Interview: I Wish The Cobwebs Would Cover Me, The Joy Formidable

Adrian Chiles is a fan. Their Balloon Called Moaning continues its ascent into the unknown. And tonight, The Joy Formidable drift whimsically over the drab, dank streets of a sodden, frayed Milan outskirt. As disgruntled, distorted bass thuds rattle the art-deco walls of La Casa 139, front woman Ritzy Bryan’s eyes glint with a restrained intensity, before they’re ignited, piercing the darkness and raptures their set duly receives minutes later. Speaking of the band’s status both as unsigned sweethearts and wandering vagabonds tracing lines on road maps from Tokyo to Turin, patrimonial abandonment and her official inauguration into the heady heights of the Fifty Sexiest Welsh Women, once these Greyhounds are in the Slips, better place those bets on the underdogs...

Musically, The Joy Formidable are bordering on unclassifiable genre-wise. Regarding bookings amongst other aspects, does not gelling with a scene or movement make things complicated?

Ritzy Bryan: Personally I really like it as I think we’re in a particularly unique position and I think it’s great that we can be put on with a band like Passion Pit and then go on to support Editors. And that’s just the support side of things, what with our own shows going on as well so I think to have that much breadth without particularly trying is amazing. It’s not a conscious thing and we just write in our own way. I would absolutely hate it to be somewhat deliberate in an attempt to extra communicate ourselves from whatever bands are in favour at a particular time but I love not being linked in any way to a scene; we’ve developed very much in our own little bubble and the beauty of that is that we don’t belong.

Dashes: Touring Europe with The Temper Trap, a band who openly admit to conscientiously simulating early U2, stylistically speaking there seems to be something of a gulf between their reverb-drenched Edgy guitars and the organic nature behind A Balloon Called Moaning, primarily born out of your relationship with Rhyddian...

Ritzy: Certainly everything we’ve written has come completely naturally in that we haven’t deliberately tried to manipulate anything and we didn’t go into it saying “we want to sound like this, or that” and I think a lot of the sounds on there came from brutal experimentation. When Rhyddian and I first started writing together, the early demos are a real mish-mash of styles, just in a vague attempt to try and find our identity so I’d find it quite strange if that weren’t the path of most bands. For me, the personal journey element’s vital, with the music becoming an extension of what surrounds you at the time.

Dots: To what extent does the relationship at the heart of The Joy Formidable, that almost motors the band, add pressures to the lives you lead currently, touring extensively?

Ritzy: Not at all; we adore being on the road, genuinely. We have done a load of touring but we’ve also holed ourselves up in the studio for fair stretches so I think the balance has been perfect. I actually feel happier on the road than anywhere else as I don’t actually feel settled anywhere; I don’t have a permanent home, my parents have recently split up and there has been that sense of feeling quite unsettled wherever I find myself and I think being on the road gives everything a bit of purpose and reason..!

Dashes: Having swapped the scenery of rural North Wales for the bustle of Brixton, effectively you do have a base as such...

Ritzy: Well, we moved to London for our old drummer Justin just to dispel the myth that we relocated to break East London, which couldn’t be further from the truth. We were looking for a drummer and the one we found was based in London so it then made no sense to be up in North Wales but we’re rarely there. We’ve got our own makeshift studio that’s there but we like writing back in Wales so there’s definitely no permanent base.

Dots: As an unsigned band, where do you stand with regard to the frenzied label rushes and flops of recent times?

Ritzy: I don’t think we dwell on it all that much, although we get questioned pretty frequently about our unsigned status as it were but we’re really happy with the position we’re in. We’ve got all the control that we’ve always wanted to maintain and have worked with everyone we’ve wanted to when it comes to releases, particularly with decent indie labels through which we get stuff out there and back it. We’re certainly not anti-deals and labels and all that but if we were offered something that felt right then perhaps things would be different. That said, we’ve got all the right people around us, and the same as we’d have were we with a label and it’s working.

Dashes: In the UK currently, there does seem to be something of a resurgence in the D.I.Y. ethic, with unsigned bands like The Chapman Family hitting all the right critical acclaim notes. Following the post-Libertines depression it seems to be a movement that could prove to be expansively beneficial for British music...

