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The Joy Formidable, Twen play the Doug Fir on Dec. 18 / Preview

By SARAH PAYNE // The Joy Formidable returns to the Doug Fir Lounge on Wednesday, Dec. 18 — the third time in a little over a year that the band will visit Portland. They swept through last October to promote their latest album, AAARTH, and are coming back in celebration of their 10 years together. 

The Joy Formidable returns to the Doug Fir Lounge on Wednesday, Dec. 18 — the third time in a little over a year that the band will visit Portland. They swept through last October to promote their latest album, AAARTH, and are coming back in celebration of their 10 years together.

“It’s almost like a new chapter opening up,” lead vocalist and guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan said in a recent phone interview with Oregon Music News. “There’s been a lot of change. A lot of positive change, a kind of moving forward.”

The Joy Formidable is certainly not afraid of change, especially when it comes from really living in and embracing the moment. “We’ve always been very honest to what we’ve wanted to do,” Bryan said. “We’ve always stuck by what excites us in the moment.

“It’s been a really interesting journey. Looking back now, I can see how every album has fulfilled sort of where we were at that moment.”

The band — comprised of Bryan, bassist and vocalist Rhydian Dafydd, and drummer and percussionist Matthew Thomas — released their eight-song EP A Balloon Called Moaning in 2009, after Bryan and Dafydd returned to North Wales from Manchester following then-band Sidecar Kisses’ break up.

“A Balloon Called Moaning is to me a very charming volume of work, and I can really hear Rhydian and I kind of figuring each other out, getting excited over the same things and combining our lyrical and production ideas together,” Bryan said. “It had this playful, slightly naïve charm to it all. Very dense, and hard to make out in places, but it has a lot of heart.”

From there, Bryan said, the band started gaining more confidence, encouraging them to branch out and explore different concepts, dipping “a few toes in quite a lot of pools.” Bryan and Dafydd listened to a lot of orchestrated music leading up to Wolf’s Law, while recording Hitch in a live studio resulted in an album that has a sort of collage style to it. 2018’s AAARTH returns to charm and whimsy, but with nine years’ worth of growth and experience behind it. (Fun fact: “arth” is Welsh for “bear.”)

Although they’ve experimented with different concepts, approaches and recording styles, there is still that distinct something that makes The Joy Formidable The Joy Formidable: a strong storytelling and lyrical sense translated through Bryan’s dreamy and bell-like vocals.

“I think the main underpinning of the band is that there’s always been a real lyrical sense to it,” Bryan said, mentioning that even though the earlier albums were quite dense with texture and layered sounds, even abstract at times, there was always that lyrical, storytelling aspect running alongside it all.

And these stories have power — that special capability inherent in music that transports the listener to somewhere else, to a specific emotion, a specific memory, made all the more powerful by the fact that these stories come straight from Bryan and Dafydd’s own experiences.

According to Bryan, her inspiration comes from just being awake in life, and manifesting from observations, dreams, thoughts, and sensations that have come into her life — imagined or real.

“I definitely come from the school of writing better when I am actually feeling and experiencing it for myself,” she said. “Wanting to be quite abstract, almost painfully shy about being too heart on the sleeve, and allowing the music and the lyrics to be the emotion and be a little more oblique.”

The Joy Formidable is already planning on heading back to the studio to record their next release, taking a break from various solo projects and taking advantage of being in the moment, at the moment.

“We decided to take a moment on those and concentrate on another Joy Formidable record just because we were really excited by the songs we were writing,” Bryan said.

“It feels like we’re on to another really exciting chapter now, so without being too retrospective, I think that’s what we wanted this (upcoming) release to be,” she said. We wanted to recognize that over 10 years together, we’re always looking toward the future.”

But first, the rest of the tour.

Although they’ve been touring straight for just about two years, there’s still that nightly excitement around playing their music for a brand new crowd each night.

“There’s a lot of truth in touring and playing live and being in the moment every night, and that kind of direct contact that you have with the people who buy your music,” Bryan said. “And every night is different — for better or worse, it’s definitely different but that’s the beauty of live music — and I like that sensation of being kept very alive and on my toes and not really knowing ever what to expect.”
Boston punk duo Twen joins The Joy Formidable on the stage, beginning at 8:30 pm (doors open at 7:30pm) Wednesday, December 18. For more information, see dougfirlounge.com.

For more about The Joy Formidable, see: thejoyformidable.com.

For more about Twen, see: twenband.com.

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