There's something panoramic about The Joy Formidable's music - their mountainous, fuzzed out riffs and ferocious, earthy rhythms shrouded in ethereal haze. It sounds like where they're from: Childhood friends Ritzy Bryan (vocals, guitar) and Rhydian Dafydd (bass, vocals) grew up in rural North Wales, surrounded by rolling green hills and little else. "There's a beauty and a loneliness to the landscape there," says Dafydd. "We had no neighbors growing up," Bryan notes. "I think my parents looked for a house with no neighbors so they could play their music as loud as possible."
For her part, Bryan loved the isolation. Growing up as an only child, the singer immersed herself in her parents' enormous record collection and the classical guitar studies she took on at the age of seven. "I loved playing guitar by myself, back then I was quite introverted with my music," she says.
Bryan and Dafydd had been writing music separately from one another, and worked together in a couple of short-lived local bands after finishing school. They knew they wanted to collaborate, but didn't manage to make it work until a few years ago. "We kept missing each other," Ritzy says. Bryan went off to Washington, D.C "on a whim" and returned to Wales in 2008 with renewed focus. "My family situation wasn't easy to go back to" says Bryan. "I came back out of necessity and found a lot of sanctuary recording with Rhydian and having this new band to concentrate on."
For six months, the pair wrote together, experimenting with different sonic approaches. "We'd go for walks in the hills between recordings," Dafydd remembers. "We'd write for hours and hours," adds Bryan, "and if we got frustrated, we'd go stomp it out, up and down the mountains." But as the sessions began yielding signature tunes like "Austere" and "Cradle" - tracks that combined the duo's interest in thick, textured noises with clear, shimmering pop hooks - they knew they'd found their sound. "We'd always been into writing strong melodies," Bryan says. "The sparks really flew when we started messing with things that were choral and symphonic, mixed with what both of us had already enjoyed separately: dirty, loud, rhythmic guitars and thick bass-lines."
The Joy Formidable released "Austere" in July 2008, followed by "Cradle" on double 7" later that summer, and quickly produced an eight-track EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, which they released themselves in the U.K. in early 2009. Having relocated to London and recruited drummer Matthew Thomas, the trio quickly earned a reputation for blistering live performances. "We love and encourage the beautiful double-pedal," says Bryan, with a chuckle. "We do lean towards a slightly metal aesthetic when it comes to drums, which makes it very loud and heavy and all the things we want to be as a live entity. The new album definitely explores those elements, and that's because of Matt being in the band."
The trio spent 2009 touring the U.K., Europe and Australia with bands including Editors, Temper Trap and Passion Pit, mastering tiny clubs and festival stages alike. Their introduction to American audiences came early this year, when Passion Pit invited The Joy Formidable to open a pair of sold-out shows at New York's Terminal 5. In late April, they teamed with a new label started by Passion Pit's Ayad Al Adhamy, Black Bell Records, to release A Balloon Called Moaning in the U.S. The New York Times' Jon Pareles praised the EP's "cryptic lyrics that glint with urgency," and said that "the music regenerates the turbulent haze of 1990s rock, but it's less tormented and more anthemic, confident of the pop structures at its core." They've also earned critical raves from NME, The Guardian, the London Times, Spin and Pitchfork, heavy rotation on Sirius XM's indie rock channel, Sirius XMU, and praise from Garbage's Shirley Manson and Courtney Love, among others. This summer, The Joy Formidable signed with Canvasback/Atlantic Records, and will release their debut album for the label, The Big Roar, early next year.
When they weren't on the road, the band worked on writing and tracking the material for The Big Roar. "We recorded in a tiny corner of our London bedroom" Bryan says. "It was great, because you could capture that moment when you wake up in the middle of the night with a melody or an image or a lyric." Working on and off for a year, The Joy Formidable crafted a remarkable collection of modern rock songs that explore what Bryan describes as "the possibility of victory in a hopeless situation." Adds Dafydd: "The album covers a lot of emotional range. It's captured the battle between the eternal optimist and the manic depressive."
They produced The Big Roar themselves - with help from engineer Neak Menter - and traveled to Los Angeles this summer to mix it with producer Rich Costey (Muse, Foo Fighters, Glasvegas). A single from those sessions, "I Don't Want To See You Like This," is due out this autumn, with the full-length to follow in early 2011.
The Joy Formidable will headline the Emerge NME Radar tour in September and October, making stops at various venues throughout the UK, and return to the U.S. for a headlining run in November