Ritzy: Unfortunately, I think most bands still see getting signed as the holy grail and the be-all and end-all of their careers and therefore react to accommodate for that. Things are gradually changing but the goal will always be to get signed, rather than just to make great music which, ultimately, should be the vital ingredient. If you find a home that’s right for you then that’s great but at the end of the day, it should all come down to your craft rather than getting too involved with any of the industry shit...

Dots: With the Welsh music scene in tatters, caught in a tangled shambles of American accents and individualism, is it disheartening to see the legacy of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey circling the drain?

Ritzy: Being in North Wales, it’d have been impossible to incorporate ourselves into any form of scene, what with there being only a handful of bands to come out of there but I actually think that where you come from is fairly irrelevant. Obviously it’s relevant when it comes to writing records, offering inspiration and resonating with the local voice that you’ve developed but ultimately these days, I don’t think you have to contrive all music into clusters, now that the internet’s become so powerful. Having said that, I do think it’s important that every area does have an identity musically and local venues etc and North Wales is trying harder now than ever, as is the rest of Wales what with Cardiff’s Swn Festival amongst other things and it’s going to take a while to rebuild a musical heritage as it’s basically starting from scratch again but things are moving in the right direction...

Dashes: Neighbouring North Wales just over the border is Chester, the birthplace of Mansun. How did you manage to drag Paul Draper out of the closet for Greyhounds in the Slips?

Ritzy: It’s a weird one, this. It had nothing to do with the proximity but we were sat in a pub with some friends, talking about vocalists when one of us piped up and said “I fucking love Paul Draper’s voice” and somebody had met him recently, and had his number. Something happened on Myspace, I think he added us so we thought “fuck it” and asked him if he wanted to sing on something. He did, and it turned out he’d been listening to us for quite some time so it was again quite a natural coming together, as I think all collaborations should be.

Dots: Down to the live show, it’s becoming increasingly more make-or-break, do-or-die as practically anyone can lay down tracks in a bedroom and unleash them on the internet, along the lines of Passion Pit. However, live they fall flat whereas the live experience of The Joy Formidable adds an entirely alien element to the EP. How much emphasis have you put on the show aspect of things?

Ritzy: For me the live set’s always been vital. I grew up going to a lot of shows with my parents, my first being Elvis Costello and the Attractions when I must have been about seven so I suppose live shows became an integral part of my childhood really. My parents were big bootleggers, always going to concerts and I think that’s presumably where my desire to be in a band developed from, rather than listening extensively to records and certainly the type of gigs I used to go to emphasised heavily on the spectacle side in the old-school way of long sets, primarily Springsteen and Elvis Costello so going into it, I knew exactly the type of live show I wanted to purvey. Fortunately, I think we all share the same mindset. It’s a really exciting medium and it’s the spontaneity of things going wrong that makes it.

Dashes: As far as current musical controversy goes, bootlegging and file sharing is a particularly sore topic, to which every band seems to react differently. What’s your stance?

Ritzy: I absolutely love it when people e-mail me, telling me they’ve just discovered a bootleg of ours but when albums leak prematurely, I’m not going to condone that because it must feel pretty degrading. The live side though I think is up for grabs and we’ve met I think all of our bootleggers..! But they’re completely different media and the live show is something that people feel they’re a part of, that can be shared around whilst still desperate to hear the full-on recorded take.

Dots: Finally, how did you react to being named alongside the likes of X-Factor reject Lucie Jones and Carol Vorderman amongst the top fifty sexiest women in Wales?

Ritzy: Fuck- our manager, Joel, texted me with “Hello thirty-fourth sexiest woman in Wales!” I suppose I should feel complimented but with these polls, they’re kind of cool, they’re fine. I find the “sexy” bit slightly trite if I’m honest. It’s fine if they’ve got a male equivalent and we can see where Rhyddian scores in that but it’s pretty shit really. I think I might start signing off my e-mails as “Ritzy. Thirty-fourth sexiest woman in Wales.” It’s better than being name the thirty-fourth stupidest woman in Wales, it’s not that big a deal.

Soon to be a big deal, The Joy Formidable...