Long before she formed her Welsh power trio the Joy Formidable, feral frontwoman Ritzy Bryan was studying her parents' record collection and learning every compositional trick she could.
"I grew up in North Wales with a family that was really passionate about music," she says. "So I was writing songs from a very young age, and picking up various instruments. That's always been a part of me."
It all paid off after she hooked up with bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas, releasing the Joy Formidable's walloping The Big Roar last March. But before that could happen, the future frontwoman — fresh out of college at age 23 — had to go through a period where she left everything she knew behind and moved to America.
"It was a very strange year and a half," sighs Bryan over her time in Washington, D.C. "And it was under very strange circumstances. Just to cut a long story short, I needed to get out of the U.K. quite quickly for various reasons. I found a family online, and I went over with my guitar and started au pairing for them. Which is quite laughable, because I think most people would label me the least maternal person. So it's fucking ridiculous to look back and think that I was in charge of looking after anything other than myself."
But it turned into an eye-opening, career-defining experience. Sans transportation, Bryan oversaw a posh couple's two young children, and resided in the family basement. There was a tiny window she could just squeeze through late at night — "like a cat door," she chortles — so she could go out on the town. By bus.
Basically, she says, "I had no real company but myself. But I found out a lot of stuff about myself, because my escape was very much in writing."
Meanwhile, her old chum Dafydd had formed a new combo over in Manchester, and he phoned Bryan up in the States, inviting her to fly back and join him on guitar. She agreed. And immediately regretted it.
"I don't mean to make it sound like I went from one miserable situation to another," she says. "But I kinda did. There wasn't a great chemistry to this band he had, there were a lot of internal problems, and it very quickly became clear that this wasn't why we got into music. It was too fucking messy, too much bullshit, too many egos, and just too much drama. So we fled and went back to Northern Wales."
Once whelped, the Joy Formidable relocated to more rock-centric London, rented an attic room, and set up a home studio, where they soon tracked an EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, then The Big Roar. And if you don't pick up on the common thread running through anthems like "Whirring," "A Heavy Abacus," and "The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie," allow Bryan to draw you a schematic.
In Wales, she explains, "there's a Northern sensibility of always trying to be the eternal optimist — you keep your head down and you try to get through situations and be hopeful.
"We've had quite a turbulent year, but we've tried to overcome things and find a happier alternative. So it all kind of ties together in our music, with that theme of trying to strive for something better."
I miss you, Lenny! My family and I thank you for all the special times…
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