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Bitter Sweet Symphonies
Bitter Sweet Symphonies

Bitter Sweet Symphonies

In the first installment of a new feature where we ask artists we love to tell us about artists they love, The Joy Formidable front woman Ritzy Bryan shares which five songs she wishes she'd written. Illustrated by Sam Green

Breaking up is hard to do, particularly when you’re in a band together. Just ask Kim and Thurston. Or singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd, childhood friends and cofounders of Welsh alt-rock power trio The Joy Formidable. Right on the heels of their Christmastime breakup, the erstwhile couple (and drummer Matt Thomas) are touring behind a brand-new album—their second full length, the majestic, densely layered Wolf’s Law. “It’s been a difficult period in terms of trying to balance everything,” Bryan says. “It’s kind of double-edged at the moment. We feel excited by a different chapter, but you never know what’s going to happen.” Still, Bryan insists that she and Dafydd will always be musical collaborators. “We have something different from a traditional kind of love in the sense that we’ve been through an awful lot together,” she says. “We’re absolutely soul mates.”

Given recent events, Bryan says that “there’s a new poignancy to some of the tracks that we wrote at the top end of the year.” The singer was clearly in a bittersweet mood when she shared with us the five songs she wished she had written: Most (if not all) of them concern romantic love. “There’s a theme going on at the moment,” she says with a laugh. MARK YARM

Bruce Springsteen is a big reason in why I picked up the guitar and started writing songs in the first place. I definitely wish I could’ve written “Because the Night” ’cause it would’ve been a double whammy: I could’ve worked with Patti Smith, as well. It’s such a great, sexy song. Springsteen was one of the first concerts I ever went to, in Sheffield. I remember him playing it that night. I was about nine or 10 years old, and my mum and dad, they used to take me to a lot of shows, because a) I think they hoped that I would share their passion for music, and b) they were both big bootleggers and had ulterior motives. They used to stuff the microphones into my pinafores! You don’t get frisked as a nine year old. I feel taken advantage of, but they have a great bootleg collection.

I’ve had a copy of Pet Sounds all my life, pretty much. I’ve always admired it, but over this Christmas period, I listened to it on repeat. With a track like “Don’t Talk,” you just realize how stripped back, how pure it is. It’s got a magical simplicity. It feels quite different from the tracks that we’ve written—all of our love songs have a bit of a fucked-up twist to them. Rhydian and I have written about our relationship and the unraveling of our relationship. There’s a track on the new album called “Tendons” that talks about our relationship, which is untraditional. We’re fine, we’re good. There’s a very ridiculous bond between us, though it’s not been easy. But with “Don’t Talk,” it doesn’t feel like there’s any kind of turbulence in there. There’s a real purity of a moment with somebody else.

There are some songs that you fall in love with that have a great hook or a really fuckin’ great chorus—you kind of know what to expect for the rest of the song, and you don’t feel disappointed. But there’s something extra special with a song when all of the sudden the finale takes you somewhere completely different. “Undo” has one of the finest finales in terms of production, in terms of the choral element opening up. It’s so euphoric and so fuckin’ touching and emotive, the way that it all swells at the end. “It’s not meant to be a strife/ It’s not meant to be a struggle uphill”—it definitely feels like she’s facing some difficulties, something that needs to change. We were listening to it in the car yesterday, and it felt poignant considering the last couple of months have been pretty difficult, pretty challenging.

My all-time favourite album is The Queen Is Dead. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” is an absolutely superb, timeless track. It’s very typical of Morrissey and Marr—being able to blend a lot of different emotions. Musically, it feels kind of upbeat, but the lyrics are really sad and poignant, and at the same time very wry, very funny and dark. The Queen Is Dead is an album very synonymous with me learning to drive, around when I was 16 or 17. In North Wales, getting your license is a big fuckin’ deal ’cause the buses only come every three hours. After I got my license, I was raging around the Welsh countryside, having an exciting, free time. That’s the album that I listened to when I got my heart broken for the first time, and that’s probably the album that I crashed my car to for the first time.

As a unit, we have a love-hate relationship with this song. The guys really hate this song. Maybe if I’d have actually written it, the full impact of trying to annoy the boys with this song would be absolutely complete…. Rhydian just got back in the car. He’s pulling a face on me. [To Rhydian: ] You don’t like “Magic Moment,” do ya? He says it’s ’cause it reminds him of a commercial back home. It’s a really shit commercial, a really cheesy chocolate advert. But this was one of my grandfather’s absolute favourite tracks. He was always humming it. When my grandparents used to listen to it, you could almost tell that they were remembering their courtship. There’s something really beautiful about noticing moments like that.