Joy Formidable aims to make music meaningful

The Joy Formidable/Courtesy

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Loss is often used as a primary motivator for songwriting. Although it stems from terrible and saddening experiences, many artists use it to create something beautiful. One band that has done this is the Welsh rock band the Joy Formidable, which will be playing with Passion Pit next Monday at the Fox Theater.

The trio’s latest album, Wolf’s Law, was heavily inspired by the loss of close friends, family members and significant others. The band’s singer and guitarist, Ritzy Bryan, was affected by her parents’ divorce while she wrote the music for both Wolf’s Law and the band’s debut album, The Big Roar. Her emotions from the drawn-out separation, in addition to her recent reconnection with her father, influenced both albums.

“Ritzy was estranged from her dad for quite a long time, and now they’re actually talking again,” said bassist and co-songwriter Rhydian Dafydd. “I think that has played its part in the album as well.”

Like the band’s lyrics, the instrumental portion of each song started out in a raw, barren form before being molded into a grand, complex track. Each song was first written in a stripped-down, acoustic manner and was built into the electric, booming behemoth that is present on the album.

The band worked with an orchestra for a few songs. Dafydd described hearing the orchestra’s music layered over the band’s tracks as a feeling like that of a drug.

The intensity Dafydd felt while working with the orchestra emphasizes the band members’ feelings when they wrote about their experiences. Although many songs have a somber undertone, not every song has been influenced by tragedy. Songs such as “The Leopard and the Lung” were influenced by the good deeds of others.

“(‘Leopard and the Lung’) is about being inspired by Wangari Maathai, who was a Kenyan environmentalist,” Dafydd said. “She basically fought the government singlehandedly for the rights of women and the rights of nature. We were blown away by her story.”

While the band members don’t put themselves on the same level as Maathai in terms of fighting for women’s rights, Dafydd discussed how the music industry pigeonholes women into certain roles. You either get to be the wild, crazy femme fatale who kicks ass and doesn’t give a fuck — the “rock bitch,” as Dafydd calls it — or the glitzy, sexy little pop star. Although not all female artists feel they are either one or the other, Dafydd felt angered that the industry tries to make women feel they have to fit one of those descriptions.

This raises the question: What does it mean to have a woman-fronted band? “It shouldn’t matter whether or not it’s a female-fronted band — it should always be about whether someone is a great artist or not,” Dafydd said. “We certainly feel very uncomfortable about pushing anybody in terms of an artist just because they’re female.”

The band members never wanted to have Ritzy as a frontwoman just because she is a woman. For them, it was all about writing songs they could be proud of, making sure the merit always came from the music.

Dafydd also spoke about how overly sexual much of the music industry has become and about the problems with saying no to sex in music.

“I would never say there is no place for sex in music, but when that’s the only thing, or when you’re conforming to it constantly, is when it can get inappropriate,” he said. “You’re called a prude if you think it’s vulgar, and that’s bullshit. Sex is the one of the best things ever to do if you’re a human being, but I don’t want to see tits all the time. Give me someone that’s actually fuckin’ saying something.”

Although the barriers and predefined categories are slowly being broken down, Dafydd hopes to see the day when women in music is no longer an issue. “I think the key thing is that there should be acceptance in all manners, not just gender,” said Dafydd. “The day that’s actually true is when it’s no longer an issue or when it doesn’t even need to be talked about.”

Priorities have shifted from highlighting what is truly important about the artist. It’s unfortunate that today’s industry sometimes focuses on an artist’s libido rather than the content of his or her songs. This is what makes the Joy Formidable stand out as a band. The members don’t rely on innuendos to sell records — they write music that matters. 

Ian Birnam covers music. Contact him at [email protected].