Concerts

Resilient Welsh Rockers The Joy Formidable Dust Themselves Off for a Victorious US Tour

Welsh band The Joy Formidable will bring formidable joy to DFW audiences with a show at Tulips.
Welsh band The Joy Formidable will bring formidable joy to DFW audiences with a show at Tulips. Courtesy of The Joy Formidable
In a few months, the U.S. men’s soccer team will face off against Wales in the FIFA World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world. It’ll be the first time the American athletes have played in the World Cup in eight years, and the first time since 1958 for the Welsh crew to play for the sport's grandest trophy. It’s a big match.

Ritzy Bryan, the lead singer and guitarist for Welsh rock trio The Joy Formidable, has been splitting her time over the past few years between her U.K. home and Utah, of all places. It’s safe to say her national sporting loyalties will be tested come November when the World Cup Finals begin in Qatar.

But that’s a matter for another day. At the moment she's following her group’s first tour of the U.S. in more than three years. In fact, she’s not totally ready to talk about soccer right now, and who can blame her? Bryan and her bandmates, bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas, have a whole lot of shows to pack into the next three months.

“I knew you were going to put me on the spot about that, and right before we start our U.S. tour,” Bryan says with a laugh over a Zoom call from Wales the night before she is set to fly to the U.S. for final tour prep. “When is the World Cup this year? It’s been so long since Wales has been in it, I know that.”

Like so many other bands, this 2022 tour is kicking off, finally, after other tours were scrapped, rescheduled and scrapped again during the pandemic. Kicking off in Austin on Sept. 3, The Joy Formidable will perform on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Tulips in Fort Worth .

The trio is excited to finally show off songs from their latest album, the excellent, roaring Into the Blue. Although it was released in the summer of 2021, Into the Blue isn’t a so-called “pandemic record,” born out of the creative burst that the isolation seemed to inspire in many artists. These newest songs were primarily written before the pandemic's beginning, with demos being recorded just as the March 2020 lockdowns started.

Intriguingly enough, many of the songs from the album — which online reviews suggest is a return to form following 2018’s more experimental Aarth — feel very much in line with the range of emotions we experienced during the earliest, most disconcerting days of the pandemic.

“Somewhere New,” written and sung by Dafydd, is an elegant rumination on embracing uncertainty and appreciating the little moments as they happen. The soaring “Only Once” implores us to cling to those we love every chance we get. The title track is an anthemic charge to venture bravely toward unknown terrain when presented with crossroads that are less than clear.

Into the Blue wasn’t originally intended as The Joy Formidable’s effort to rouse fans from the COVID morass, but it has clearly become that. Looking back on the album’s infancy now, Bryan recognizes a bit of musical magic at play.

“It’s interesting how some of your writing can feel like it was some sort of prediction, or has a synchronicity to things that happen afterwards,” she says. “The album talks about not letting the external rule your happiness, and of course, then comes March 2020 and we were all, ‘Hey, how do we deal with all of this?’”

With five full-length albums to their name over the past 11 years, the band members are veterans of the music business and familiar with its ups and downs. This has helped them survive this time of changing and rearranging. Long before anyone had heard of the coronavirus, the band members had overcome quite a bit to stay together. There was the ending of Bryan’s and Dafydd’s romantic relationship in 2013 and a battle with a record label that sued the group. It’s clear the group had plenty of trained muscles to employ when it came time to face pandemic-induced adversity.

“It’s interesting how some of your writing can feel like it was some sort of prediction, or has a synchronicity to things that happen afterwards.” – Ritzy Bryan

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“Sure, we’re all sort of dusting ourselves off,” Bryan says. “But we care about what we do and we love making music together as a unit. We don’t feel like we’re just grinding gears or just pushing through. There has definitely been moments where we’ve questioned what was really important, but those have been more opportunities to grow rather than to quit. That’s the truth and the power of music, which is more important to us now than ever.”

And make no mistake about it, The Joy Formidable is a band that has persevered and found sustained success, not as some pampered, big-budget goose laying golden eggs for deep-pocketed overlords, but as a unified group that finds joy in doing it for themselves. The fact that Bryan and her two bandmates are still excited about the mere act of making music together after all this time is heartening for fans.

Since parting ways with Atlantic Records following the release of 2014’s Wolf’s Law, the trio has been a largely DIY outfit, operating as a bustling small business. Bryan even took to the band’s Facebook page recently to remind those who too easily voice their complaints on things such as previously canceled tour dates that those gripes are usually heard by the band members rather than some paid representative, and they’re doing the best they can.

“Things come in waves, and we’ve had some really difficult moments,” Bryan says. “It was hard to come back after we got sued four years ago. Things like that shake your belief in how people treat each other. I think we’ve had the kind of career that’s true and honest. We’ve made a point to really be present and make our own decisions.”

For all of the drama, uncertainty and decisions that Bryan has faced over the past three years, there will be one important decision that will be waiting for her after touring is over and she settles in to spend the winter in Utah.

“So, the United States and Wales play each other in the World Cup just a few days after we’re done with the tour,” she says. “I wonder if there’s a Welsh pub I can watch the match at out West?”

The Joy Formidable perform on Sunday, Sept. 4, at Tulips in Fort Worth.
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Kelly Dearmore

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