Then listening to The Joy Formidable's latest CD, Wolf's Law, there's something familiar. The London-based trio that originally formed in North Wales isn't your standard issue UK modern rock band. Sure, there's a touch of the bombast that Muse and Biffy Clyro bring to the table, but Joy Formidable brings something more visceral to the table.
It's as if the urgency of the early 90s alt-rock movement has been taken, shaken vigorously, infused with a current indie rock sensibility and stood on its head. Part of it is undoubtedly the fuzzed-out guitars. Part of it is lead singer Rhiannon "Ritzy" Bryant's slightly aggressive, slightly "come hither" purr standing against a wall of sound. Recollections of The Sugarcubes, Pixies, Breeders and Veruca Salt get sling-shotted 20 years forward with a sound and attitude that's bold enough to look listeners square in the eye instead of staring at the floor with a band that's willing to slug it out in the clubs.
The group just released its major label debut, The Big Roar, in early 2011, but has already won over critics with a pair of powerful albums and fans with a live show that delivers on a personal level.
Last fall, in advance of the release of Wolf's Law, The Joy Formidable landed a coveted slot opening for Muse in arenas across the UK. With its current headlining run across the US, however, the band is happy to be playing clubs of varying sizes and meeting fans face to face. It's a strategy that has worked for the band, as it continues to create a buzz with the new record, but more so with its live show, which lands in Tulsa for an intimate performance at The Vanguard on Friday night, April 26, then takes on a larger audience at the Norman Music Festival on Saturday night.
I caught up with bassist Rhydian Dafydd last week, and when when asked about the difference between club and arena dates, he said, "It never really varies for us. We approach it with the same intent and conviction: To connect with the audience.
"We encourage their (the audience members') input and discourse with our show and sometimes that's harder on a large stage," he continued. "We want it to be inclusive, though. To us, it feels like it should be a conversation with the audience."
That conversation starts with the songs, the common ground that initially brings the band and audience together. While the band's debut had a darker and harsher tone, Wolf's Law sees the band stretch out with a sound that's more expansive and less constricted, yet retains the chemistry and urgency of The Big Roar. When listened to back-to-back, the shift makes sense, yet many fans have reacted with a strong preference to one album or the other.
When asked about the band's growth and the slight dynamic shift, Dafydd shared "When we wrote and recorded Big Roar, we were very much on top of each other and there's a sentiment of frustration and aggression that came with that. That's still very much there with this record, but this time we stripped back to writing with one instrument and a voice," Dafydd said. "I think it's important to have variety, especially in the context you put yourself in. It's different, but it's still very much a Joy Formidable record.
"Personally, I'm excited that people are seeing different things in this album," he added, "because we don't want to write the same record over and over."
After touring heavily over the past two years, then writing and recording a follow-up and hitting the road yet again, the band shows no sign of slowing down.
With a mix of headlining dates at clubs of various sizes and a summer itinerary that currently includes plenty of festival dates, Dafydd said, "There are places we want to revisit and places we've never been to before. Our focus right now is playing lots of shows. It never stops for us. We live and breathe music."
Part of that non-stop work ethic includes keeping the band in the public eye, not only with its live appearances, but with its releases. Not only has the band produced videos for "Cholla" and "This Ladder is Ours" already, but the group also put out a limited-release 12" vinyl single for Record Store Day this past weekend. An unreleased track from the Wolf's Law sessions, "A Minute's Silence," was packaged with a live cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Badlands."
"We don't over-think it, because we can't control that part anyway," Dafydd said. "We stand behind our music and let it go for the people to connect with the songs, whether lyrically or musically, whatever their reaction might be.
"We're not trying to be popular for popularity's sake, but at the same time, we're not afraid of that (becoming widely popular), either," he stated.
"It's the conversation aspect that is important to us," Dafydd explained. "Music is not a spectator sport, it's about interacting. We're looking for that connection with fans -- especially when we're on a larger stage.
"Success is not about the size of the venue," he said. "It's more about the connection with people, and that's what's important to us, regardless of where we play or how big we do or don't get."
Tulsa fans get their chance to connect with The Joy Formidable this Friday night, April 26, when the band plays one of the smaller venues on the tour at The Vanguard with I/O Echo opening the show. A limited number of tickets are still available at press time for $15. You can catch the band in a different atmosphere as it headlines the Norman Music Festival's Main Stage at Saturday at 9:30pm.
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