The Joy Formidable on Breakups, Bones, and Moving Fans' Bowels

Backstage at 'Late Night,' the band discuss their sophomore effort, 'Wolf's Law'

The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd, Matt Thomas / Photo by James Minchin
The Joy Formidable's Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd, Matt Thomas / Photo by James Minchin
WRITTEN BY
Taylor Berman

On an unseasonably warm Manhattan afternoon in late January, as the Joy Formidable prepped backstage for their first performance on Late Night on NBC, they had at least one goal in mind. "We're going to make Jimmy Fallon shit himself," said frontwoman Ritzy Bryan. The band cackled, but this wouldn't be the first time their loud and energetic live show rendered a large part of the audience incontinent. It happened once before, when the trio played an intimate concert for 200 people and a group of ducks in a barn in their home country of Wales.

"The ducks all shat on the floor the minute we started playing," singer-guitarist Bryan said, her bandmates laughing. "I thought it was a good sign. I wish our fans would do that more. We were a bit worried, though, because we didn't know if you could deafen a duck. Is it possible to actually fuck up a duck's hearing?"

The group, which also includes bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas, is playing Fallon's show as part of a frantic press tour to promote their new album, Wolf's Law, out January 22 on Atlantic. Twelve hours after leaving the talk show set, the band will fly back to the U.K., where they have another round of publicity immediately followed by rehearsals for a European tour. Once that wraps up, they're back to the States for another string of live dates. All this after a year in which, by Dafydd's estimate, the band played 250 shows. "I think we have a week off in six months," Dafydd said. "I might go skiing."

Not that the band is complaining about the workload. "There's that whole thing of not treating it like a job," Dafydd said. "It's a creative art that you shouldn't take for granted, and if it starts feeling like a job you shouldn't do it."

"From set to set, from tour to tour, we've always felt there's a reinvigoration to playing live, and it keeps us on our toes," said Bryan. "There are hard jobs to get up and do every day. Try going down the fucking mines. We won't name them but there's been a lot of interviews I've read recently where [musicians] have been fucking moaning about being on tour."

"Of course, like anything else, you have your moments," Dafydd added. "There are always difficulties."

Those difficulties, both personal and professional, helped shape Wolf's Law. In fact, the album's title is a reflection of how the group grew stronger because of their hardships, not in spite of them. Wolff's law is a theory developed in the 19th century that states that in order to stay healthy, bones will adapt to the pressure under which they're placed. A phenomenon often seen in athletes — tennis players will develop stronger bones in their racquet-holding hand, for instance — the trio saw a symbolic significance in the term. Indeed, beneath the album's often epic, guitar-heavy sound (fans of the band's aptly-named 2011 debut, The Big Roar, shouldn't be disappointed), there are somber, reflective lyrics that reflect Bryan and Co.'s perseverance. Nowhere is this more evident than on the single "This Ladder Is Ours," an energetic burst softened with strings as well as introspective musings like "Let's sit and talk and slow things down/ Just be our old selves again," words that would gain a larger significance on the eve of Wolf's Law's release.

"We borrowed [the album title] as a metaphor for the emotional roller coaster we were going through," said Dafydd. "Especially Ritzy. She'd been estranged from her father for a few years and her parents were going through a really messy divorce."

"There's a real sense of this album exploring healing and trying to reconnect with people who maybe you've estranged from for a long period of time," said Bryan. "There are lots of personal moments about relationships that have broken down."

Those relationships include the romantic one between Bryan and Dafydd, which just recently came to an end. "The album talks a lot about our relationship and its unraveling," Bryan said. "It's been incredibly hard. So I think it's going to be quite weird going out and playing this album. It's brought a different wave of nostalgia and memory to the whole thing. It'll be interesting to put it in our own words that everything's fine, that everything's solid."

"Absolutely," Dafydd said. "It'd been a drawn-out thing. It's hard to sustain a relationship like that, when you live and breathe music — to actually have the space to make a relationship work is a very, very difficult thing. But the core of it all is what got this band started in the first place — a super tight friendship."  And that bond is why, Dafydd says firmly, "we'll be absolutely fine." 

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