Who wants seconds? The Joy Formidable, for one | AspenTimes.com
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Who wants seconds? The Joy Formidable, for one

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

James Minchin

There are a lot of things said about a music act’s second album: You have an entire life to make your first album and then a year to make the second one. It’s the first chance to prove you’re not a one-hit wonder, that you have more than an album’s worth of things to say. It’s the album where you show if you can handle pressure, expectations, life on the road, past success.

Ritzy Bryan, singer and guitarist of the Welsh rock trio the Joy Formidable, has her own comment on the subject of second albums: Bring it on.

“I don’t feel daunted by anything creative. The only thing that would be daunting is if you didn’t feel inspired. And that hasn’t happened with this band,” she said from a tour stop in Louisville, Ky. “We had the feeling of anything being possible — no expectations, no restrictions, just excited to realize the ideas and be consumed by the album.”

The Joy Formidable — which features Bryan’s boyhood friend Rhydian Dafydd on bass and drummer Matt Thomas — seems to have plenty left in the tank after its debut album, 2011’s “The Big Roar,” announced a new presence in the realm of ambitious pop-rock. “The Big Roar” was big — dense, grand-scale sounds that seemed to demand a cranking up of the volume knob. But “Wolf’s Law,” the sophomore album released in January, arguably roars even more.

Start with the title: Wolff’s law refers to a theory in medicine that bones become stronger in response to stress — a metaphor, perhaps, for how the Joy Formidable was planning to handle its early success and the challenges that came with it. But “Wolf’s Law” is also wider-ranging than the earlier album, achieving more of a pop feel but without sacrificing aggressiveness, unpredictability or the edginess of Bryan’s guitar solos. It has the feel of a band eager to show how much creativity it has stored up.

“We felt no pressure. None at all. We were hungry to get in the studio, take that energy in with us,” said Bryan, who leads the band to its local debut tonight at the inaugural Snowmass Mammoth Festival at Snowmass Town Park. “We need to dispel that myth. In terms of the second album, we need to move away from that and think in terms of a series of albums, let artists have a whole career, a path in which you have a lot to say.”

Like many second albums, “Wolf’s Law” was conceived in a far different way than its predecessor. It was written while the Joy Formidable was on tour.

“So that lent itself to a different kind of creativity,” Bryan said. “It was a little more chaotic to juggle the two things. We amassed so many songs, bits of songs, ideas, and we were hungry to get into the studio.”

Given how scattered the ideas were, Bryan believes that the band made a focused creative statement. “The Big Roar,” she says, was “more a mesh of layers, and things might have got lost under those layers.” “Wolf’s Law” was less cluttered: “It’s very much just about the words and the vocals.” But Bryan added that all the music the Joy Formidable has made to date is intended to have meaning.

“Both albums are lyrically driven. There’s a wanting to say some things. There’s a lot of conviction to the songs we write.”

Reaching for such artistry can mean failing in a big way, and Bryan has had her flops. Several years ago, she put in half a year on a music project that went bad.

“It was not a good fit with the other musicians. It was a dark six months together with that band,” she said. Unexpectedly, Bryan got a call from Dafydd, who had grown up in the same area of North Wales as she had, and whom she had known since they were little kids. Davies wanted another guitarist for a new group he was forming. The two began writing songs together, an approach that Bryan had never tried before, and she liked the results.

“I was thinking, ‘I’m falling in love with music again,’” said Bryan, whose first musical “misadventures,” as she calls them, were on the flute. (“I fainted every time I tried it,” she said.)

Whether it’s the first album, the second album or the 15th, it doesn’t matter much to Bryan. She says she is not making music “to play the pop game or to satisfy anyone else.” She expects that any album she releases will have a similar sense of purpose.

“I’m always drawn to musicians and artists who have a strong sense of themselves, a strong sense of identity and the art they want to make,” she said. “It’s all about standing behind the art you’re making. And being brazen — that’s a part of everything we want to do.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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