The Joy Formidable making some serious music
By THOMAS CONNER firstname.lastname@example.org March 28, 2013 6:00PM
♦ 8 p.m. April 2
♦ Vic Theater, 3145 N. Sheffield
♦ Tickets, $25
♦ (800) 514-ETIX;
Updated: May 1, 2013 1:35PM
The Joy Formidable doesn’t always sound punk — the bright vocals, the shoegazing guitars, the latest links in the Jesus & Mary Chain — except when they talk.
“We’re of a mindset of, you know, f--- you. We are what we are,” bassist Rhydian Dafydd said.
During our interview — earlier this month in a basement bar during the South by Southwest music conference and festival in Austin, Texas — Dafydd and singer Ritzy Bryan uttered some form of the phrase “We don’t give a s---” nine times. Drummer Matt Thomas was largely silent, sipping his wine but echoing the sentiment with his eyes.
A sample of things the Joy Formidable claims not to give a s--- about:
— whether they get “noticed”;
— whether they ever play stadiums;
— what terms critics use to categorize their music;
— what people think of the band’s latest album, “Wolf’s Law”;
“We’re not in this to play a game,” Bryan said. “We’re creating our art and expressing ourselves. We’re not in this to get noticed.”
Of course, if that were strictly true, the trio wouldn’t have been running through the paces of SXSW, where the band had nearly half a dozen separate gigs before media and music industry moguls. The showcase I saw them play was on a bill that featured its share of formidable talent, including Atlas Genius, Frightened Rabbit, Alt-J and — the Joy Formidable proved themselves a tough act to follow, even by these guys — the Flaming Lips.
Playing the small patio as if it were Wembley Stadium, the Joy Formidable blasted through a six-song set bristling with brain-frying riffage, heart-pounding rhythms and squalls of ear-splitting feedback. The diminutive Bryan — also something of a potty mouth at the microphone — is one of those players who rips face-melting peals of guitar and leans back with a wide-eyed look on her face, looking at the audience as if to say, “Yeah, you like that, huh?”
“My weapon of choice, though, would be a circular saw,” she said.
She’s not a barker at the mike, though. Her voice often is as sweet and natural as stevia, and the riffage is always tuneful. The closest comparison would be the Primitives: The music is formidable, but the joy is undeniable.
The songs on “Wolf’s Law” — the follow-up to the band’s acclaimed debut, aptly titled “The Big Roar” — vibrate with the band’s trademark fuzz, but they’ve added string arrangements, bigger balladry and grander (if you can imagine), swooping vocals. It sounds ready-made for stadiums.
“That depends,” Bryan cautions. “It’s not like that’s what we’re aiming for. We don’t give a s--- whether we play stadiums or clubs. We make music because it keeps us alive and on our toes. Some of our favorite artists don’t play stadiums but have had more exciting careers.”
“We’re dealing with big questions like life and love and loss,” Dafydd said. “We’re not afraid to talk about some of these big things, and maybe some of that lends a stadium scope to our sound. It’s stuff everyone can relate to, so there’s certainly room for everyone.”
The album’s title refers to an old medical theory that bones under stress will grow stronger. “Wolf’s Law” was written in such circumstances — the typical sophomore album composed while on the road touring the debut. The Joy Formidable toured for a year and a half on “The Big Roar” (including a jaw-dropping set at Lollapalooza 2011), then retreated to a cabin in the Maine woods to record what had emerged.
“This album is, really, a celebration of our friendship,” Bryan said. “We’re together” — she paused for a sideways glance at her two bandmates — “a lot.”
Bryan’s actual first name is Rhiannon. Her parents were not Fleetwood Mac fans.
“They tell me it was a happy accident, that name,” she said. “Rhiannon is a character in Welsh folklore. She was an elf princess, actually, so” — another glance at the gents — “show a bit of respect!”