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If there were ever a time for a skyrocketing band that's recently tasted the fruits of newfound stardom to take a breather and not provide a full-force performance, it might have been during a short, windswept midday festival set. After The Joy Formidable proffered an empowered, aggressive show at early November's Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, however, it was clear that such a thought never entered lead singer Ritzy Bryan's mind.
Heat and swelling dust weren't enough to keep the London-based shoegazing trio from literally pulverizing the stage. Concluding the set with a violent, noisy and exhilarating "Whirring," the band tossed guitars with disdain and bashed cymbals by hand. Clearly, the diminutive Bryan and her mates, bass player Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas, returned to Austin on a continued mission.
In the past year, the group has grasped just about every jewel a buzz band can hope for: an appearance on Letterman, radio airplay in large markets and epic fans such as the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl.
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While the group's debut full-length, The Big Roar, has created inroads for the band, their live show is what sends the coveted and invaluable word of mouth soaring from one city to the next, from one blog to the next. Many groups get caught in the cumbersome inner workings of the star-making process, but Bryan slashes through the clutter. For her group, songs and quality time spent on stage are what count.
"First and foremost, without complicating it, we just really love performing live," says Bryan over the phone in her impossibly endearing Welsh accent. "The songs have a lot of emotion behind them, so when you add the spontaneity of the live setting, you often discover something new in the songs, and that's something we really get off on."
The range of emotion that's poured into any art form is essential to the relevance and authenticity of the end product. That's the main point for Bryan when she strums the first notes at a show.
"I always want to lose myself completely in the music and just zone out," she says. "All of our songs come from an emotive place, and there's an almost schizophrenic element to the live set, because you feel something different every single night. You can't put on an act or try too hard. One song can even mean different things on different nights." With a laugh, she adds, "Yeah, we're messed up."
In almost every Joy Formidable show, there's an aggression, bordering on anger, emanating from Bryan's urgent delivery. Such a fierce presentation undermines her pixie-like appearance and delicate stature. Raw emotion channeled through sometimes somber songs bursts forth on stage.
"When we were writing the album, there was an intensity that was very apparent," she says. "A lot of the songs come from a dark place, so that frustration and turbulence shows itself most on stage and in the rawness of the live set."
Of course, attempting to slay a crowd or destroy a stage isn't all gloom, nor is it all cathartic group therapy. Bryan gleefully reveals what might be behind the band's effort to always entertain and never sell a crowd short.
"Deep down, we all just want to be the Flaming Lips!"