Interview: Roaring with Ritzy. The Joy Formidable, Dot to Dot.

In the back of a Transit van, in late May, captivating focal point of The Joy Formidable Ritzy Bryan swigs on warming Kronenbourg in a fetching, overtly festive jumper. However if her Beerdrunk Soul was once Sadder than a Hundred Dead Christmas Trees, she's typically chipper ahead of the Mold trio's Anson Rooms show. The band appear to thrive on the road, and the various motorways and highways of the world have become the place they call home over the past year or two. Talking relentless touring habits and ambitious stage props, let Ritzy usher you into the phantasmagorical as they continue to ascend...

Dots: Last time we spoke The Big Roar was rather more silent than its resonance has recently become, what with it residing in the mind instead of on disc. Has it fulfilled your wildest hopes, dreams and expectations?

Ritzy Bryan: It certainly has, and had done even before we put it out. There's no regrets whatsoever from where we're coming from. We knew as soon as we'd finished writing it, mixing it and packing it all up that it was the debut record we'd always wanted to release so anything else outside of that is quite secondary to us. Our greatest gratification is to be able to look back on it and think that we did exactly what we meant to achieve. It doesn't need any further analysing now: we're proud of it, and it's a brilliant album for us that chronicles twelve months of our lives and in many ways, it's just the first chapter. I think too many bands these days get far too hung up on the debut, predominantly because it's the only album they ever manage to get done, but we're moving on and we're enjoying currently writing the follow-up!

Dashes: For many the stand-out tracks from The Big Roar were originally contained within the preceding EP A Balloon Called Moaning. Was there ever a temptation to move away entirely from previous material, or was that a part of your identity that needed to be on the first LP proper?

Ritzy: If you're creative and you're always writing like we are, there's always a desire to progress onto the next song, or the next project or whatever but for us, those songs, in our minds, always had a place on our debut album. They were always meant to be there. So in some respects, if you'd followed us from the very beginning it probably feels as though it's taken us a while to get there but I think we've done things quite abnormally, and everything we've done has always been entirely on our own terms. We've had to shape our own future and releases.

Dots: Looking back to the early days, there was a blip or two, the odd line up alteration. With Matt having been with you for a considerable amount of time now, is he starting to alter the genetic make-up of the band?

Ritzy: Obviously the writing dynamic hasn't changed, and we won't go changing that for the foreseeable future but undoubtedly we don't feel as though we only became a proper "live" unit when Matt joined us. And I suppose because such a lot of The Joy Formidable phenomenon has been furthered by the live element, the underpin of it all as we've been touring relentlessly and almost endlessly over the past eighteen months, because of that the birth of the band feels as though it only dates back to when he joined us. It's vital to have a dynamic that seamlessly works and Justin, our original drummer, is still a really close friend and it's great that we still have a great relationship but it's impossible to explain how a few little bits and pieces out of place throw everything out of sync. You have to have the perfect chemistry to achieve your very best as a band. It's a hard dynamic to find, and few bands you encounter have it really, it's not necessarily the thing that makes or breaks you, or brings whatever you define as success. For us it meant a lot though.
Dashes: Have your relentless touring habits put a strain on the equilibrium of the band of late though?

Ritzy: I think that the joy of the dynamic is that it's a very low maintenance relationship so it doesn't matter how many hours we spend together, or how many hours we spend apart as we always come back to the same effortless relationship. Even though there's three big personalities in this band, they've all found a very happy fit together. It's still challenging, it's not too comfortable that nothing feels important anymore. But there's never any nagging feelings for the need to write new material. I couldn't think of anything worse than waking up and thinking: "Oh fuck! We need to write that second album!" Songwriting I think is just naturally in the fabric of who Rhydian and I are as people. I think it depends on what you're inspired by: we're inspired by the tiniest things and the biggest experiences, but also by everything in-between and when you're touring and travelling the world, it's a lifestyle that leads to a lot of variation, and time for contemplation. It depends on how you manage to observe your surroundings, and I suppose on what actually inspires you at the end of the day... We're constantly writing, humming, jotting things down, using dictaphones to remember melodies and lyrics etc. so it's not like we have to apply ourselves all of a sudden. When we take a brief break from touring we can immediately group together a wealth of new material, even if it's predominantly threads of songs, or half songs, or half bits of songs but when we get back to a bit of normality we can start weaving those threads together. I think touring for us has become a quite creative time, and one that's of course rather ongoing. 

Dots: When our paths last crossed all those moons ago in Milan, you were quite fond of the band's D.I.Y. aesthetic. Now that you're signed to Atlantic, do you feel as though your outlook has had to be updated in any way?

Ritzy: We absolutely feel as though our fate is entirely in our own hands, and I think that any band that doesn't feel that even slightly is gravely mistaken. I think if you want to remain truthful and honest to your voice, and the music that you're making, the creative push and drive ultimately has to come from the band itself. A label is nothing more than an extension of a team, and every band always has a team around them. There's just too much to do for three people so there's always people outside of, or at least on the periphery of the band and the label should be nothing more than an extension of that. We've always prided ourselves on working with passionate people, people in the business for all the right reasons who understand and embrace who and what we are. And none of that has changed a bit. We've got a great label! But it's impossible not to be fearful when you start any new relationship, with anybody. You want to feel solid and right, and we feel as though we've found a label that's small enough to look after us, and look after us properly. They've definitely brought some great ideas to the table, although we were never really looking for a label - we just wanted a way to put our music out there, and get some support in doing that. We were quite confident in looking after everything else.

Dashes: You've got another festival-filled summer ahead of you. I suppose Dot to Dot is a slightly different ballgame, away from the generic muck and filth, but has the novelty of the festival worn off at all?

Ritzy: It never does! But it depends on how you approach it: the songs for us haven't lost any meaning or importance since the day they were written, and they still feel very relevant to us as a band and as people. With the album only having come out this year there's a fair bit of material that we're just gigging for the first time so there's always something you can do to make things feel fresh and different. We're always evolving musically, and I think that fact worms its way into our set quite happily. But quite genuinely, the moment this starts to feel like a job, the moment we feel as though we're purely going through the motions and repeating the night before that's when it's no longer worthwhile. Just because you're playing the same show consistently doesn't mean it has to stagnate... We're still well and truly infected by the touring bug. There must be some magic at work...

Dots: In terms of the production for the live show, are you deed set on a setup these days, or is the general imagery still in transition, despite the innumerable gigs?

Ritzy: We've got a storage room so full of (without wanting to be too negative about it...) shit... No, it's great stuff, and we love being ambitious with the stage setup, the visual aspect. It's not about having the biggest lights or anything, but symbolism and imagery that links in with the band adds another facet to the experience. We were actually trying to think of a way to shift some of it, maybe give some of it away! A TJF charity auction: trees covered in fairy lights, two eight-foot cats, beetles, gramophones, birdcages...

Dashes: You'll have some takers on those fairy lights...

Ritzy: Yeah, just the fairy lights! Posting a few six-foot trees would probably be pretty problematic... You always have to be a little bit cynical with bands that put a little bit too much emphasis on the production side of things, as the music has to remain at the heart of it all. We don't want to be distracted from that, and end up with the sound being shit. We get eyeballs rolling quite a lot though, and I think our manager gets a bit of a sweat on when we start shooting off ideas for props and stuff, but it's all part of the fun! We'll be back out in the Autumn for a short UK headline stint, but that'll be pretty special for us, the bootleggers, and everyone in attendance!

Details of the tour are yet to be announced, although on the evidence of this weekend it'd be advisable to be there, front-centre.