Utah is a long way from home in Wales, yet all too familiar to The Joy Formidable, who relocated from the UK to the southwest prior to recording the band’s fourth album Aaarth in 2018. Rooted in Utah, where singer Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd call their second home, the locale served as the backdrop for the band’s fifth release Into the Blue.
Videos by American Songwriter
“The landscape is different, but there’s something about the feel,” says Bryan of Utah. “For me, going home and writing in North Wales, it always felt like a really inspiring place. I probably feel most creative in nature, so I suppose it’s an even bigger version of the kind of area that we grew up in.”
Initially written in Wales, Into the Blue was fleshed out once the band returned to Utah. Gazing upon love, manipulation, new beginnings, and an unexpected magic.
“This has been probably the first record where we’ve been in one place where it’s all the energy and all the creativity is bring been focused in one place,” shares Bryan. “I haven’t been pulled in lots of different directions and was really able to sit with myself a little bit more rather than making this record.”
Living in Utah provided the perfect atmosphere to release the emotional baggage of Into the Blue, one pitted in the end of love, manipulation, and discovering the other sides of it all.
“‘It [‘Into the Blue’] came at a point where I was going through some kind of big changes,” says Bryan. “I has just gone through a breakup, and I was just about to move from Utah. I was at this point where a new chapter was opening up and it’s happened before in life, where it sweeps you up into things and you don’t always get a chance to process some of the things that happen to you. This was happening just as we were starting to make this record and then the lockdown and having to kind of stay with yourself a little bit and reflect.”
Without addressing political or social commentary, The Joy Formidable dig into the effects of manipulation and regaining control. “We’ve both experienced various types of manipulation of the past few years as well, so it was important to kind of really sit with it and process it,” says Dafydd. “There was that healing time, this uncertainty, but also with that brings the control back to you, and I think the record definitely delves into that.”
Dafydd adds, “It’s a very freeing mindset to have. There are difficulties in life, but it’s about getting back to trusting yourself again. Any kind of manipulation, messes with your cognitive dissonance. I feel that the record talks a lot about that and getting to a secure place and relying on yourself.”
You see me for what I am / I don’t have to guess any more sings Bryan, splitting vocals with Dafydd on “Into the Blue,” swelled around the excitement of the unexpected and picks up on growling “Chimes” and siren-charged crunch of “Sevier.” Thumping through “Interval” and tender flamenco drifts of Dafydd on a shorter interlude “Somewhere New,” Into the Blue rides the dramatic waves of pain, regret, and the magic of the sweet hereafters of life with gazing guitars on “Bring it to the Front” and “Back to Nothing,” and the lengthened build of closer “Left Too Soon.”
Into the Blue is the most transformative record for The Joy Formidable, says Bryan. “There’s the cathartic side of everything but it’s more than that,” she says. “It really made everything beautifully vivid, and it made me start to focus on what I needed to start believing what was important that I maybe hadn’t realized before. This is probably the most aware that I think I’ve been making a record, so it felt like the perfect place to live on in a way.”
Still expanding their Music Club, a community-based platform the pair founded in 2018, featuring exclusive music and performances, Bryan and Dafydd are working on a newer model to help support and empower younger artists.
More than a decade into The Joy Formidable since 2011 debut The Big Roar, Bryan and Dafydd, who grew up together and played in previous bands, have finally reached a newfound respect for one another as writers.
“I think we healed together and helped each other heal,” says Dafydd. “When you’re in that trusting place, you don’t know where it’s gonna take you but you’ve got each other’s backs to get there and you’re not trying to compete.”
Bryan adds, “We’ve been acknowledging each other as writers in a far less emotional way. When I say emotional I mean it actually becomes draining to each other. We’ve finally found an honest place in our writing relationship that allows us to be true to what we want.”