Dressed to the nines and ready to rock a beach party with their signature blockbuster guitar riffs, The Joy Formidable proved foreboding enthusiasm for their art knows no bounds on the first full day of Keloha.
Among bikini-clad bodies, and even the odd fan stripped to the skivvies, the latest homegrown Okanagan festival’s impeccably timed heat proved no match for front-woman Ritzy Bryan who pulled on a thick pair of BeJeweled black stockings before hitting the stage.
“It’s this or knee pads and a helmet,” she joked. “If I don’t wear them, I’m all torn up by the time we’re through the set.”
With a burgeoning anthemic sound, big hair-style guitar and orchestral accompaniments on their first full-length album, their avant-garde incongruence with the Hawaiian-themed festival seemed fitting. This is, after all, the kind of band who dresses for a romp in the sand, their video I Don’t Want To See You Like This as evidence. And 30 degrees Celsius isn’t much of a challenge for them, anyway.
Although they grew up listening to The Furry Animals at London’s V Festival and taking in epic crowds at Glastonbury, their new summer circuit includes places like Milwaukee, where they took the stage at 10 p.m. in a sweltering 40 C heat wave for Independence Day.
“We’ve always felt in our own bubble rather than fitting in or even trying to fit into any kind of scene or anything like that,” said Rhydian Dafydd, who plays bass guitar and sings supporting vocals.
He and Bryan grew up in the northern tip of Wales, a serene environment where becoming an internationally touring band was unheard of, though musicality a common virtue.
“When you grow up somewhere that’s isolated, you throw yourself into things, things that pass the time, hobbies,” said Bryan. “Music for me was a huge escape. It was a very idyllic childhood, but it was very quiet and rural.”
Joking about the damage they’ve done to their bodies along the way, they profess an absolute dedication to travel and admit there’s seldom a time when they’re not writing new material and rarely a moment when they feel a need to break from playing shows. Both of their albums, the A Balloon Called Moaning EP released in 2009 and (full-length) The Big Roar in 2011, were written on tour and from Dayfdd’s point of view, that’s as it should be.
“You know, it’s not a job for us. It’s not about finding inspiration when you’re off road. You find plenty of inspiration all the time. You should document it then and there,” he said.
All three members say they mix it up when approaching a new song, sometimes starting with the beat, sometimes instrumentally; but ultimately, they claim stories and lyrics drive their music. The critics don’t agree.
Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes lauded their work, but thought the riffs were more memorable than the songs, declaring Bryan could be “praising gas chromatography for all it matters when her guitar erupts, its bee-swarm noise blasts careening into multi-orgasmic crescendos.”
In The Guardian, Oran Mor said “you could compare The Joy Formidable’s sound to riding a roller coaster: think dramatic holds followed by hurting dips and dives that are a thrill to experience, even if you can see them coming a mile off.”
Thankfully, it would appear, they won’t be a mile off for most fans for many years to come. The trio say they’ve shown no signs of stopping, lyrically, musically or in their desire to tour. South America, Asia, Eastern Europe, ask them where they want to go and the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve been touring incessantly, especially for the past two years, we’ve barely broken off at all and yet there’s still so many places we haven’t been,” said Bryan, noting they’ve only been to Japan once and feel they still need to see much more of Australia
Joined by drummer Matt Thomas near the end of the interview, the band used their last moments before going on stage for pictures and, in Dayfdd’s case, a beer.
Saturday’s Keloha lineup included The Pack AD, party band The Boom Booms, USS, rock/reggae band IllScarlett, Dirty Radio, White Rock’s Daniel Wesley, The Dudes, The Joy Formidable and Cold War Kids.
Crowd numbers had yet to start rolling in, but organizers were aiming for 15,000 over the three-day window.
Sunday wraps up with Doc Willoughby’s Pub regular Devon Coyote, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, Acres of Lions, Shout Out Out Out Out, Jon & Roy, Hey Ocean, Said the Whale, Dan Mangan, The Sheepdogs and Awolantion.
Follow Jennifer Smith on Twitter.