Welsh rock trio Joy Formidable bringing 'Wolf's Law' to Stage AE
By Michael Machosky
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
It's usually a good sign when an artist (or rock band) comes from a real, identifiable place — instead of, say, an anonymous corporate record label's boardroom in L.A. Chances are better that way that the music is coming from a real place, too — not just something concocted in a lab to fit the whims of an ever-changing marketplace.
The Joy Formidable, who are in town for a show April 24 at Stage AE, comes from Mold.
Mold is a town in rugged, windswept North Wales — about as remote a place as you can get on the U.K. mainland. It's best known for a coal miners' riot in the late 1860s.
The stylish, photogenic power trio plays an instantly familiar style of modern rock — boiling down the last few decades' worth of noisy late-'80s shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine), post-grad indie rock (Rainer Maria) and post-grunge pop-rock (Foo Fighters). They also do it better than just about anyone else.
Singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan, in particular, seems to have become the unlikeliest of guitar heroes, cranking out innards-rattling riffs while looking like some kind of adorable Welsh forest sprite with a thing for vintage dresses, instead of the usual unkempt, hairy, likely foul-smelling rocker-dude.
But the nature of Mold, North Wales, is there in the background. Despite touring harder than just about anyone, the band has an affinity for isolated, windswept places. They holed up in the remote forests of Casco, Maine, to record their latest album, “Wolf's Law.” There was no wi-fi, no phone signal out there in “Stephen King country,” as Bryan described it. The result was an album full of wild mood swings and rugged beauty, held together by an overarching theme of resilience.
“ ‘Wolf's Law' is a medical term that talks about how bone can adapt to stress, and it became like a motif for, not all, but some of the things on the album,” says bassist Rhydian Dafydd. “Some of that probably comes from personal experience. Ritzy's parents had a long, drawn-out, messy divorce. That was a very big thing in her life. Finally, her parents are able to talk again. I think things like that can't help to seep into your views on the world. I think that, along with losing some friends and family during the making of this record, made us really question big questions, you know?”
The third member of the band is percussionist Matthew James Thomas.
Though Wales has long had a solid music scene, The Joy Formidable were isolated from it. Not a lot of bands came through town, but there were a lot of records.
“Especially Ritzy, her parents had a huge record collection,” Dafydd says. “Her parents educated her, I suppose, from a really early age with really heavy stuff, like Dylan, Van Morrison, Springsteen — unique voices who have something to say.
“I first got into Hendrix when I was about 12, and it changed my life. I had no idea how powerful music could be. It threw the gates wide open to me.”
Another unspoken subtext is the shifting relationship between Bryan and Dafydd. They've gone from high-school acquaintances to bandmates in Manchester, to platonic friends, to romantic couple-dom, to ... something else. Bryan and Dafydd aren't “together” anymore, but they remain committed to a musical relationship, above all else.
“Music makes for very bizarre relationships, in general,” Dafydd says. “It's a very tight friendship. It's about the music — which is a very strong thing.”
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.
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