- Thu, 2013-02-07 17:01
The Joy Formidable's second album Wolf's Law confimrs the trio from North Wales have their sights set firmly on bigger things. The album is clearer, more cohesive than debut The Big Roar. Rich orchestral instrumentation lifts riff heavy structures to grandiose, stadium-filling territory, an experience they've already tasted supporting Muse on tour. Dave Grohl is a fan too, widely proclaiming his love for the band and asking them to open a bunch of Foo Fighters shows....
Just after the release of Wolf's Law and a quick Rough Trade instore in London, we phoned up front woman Ritzy for a chat about the record, the way the trio work together and what inspires her the most about music.
ILM: Hello Ritzy. How are things? How did the Rough Trade instore go last night?
Ritzy: Hello! Things are exciting. Also full on. The record is out, the tour has started and yeah...it was good to be back in London for that show. We're from North Wales but we lived in London for quite a long time so, it feels like home. It definitely feels like the origins of the band are North Wales and London.
ILM: Congratulations on the release of your second album Wolf's Law. How does it feel to finally have it out there?
Ritzy: We've been excited about sharing it. We're very proud of it! We finished it in May last year but it hasn't felt like we've been hanging around, we were touring really heavily in the States, we went on tour with Muse, we've been previewing new songs in the set...
ILM: How's that been?
Ritzy: Yeah, it's really exciting to start playing the tracks live. You almost have a new connection with your record, you feel them in a different way. You sort of realise something new about them every time you play them.
ILM: What sort of things have you realised?
Ritzy: Um...well, we always try and find what the life of the song is live. It's an exciting challenge, finding the live side. I never believe the album and the album live have to be complete replicas of each other. In fact, I generally get very, very bored going to see a band live and they're literally churning out the record in its entirety. So...you see what connects, what the audience feeds off. That can be a tricky thing though.
ILM: In what way?
Ritzy: Because we always feel like we're at the healm of a set, we're controlling it. We're kind of in a bit of a bubble when we play live. It's not about cutting the audience out, we just feel like we have to drive it. It has to be us that's driving the songs we want to play and the set we want to do.
ILM: Do you have the live set in mind when you're recording?
Ritzy: To be honest, when we're recording we don't give ourselves any restrictions. It's an ongoing process of deconstructing and reconstructing. In terms of sonic palette too, you know, there's a real breadth of instrumentation on the new album. We like the songs to just lead the way.
ILM: Being so open to the songs, did you find yourself experiencing anything completely new when you were writing Wolf's Law? Working in a way you'd never worked before?
Ritzy: Definitely the biggest difference in songwriting was that we stripped everything back. At different points in the conception of each song we stripped it back to one instrument. Usually acoustic guitar or piano and just the voice. That was quite different from the first record.... Our songs always form in different ways - be that a lyric, a riff or even a drum beat but sometimes the production drives the song, there was more of that on the first record, the recording itself was almost a writing a tool with The Big Roar.
ILM: What effect did that have?
Ritzy: There's more of a sense of a mesh, more layers to the painting I suppose. Definitely the approach to this record was you know, we wanted to just really hear the voice, the lyrics, the main melodies, that was why we wanted to strip everything back.
ILM: How would you describe the writing process for Wolf's Law?
Ritzy: We're just always writing. We're always writing on the road, it's very much a part of the lifestyle of this band. Even though we were touring the first record very heavily, behind the scenes there was just a lot of demo-ing, a lot of experimenting going on in the bus, in hotel rooms, just grabbing the time. That's when some of the new instrumentation started to creep in. I started to mess about with scoring, the compositional element of this record and I was playing more piano on the road.
ILM: So in the same way that you let the songs lead the way, you also let inspiration take over. No restrictions.
Ritzy: No. It's very much the philosophy of doing! Of trying out things. It's just, whatever you feel excited or compelled to do in the time you have between shows. There was just a real sense of a lot of different creative avenues starting to open up behind the scenes. We just went with that. It was just natural that when we came to record the album, some of those things we'd been messing about with started to seep into that process.
ILM: It's amazing to find out that you work so consistently and in such an open way, it makes the fact that the record is so cohesive even more impressive. It must have been a mission to go through all those different ideas and bring the whole thing together....
Ritzy: Yes! Trying to self-filter and go through it all, this volume of tracks and ideas that had been accumulated over eighteen months.
ILM: Were there any tracks that went through a number of life cycles? That took a number of attempts to finalise?
Ritzy: Fortunately no. Those are usually the songs that we end up ditching! If you have to go back to something too many times then you might be better just to leave it for a considerable length of time. Rhydian and I are the main songwriters and we're very able to bring threads of different sections of songs together. You can almost cut up the songs into sections by each of us, literally that was Rhyd, that was Ritzy, Rhyd, Ritzy, Rhyd, Ritzy...which is quite interesting, managing to intertwine two different approaches of two different songwriters over the course of just one song.
ILM: You said you started to mess around more with the compositional element, how did that manifest itself in the recording process?
Ritzy: It was a challenge the compositional element....you're, you're kind of scoring by hand, a little bit on the computer as well and you don't actually know what it's going to sound like. A track like The Turnaround, which has so many layers of strings and choral elements and a lot of different instrumentation, with something like that we almost had to wait until we got into the studio and had it all played in to find out whether it actually made any sense. We had a few moments like that and it felt like it could go either way. Not that we don't trust our ability but there's a sense of uncertainty not being at the helm of your own instrument.
Ritzy: I just like good music. To me there is only good or bad music. Between all of us, we all have really eclectic taste. There hasn't been one sound or one artist that has inspired us to make the music we make. I think it's a bit of a surprise when I cite the artists that really got me into music and made me to pick up a guitar and write songs. It was people like Dylan and Springsteen and Elvis Costello and John Martyn. Those were the sort of things I was listening to over and over kind of obsessing about as a kid growing up. And yet, we sound different. But I can hear how the lyrical side is a big driving force for this band, the storytelling of those key songwriters, I can see moments.
ILM: What do you think it takes to become an artist at that level?
Ritzy: I think it's always about....about capturing something that's real. And being able to stand behind it. And having a voice that's unapologetic. I think that's what's always drawn me to certain characters in music. Um...having that real sense of identity and careers that are quite brave. I was always excited about someone like Costello who was never worried about what to try out next, one minute he's doing a jazz album, then a classical album and he started off doing some really kind of great, seering punk albums. That's what has always turned me on with music, knowing it doesn't necessarily fit into any kind of bracket.
By Kim Hillyard @kimhillyard