The members of the Joy Formidable, like many rock fans, were tuned into the recent Taylor Hawkins tributes in London and Los Angeles. The power trio were friends with the late Foo Fighters drummer since the Joy Formidable was tour support for Dave Grohl’s band for two tours.
“When we learned that Taylor passed away we were all heartbroken,” vocalist-guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan said while calling from East Stroudsberg, Pennsylvania. “He was such a sweet, kind guy. He and the whole band were so welcoming when we did those tours with them. Taylor always greeted you with a smile and was so nice. He was a really talented musician. So it was very difficult when we got word about his death. We can’t imagine what it was like for a band to lose a member like that because when you’re in a band, you’re family.”
Much like the Foo Fighters, who grabbed attention with the 1995 release of its strong eponymous 2011 debut album, the Joy Formidable came out of the gate firing with its aptly named “The Big Roar.”
The Joy Formidable’s first album is comprised of anthemic, guitar driven songs, which recall early ’90s shoe-gazer rock. However, the band flips the script on the subgenre’s concept of burying the vocals. The highlight of “The Big Roar” and subsequent Joy Formidable albums is Bryan’s sweet, soaring voice backed by the group’s muscular indie rock.
“I think people see our music a certain way but I grew up on a variety of styles of music,” Bryan said. “I was a fan of what happened musically during the ’90s but I’m very much influenced by Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and Elvis Costello. I love a great lyric. When I was 10 years old my dad took me to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The marathon show and all of their energy blew me away. That had a huge impact on me.”
The Joy Formidable, which also includes bassist-vocalist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas, is touring behind the band’s fifth album, “Into the Blue.”
The remarkably consistent band, which formed in its native Wales but now primarily lives in the Utah desert, delivers thoughtful lyrics, raw guitar riffs and palpable intensity throughout “Into the Blue.”
“We were working on the songs in 2019 and the plan was to get together in March of 2020 but the lockdown happened and so the vibe was of being adaptive,” Bryan recalled. “We just rolled with the situation.”
Breakups fueled much of the lyrical content for the Joy Formidable, which will perform Friday at the Knitting Factory. “Both of us (Bryan and Dafydd) were in relationships that were filled with manipulation,” Bryan said. “We were both with people who weren’t with us for the right reasons. That can happen. Our significant others chipped away at us in lower moments. Fortunately we’re both pretty thick-skinned.”
Not many rockers live in the Utah desert, but it’s home to Bryan. “It’s the perfect place for me,” Bryan said. “When we tour, I get the big-city fix. I feel the pulse of the big, metropolitan area. I didn’t grow up in London. I grew up away from the big city in Wales, so Utah makes sense to me. I just feel some comfort there. We have studios in Utah and in North Wales. The environment is similar except one place is much greener and wetter.”
Perhaps music fans will catch up with the Joy Formidable, which has scored justifiable critical acclaim and admiration from its peers. Bryan was touched when the Cure’s afrontman Robert Smith tabbed the Joy Formidable for the Pasadena Daydream festival he curated in 2019.
“That was surreal,” Bryan said. “I love The Cure and have so much respect for Robert Smith. “That was an amazing experience. We were all about building on that and then the pandemic happens. That took some of momentum from us but we’re moving forward. I love where we are considering we’ve been a band for more than a decade. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.”