Take one listen to any of Welsh alternative group The Joy Formidable‘s biggest singles—try "Whirring," "The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade," or "Austere"—and you’ll fall in love with lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan’s soaring, howling voice. Shockingly, however, the Ritzy who greets me when I arrive for our scheduled interview isn’t the perfect picture of a tough-as-nails rock singer/guitarist, but rather a petite, soft-spoken blonde wearing a blue cap adorned with two large googly eyes. Yep, googly eyes.
"It’s a funny story," Ritzy explains when I ask about her peculiar hat. "I had this cap I’d been sent from this tequila brand, like with this big logo on it, that I used to wear. And the guys [in the band] used to give me such a hard time about it! So I decided to have some fun with them. When we went to Seattle for a show, I was wandering around and found this in a little shop—a Cookie Monster cap! And I got it, put it on and as soon as I set foot back in our bus the guys were all just like, ‘Nooooo!’"
Practical joking aside, Ritzy—along with The Joy Formidable’s bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas—have come a long way for a group of kids from rural North Wales. Their 2011 debut album The Big Roar earned the trio critical raves—and the group wasted no time in writing their sophomore follow-up, Wolf’s Law, while on tour. Bryan describes the album, which was released this past January, as "a call to arms for people to feel awakened, to shed some of their apathy and experience a true emotional connection to things." Read on for more tidbits from my chat with The Joy Formidable’s very formidable lead singer, from her all-time favorite vintage find to the reason she prefers performing in wedges.
Lucky: First off, congrats on Wolf’s Law! I’m intrigued by the album’s name—what does it mean, exactly?
RItzy Bryan: "Wolff’s law is a scientific term that describes how bone is able to adapt to different stresses—to heal after being broken. While we were writing the album, we were talking a lot about relationships that were healing, and about reconnecting with people we’d lost contact with. iI think there was just a really poignant connection with the term straight away—it captured a lot of what the album’s about on a personal level. We took a little bit of poetic license with the spelling, and that sort of opened it up to capture more of the themes of the album—like nature. We’ve always created music that’s quite primal—we grew up in a very rural part of North Wales, and I think that nature and all its metaphors are a big part of our imaginations, and that’s reflected lyrically."
Did you literally immerse yourself in nature while recording the album, too?
We decided to go to Sebago Lake, which is just outside of Portland in Maine. After touring, it was something we were hankering after—the seclusion, the peacefulness.
Clearly, you spend a lot of time on the road—either touring or recording—and yet you’re always dressed so cute onstage. Do you ever have time to shop?
It’s strange—being on the road, I haven’t been shopping, either by myself or with a girlfriend, in months! So I do all my shopping online. I love the experience of going out and rummaging, though. You guys have some really great thrift shops in the States. There were a couple in Kansas City, where we were the other day—one of them even specialized in vintage hats! Thing is, I think it’d be quite hard to find outfits to go with, like, bonnets and sideways skull caps. But they’re hats you’d just want to buy and keep because they tell a story.
In addition to shopping online, how do you typically pull together your outfits?
I piece together a lot of high street things with vintage. It’s all about having the confidence to put things together in your own individual style. I mean, Matt [The Joy Formidable's drummer] looks as comfortable in a suit as he does in a red Nike tracksuit with pimp trainers! That’s what being an individual means—not really giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.
I do notice that you wear a lot of dresses onstage—I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of you wearing pants, actually!
Well, it’s nice to have a uniform when you’re on the road, a go-to. Even if it’s just one great dress that fits perfectly. A dress simplifies things, unlike trousers and a jacket.
If you could only keep one single item from your entire closet, what would it be?
When we was recording in Sebago, I went to this little vintage shop in Portland. It was freezing, since it was January, and I picked up this really heavy Navajo-style poncho. It’s gorgeous—it’s got this big tie in the front that you can do in a bow, and lots of little details. And it was seven bucks! It’s something you can literally put on with anything, and it’s so bright and beautiful.
Changing gears, I notice that your hair’s a bit darker than usual—you ditched your signature platinum blonde color!
Yeah, it was just about the upkeep. I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the salon—and the blonde wears your hair out, it knackers it. It’s literally just grown out like this, which I’m quite pleased about. I don’t think I’d seen my natural color in about 10 years! I’ve been every color—red, pink, brunette—and so there was sort of an intriguing side to seeing what’s underneath.
Have you always worn your hair this short? It seems like everyone’s getting a bob nowadays, but you were way ahead of the curve.
I actually had really long hair when I was growing up in North Wales—I could almost sit on it! But this is just so easy to maintain. I just had a really great haircut by Rodney Cutler, who did Emma Watson‘s pixie cut. He was just superb. Honestly, I’d probably prefer to go to the dentist than the hairdresser. I sweat more in the hairdresser’s chair! My bass player actually used to cut my hair for me—he’s like Edward Scissorhands when he does it.
Photo: James Minchin
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