5 minutes alone with Ritzy Bryan - "Anything goes, y’know?”

(Image credit: Michael Lamertz)

Ritzy Bryan, the hard-rocking frontwoman of Welsh trio The Joy Formidable talks pedals, lessons and the time she nearly drowned in mud...

I got my first real six-string...

“It was a classical guitar, a nylon guitar. I don’t really know why I started like that. I think maybe it was just because we had a lady who gave lessons who lived in the little Welsh town that I come from.”

The kids are alright...

When you realise four albums in that you’ve gone outside the box, then your pedalboard really starts to reflect that!

“I started off having classical guitar lessons but I got bored of that quite fast. Around about the age of nine, I started going to see a lot of gigs with my mum and dad. So I went to see Elvis Costello at the Royal Court, and Bruce Springsteen... 

"I loved the fact that the classical element gave me an insight into some of the technical side, like being able to read music; I don’t think I loved the restrictive element that sometimes comes from having lessons.”

A loaded six-string on my back...

“A couple of years after I got my first Fender Stratocaster. I still play it today. I can’t record with it because it’s totally fucked. I’ve had it looked at so many times... It’s got such a great feel, you can tell that it’s been with me for 20 years and you can sense that it’s been loved and played. 

"It’s got the best feeling neck on it, even if the intonation is a bit wonky sometimes, I know why that is and where it’s come from.”

Take the pedals and build them skywards...

“When you realise four albums in that you’ve crafted some really beautiful sounds on your records, and that you’ve gone outside the box, then your pedalboard really starts to reflect that! 

"On the first record it was quite punk, you know: ‘Oh fuck it, I could play a set with a distortion, a delay and a couple other cool things.’ Now, I could still play a punk set if I needed to, but there’s been such a range between albums from an analogue and a digital perspective. Pedalboard pride, y’know? That accomplishment of, ‘That is a fucking nice pedalboard, that is.’”

We can be heroes...

I jumped off stage [at a festival] to go and meet the front barrier, but f***ing sunk up to my waist

“I’ve always been really turned on by dangerous guitar playing that’s a little on the edge. Not that you can’t combine being great technically, with not really giving a fuck about mistakes and things needing to be smooth and polished. I’ve always liked it when it’s dangerously on the edge, like Nels Cline or Jimi Hendrix - the perfect combination of being so inventive and wonderful and not always being perfect.”

We don’t need no education...

“My biggest strength would be that because I’ve not had a lot of formal lessons, when it comes to electric guitar, I don’t feel too encumbered by things that you get taught or get put on you. 

"I kind of feel like I’ve always found my own style and way of playing and just enjoying music, being bold and adventurous. Anything goes, y’know?”

On a tour of one-night stands...

“We went down to play Nostock in the van... when we pulled in, the stage was almost sinking into the mud, it was totally lopsided. We got onstage, started playing the set and when the weather’s really bad I always feel dreadful for everybody who’s stood out watching the band, because they’re getting pummelled. 

"So I jumped off stage to go and meet the front barrier, but fucking sunk up to my waist. The funniest thing was my drummer took me jumping off the stage, God knows why, as the signal for the end of the song, and so it was the last song of the set.”

The Joy Formidable's new album AAARTH is out now.

Alex Lynham

Alex Lynham is a gear obsessive who's been collecting and building modern and vintage equipment since he got his first Saturday job. Besides reviewing countless pedals for Total Guitar, he's written guides on how to build your first pedal, how to build a tube amp from a kit, and briefly went viral when he released a glitch delay pedal, the Atom Smasher.

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