The UK has a pop music history that’s as rich as the United States’, from the Beatles and Black Sabbath to Amy Winehouse and Adele to boy bands like One Direction.
Neighboring Wales boasts a rich tradition of literature and song, but most of its famous musical exports – Tom Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Shirley Bassey, Charlotte Church and rock bands like Funeral for a Friend – are from the southern part of the country. Few pop and rock acts other than the Alarm, soul throwback Duffy, and, more recently, the Joy Formidable, call North Wales home.
That sort of unexplored identity is an exciting prospect for Ritzy Bryan, frontwoman for alternative rock trio the Joy Formidable, which plays Visulite Theatre Thursday.
“Part of that’s quite exciting in some ways. You almost don’t have any references,” the guitarist/vocalist says. “Without having a defined voice, it’s a field that’s wide-open. Maybe (people) don’t have expectations of what a North Walian band should sound like.”
Joy Formidable’s sound does draw on the country’s rich literary and musical traditions, while incorporating thick riffs, big, distorted guitars and ethereal vocals that reference the UK’s long pop history.
“Those were definitely the two arts that were central to me growing up,” Bryan says of literature and music. “There were a lot of books in our house. I probably was writing poems and songs and lyrics and stories before I could pick up an instrument. Language fascinated me.”
Bryan grew up surrounded by music as well.
“I would’ve been an outcast in my family to have been into sports,” says Bryan, whose given first name is the rock n’ roll-referencing Rhiannon.
“My parents were big record collectors. They still hold the prize – although they’re divorced now, so it’s been split – for one of the largest collections in North Wales. There was a lot of passion for music and never any violence in our house. It was eclectic. Our parents weren’t listening to one genre … never feeling snobby about music or listening to one type of music.”
Bryan formed the band with bassist Rhydian Dafydd in 2007, adding drummer Matthew James Thomas in 2009. Its first full-length album, “The Big Roar,” attracted A-list fans like Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and Dave Grohl, who enlisted it to open for the Foo Fighters.
In January, the Joy Formidable released its sophomore album, “Wolf’s Law,” which was partly written and recorded in snowy rural Maine – a place not dissimilar from the now London-based trio’s early surroundings in its hometown of Mold.
“No Wi-Fi. No phone signal. Compete bliss from the chaos of touring,” she says of the location, where the band expanded on the compositional elements, scoring, choral vocals and vocal manipulation that it had been experimenting with on tour. Those unusual elements help create the grander, more bombastic juxtaposition of beauty and aggression on “Wolf’s Law.”
“The landscape is on the wilder side and less populated. It did nostalgically take us back to the beginning of the band,” says Bryan, who adds that same sort of isolation informed her imagination as a child and emerges in her poetic, sometimes mysterious lyrics. “You grow up as children of nature and feel in a lot of that landscape and nature an evocative metaphor for life and the things around you.”
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