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Taken from 19th century German surgeon and anatomist Julius Wolff’s theory that bones can adapt to cope with the burdens under which they’re placed, The Joy Formidable have just released their second album Wolf’s Law.
From the outside it’s an apt title for the Welsh alternative rock band’s follow-up to their successful 2011 debut The Big Roar. The Joy Formidable certainly needed to adapt to carry the increased pressure of a successful sophomore album.
However, for lead singer Ritzy Bryan, the burden that required her bones to metaphorically reinforce themselves did not come from dealing with outsider’s expectations or meeting her own. Rather Wolf’s Law is, at least in part, for Bryan a representation of her healing from more personal matters.
As Byram explained from Boston, Massachusetts before the album came out, Wolf’s Law gave The Joy Formidable a new opportunity to explore the possibilities of their sound and make amends with the troubles that lyrically punctuated The Big Roar.
NME described your first album The Big Roar as “epic-yet-intimate”. Should fans expect the same from Wolf’s Law?
Ritzy Bryan: (Chuckles) It’ll be fascinating to see how people connect with the music that you make. But I think absolutely with this record, actually, because there’s a lot of breadth on it and certainly in terms of … dynamic breadth as well. It definitely ranges from being intimate, but at the same time there’s some really fucking bombastic (chuckles) fully orchestrated powerful tracks in there as well.
So it’s an intricate album and there’s a lot of range on it. I think when we’re writing we don’t like over-thinking it. We like every song to have the space to grow or twist and turn to whatever it wants to be.
We enjoy being brave with the songwriting and with the instrumentation, so I think it’s definitely an intricate record and we were excited about that. All my favourite records are intricate records that you come back to, and on the second listen you find and hear something different and discover something different about the songs…
As you mentioned, Wolf’s Law has a lot of range. Does that mean the album is fairly erratic?
RB: No, it completely makes sense as a whole. It’s always an interesting one when you’re writing an album, because we like to very much just please ourselves in the writing process. We don’t like to go in there with too many preconceived [ideas]; no limitations, no restrictions, we like to be free, like to be able to experiment.
We don’t like to over-think or over-talk the process. It’s very much about capturing the heart of a song and allowing it to be in whichever way it wants to be.
I think what’s exciting and what definitely happened with this record is in spite of letting it have that freedom, you know, as the songs grow and there’s more and more tracks starting to take shape, you absolutely feel the connection within them all. You start to feel there’s like a running order; you start to feel like the twists and turns of your record are starting to appear.
So in that sense definitely, there’s range on it, but it absolutely makes sense as a larger whole. It’s not scatty, and I think the reason behind that is because all of the songs ultimately were conceived … stripped back. That’s the way we wrote every song, with a guitar, a piano and one bass. So I think because of that the lyrics and melody and the voice ultimately become a driving force with everything …
Does the cohesion on Wolf’s Law comes more from your vocals rather than the music?
RB: … A lot of our signatures are things that have always excited us about this band – the different elements that all three of us bring musically to this band. It’s still very, very much a Joy Formidable record, it’s just a Joy Formidable record 12 months later. And all of it has been a natural evolution…
I mean there was piano on The Big Roar, but I doubt very many people even noticed it. Matt’s [Thomas] been experimenting with the percussive element. I’ve been scoring more stuff over the course of 12 months. Like I said, I think that’s been the beauty and exciting thing about it. It’s more like suddenly finding the thing that you’ve been dabbling with and enjoying on the bus and hotel and over a 12-month period … [and] to finally turning to it and growing it into something new.
And that’s why a lot of people have been asking, ‘Is it a different second album?’ And I think it only becomes a different second album if you start second guessing what you should write as a second album (chuckles). And that’s not been the approach at all, it’s very much a part of our lifestyle, always kind of messing with the next project, the next body of work, the next song.
I think that’s how you confidently swap things up and move forward, whatever that means to you as a band.
Did the success of The Big Roar allow The Joy Formidable to stretch the boundaries further on Wolf’s Law?
RB: I think we’ve always felt kind of brave as a band. On The Big Roar there were a lot of different things going on. I think sometimes it’s a little bit tricky to dissect elements of The Big Roar because we had a different approach in terms of the writing of that album. There were a lot of layers and [a] different sounding record. But the approach between the records, in the sense of the intent and the emotional connection to the songs, that hasn’t changed.
And I guess that’s what I mean by it very much still being a Joy Formidable record … I mean that’s the beauty … there’s no formula, and I definitely don’t want to keep on churning out the same sounding records or the same changes.
I think that would probably reflect on the year that you’ve had, that something had somehow stagnated or, you know, you hadn’t had a very interesting year (chuckles). If what you’re talking about or what you’re singing about, what you’re writing about and maybe the way that you’re doing it, if that hasn’t changed at all over the course of 18 months, then it would definitely feel like time had stopped still in some way (chuckles).
Often a band’s second album is influenced, lyrically at least, by life on the road. Is it a struggle to write about matters of normalcy when your life is uprooted and packed into a suitcase?
RB: The one thing with touring is that it obviously brings this huge amount of variety. You’re waking up somewhere different everyday, you’re constantly stimulated by different people; just like I said, a variety of different experiences; it’s exciting.
You’re spending all your time together, so it makes sense that you bond. I mean you bond in terms of friends, but also you bond in terms of creative chemistry. And that’s definitely quantified on the road because you’re spending a lot of time together to bounce stuff off each other as well as probably talking a lot of shit (laughs).
I think it’s a great time; the one thing is that it’s quite a chaotic lifestyle being on the road … [However] the writing and finding inspiration … didn’t have to be directly stuff that you’re experiencing on the road. It can be, for me, all types of things. If you’ve got your eyes open, then you can be inspired by the simplest and smallest [things], what would seem inconsequential…
Wolf’s Law “chronicles a period of healing and self-discovery”. What was it that the band recovered and learnt from?
RB: One of the biggest grievances I had when we were making The Big Roar was being estranged from my parents, and my brother in particular. [We] had a really, really rough time as a family. And over a very long drawn-out 10-year period as well, whilst my parents were getting divorced.
I think anybody whose parents have got divorced, it’s a sad time feeling the breakdown of your parent’s relationship. But it was a really unique situation as well. It literally took them 10 years to get divorced and it ruined so many relationships outside of just the two of them: a lot of people going off the rails, a lot of financial problems and mental illness. So when we were writing The Big Roar things were [at] an absolutely, really sad breaking point with all of that. And I can hear that on the record [The Big Roar] …
I definitely think around about the time I came across the term Wolf’s Law and started writing for the new album, it definitely felt like there was kind of a glimmer of reconciliation … in all the turbulence that had been ongoing for such an extended period of time. So I think that would be really the main kind of relationships when we’re talking about mending broken relationships or trying to heal a [certain] situation…
Wolf’s Law by The Joy Formidable available now.