while we do it. That’s why when we get asked “What kind of stages do you like to play? Do you ever get scared playing big stages?” the answer is no; we treat every gig the same because of that pressure. We want to keep ourselves happy.
BYT: What was it like working with Paul Draper from Mansun on Greyhound In The Slips? I love that song.
It happened oddly. He’s a voice that we admired and he’s from the same neck of the woods as well. We always thought his voice with Ritzy would work well together. I think our manager knew one of his friends, so we just had a meet-up. He’s a very nice guy, very down to Earth. It was such an easy process really; we already had the song written and it had a double-vocal feel. It happened very quickly and it seemed to make sense. He did a song with us during our last gig at the Koko and it was a really proud moment. I always liked Mansun; I felt they never got all that they deserved. They were such an inventive band. I miss them.
BYT: Since that duet worked out so well are there any other singers you hope to work with, or special producers you wish to work with?
Oooooh. There certainly a lot of people we admire. First and foremost you need to understand the song, what you’re trying to achieve with it, what’s the story, the delivery, all of that comes before the decision of “what’s cool?” We’re big fans of classic songwriters like Springsteen and Costello, ones with real snarl. PJ Harvey, for me, is a favourite as well. Aphex Twin, Flaming Lips, there are so many. But, as I said, we treat it as a song-by-song basis. It’s got to feel naturally for me, the duets, the collaborations, because if it’s contrived then it will just fall flat.
BYT: There have been some wild remixes of your songs. Is there favourite of yours? Is your band going to be remixing any more groups?
It’s strange you asked that. We’re currently working on a few. We’re doing one for Edwyn Collins…
BYT: REALLY?! AWESOME!!!
…Yeah, we’re working on that as we speak. We’re also doing the Boxer Rebellion. I was listening to one last night by a friend of ours from a band in London called Creatures of Love. There are some really interesting and inventive remixes have come through recently. There’s one from Innerpartysystem; it’s a great, big, thumping remix.
BYT: A friend of mine introduced me to the Bill Oddie remix of Popinjay and we are amusingly baffled by it. Have you heard it?
BYT: Then you know it’s just bird calls replacing Ritzy’s vocals. I give them points for imagination, but do you have any idea as to why the remix is the way it is?
It’s actually our drummer Marty who gave it a go. It was just a playful thing. We like to have fun with things. We like to confuse people now and again.
BYT: Do you like the process of recording in a studio and experimenting or do you prefer to be on the road slaying crowds?
We love both. Playing the songs live is not about replicating the album. We like to keep things interesting, swap things up, and change how we do it. We’ve always recorded in our bedroom; it’s just a modest set-up in London. It’s great because it allows us to experiment any time of day. It’s important that we could get ideas down then and there. We don’t want to change that. I think with recording sometimes it can be a bit frustrating, it becomes a real obsession. I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest process, but there is a joy in the process; we learn to understand and work through things. Sometimes joy and catharsis comes after you’ve finished it, and looking back on it. But you do have to struggle with it, occasionally.
BYT: I’m glad to hear you dislike replicating the albums on stage because I loathe seeing bands do that.
I agree. We like to improvise, change it up, sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. Those are the kind of artists I enjoy going to see.
BYT: The night I befriended Jack Rabid, of music magazine The Big Takeover, we bonded over many bands including yours. How does it feel to have the wise Mr. Rabid be one of your most devoted admirers? (Also, he says hello).
He is a lovely chap. We did a session for him the last time we were in the states. He’s been very good to us; such a great writer as well. It’s refreshing, as a musician, to come across writers and journalists who are so committed to what they do as well, because there is a lot of laziness out there. To have someone like him champion us means a lot. He’s been great. His magazine is so well written.
BYT: Rather than knowing which artists influenced the band, would you mind sharing a few albums you hold close to your heart?
Ooooh, again, so many. For me, just growing up and seeing how powerful music can be, the first one was Hendrix, Are You Experienced? I know for Ritzy you’ve got the Smiths, The Queen Is Dead. You’ve got (Van Morrisson’s ) Astral Weeks, Springsteen, Chris Bellow. For Matt you’ve got Zappa…oh, so many, is that enough?
BYT: Are there any new bands you think we should be focusing on?
We make a big effort to choose the bands that support us. We really like Airship, who supported us on our last tour. We like Creatures of Love; they’re good, man.
BYT: Thank you very much for your time. We look forward to the band giving us a sonic thrashing this Friday.
Special thanks to William Alberque for assistance with questions.