FROM the north-east of Wales to the American south-west, it has been quite a journey for Rhiannon Bryan.

Better known as Ritzy, singer and lead guitarist in alternative rock band The Joy Formidable, Rhiannon was raised in Rhosesmor, near Mold in Flintshire, growing up in ‘a very music-passionate household’.

Speaking from her home in Utah, she recalls: “My parents bought this house in the Welsh hills with no neighbours, purposefully I think so they could listen to their records on full volume. There was always music playing and lots of instruments at the house, and my parents’ friends coming round to play music or swap records.”

Young Ritzy liked to sing, and began going to shows – Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison – as soon as she ‘could stay awake past 8pm.’

But although she found live music ‘mesmerising’, she was ‘quite shy and secretive about sharing personal expression’ until she reconnected with bassist Rhydian Dafydd – with whom she had played in Manchester-based bands Tricky Nixon and Sidecar Kisses – and began writing material that would become The Joy Formidable’s first album, ‘The Big Roar’ (2011).

If Ritzy’s life is now made in two places, there is also a transatlantic quality to the band’s distinctive sound, a blend of what the Brooklyn Vegan website recently described as ‘big, loud, sludgy rock’ – in the vein of Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age – and a more dreamy, introspective element influenced by characteristically British genres like post-punk and shoegaze.

Ritzy describes her move to southern Utah as ‘a very spontaneous decision’, and says: “I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but the desert and I have become great friends. We have a little studio there and it’s a happy space. So topographically beautiful, so many different, magical landscapes within an hour of each other.”

Together with drummer Matthew James Thomas, Ritzy and Rhydian have racked up five studio albums across the past decade, as well as a range of other releases, including a series of Welsh-language seven-inch singles collectively titled ‘Aruthrol’ (‘Amazing’).

Ritzy exclusively reveals to The National that another series is forthcoming later this year: “We’ll be printing more collaborative vinyl to highlight the amazing talent in Wales. It’s important to champion the next generation of artists, to connect and inspire each other.”

The band’s commitment to developing community, not only with other bands but also with their fans, is also evident in the TJF Music Club, an innovative online offer that The Joy Formidable hope other artists might explore as a way of empowering themselves in an era where direct music sales have plummeted.

Set up in 2019, the club grants fans ‘backstage’ access to a range of benefits: ‘premium’ songs, online shows, digital bootlegs, discount on concerts and early access to merchandise. It also includes ‘teatimes’ where fans can enjoy “a brew, a catch up and maybe a song with members of the band.”

Ritzy says it was at first ‘a space where we could share new music quite freely and keep in touch with everyone.’ But it has evolved over the course of the pandemic. “We have more members than ever and we’ve loved the sense of community that’s grown when being able to stay connected was really important.”

The group’s latest album ‘Into the Blue’ was not conceived as a metaphor for the times we all live in now, but it certainly turned out that way.

Already hailed by critics as a return to their very best form, the record is described as “about opening your eyes to beauty and love again. Making it to the other side.” The first release was ‘Sevrier’, named after a river that runs 385 miles through Utah, passing close to Ritzy’s home. The singer describes the river as “a metaphor for love and its journey. Are you staying in it, following it through all the seasons, cutting through mountains and canyons, through all the hardships, or cutting (severing) loose?”

It’s a hint at the emotional weight of a record that manages to combine the band’s trademark layered and expansive guitar sound with real introspection.

“I think it’s very easy to lose sight of the moment and really be present,” says Ritzy. “I’ve been touring relentlessly for over a decade. I absolutely love it – it keeps your creativity and spirit alive and no one day is the same. The downside to that, for me at least, is that in the chaos I’ve often overlooked just enjoying the moment.

“I’ve been swept up in what’s next or always looking to the future. That can be a cover-up for what’s going on sometimes, you don’t deal with your emotions or take time to reflect.”

Lockdown gave her chance to ‘do some healing’, and she admits ‘this record is me making sense of mistakes’ during a time where thoughts and feelings could no longer be buried.

Ritzy also says the restrictions imposed on the making of the album in the end bore positive fruit.

“Rhyds and I had travelled to Utah just before they kicked in, so we decided to hang tight and continue demo-ing in the US. Then lockdown happened and we just had to adapt our plans. Matt was still in the UK, but we found a way to make it work.

“When touring gets cancelled and life feels uncertain, you have choices on how to deal with it. I think it brought us closer, it definitely gave me time to think about things I’ve buried for years. Sometimes you don’t realise how important it is to reflect or sit with yourself and this record explores that change in perspective, it celebrates growth and opening up again.”

• For more information about TJF Music Club visit thejoyformidable.com

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