Ritzy Bryan and Rhydian Dafydd spent a cozy three weeks in January 2012 sequestered in a cabin in the snow-carpeted woods outside of tiny Casco, Maine, making beautiful music together in more ways than one.
They were a couple, and they were bandmates, and they had their love and their songwriting to keep them warm.
A year later, their powerful whisper-to-a-roar pop songs were released on “Wolf's Law,” the sensational sophomore album from The Joy Formidable.
And Bryan and Dafydd are no longer a couple.
But in the best tradition of Fleetwood Mac — which famously survived divorce and broken romance among its members — The Joy Formidable forges on, and Bryan will be out front on vocals and guitar with Dafydd backing her up on bass and Matt Thomas bringing the thunder on drums when the Welsh alternative power trio takes the main stage Saturday night as the headlining act at Norman Music Festival 6.
“We decided to call time on our relationship in November, but we haven't really talked about it that much,” the blond, blue-eyed frontwoman said in a phone interview from the band's Salt Lake City tour stop.
“I mean, I'm happy to mention it in interviews,” she said. “I think we definitely felt like, you know, we've known each other for a very long time. We grew up in the same area. And the music came first. We started the band before we actually became a romantic couple. I think, you know, we're in a really good place now.”
One wonders if those long winter days and nights in that isolated cabin on the northeastern-most tip of the United States might have caused romantic ties to unravel, but Bryan credits the snowy peacefulness of their surroundings for much of the inspiration that went into the writing and recording of “Wolf's Law,” which boasts richer instrumentation and production and more accomplished songwriting than The Joy Formidable's well-received and aptly titled 2011 debut, “The Big Roar.”
The beauty and cruelty of nature, the briefness of life, familial breakdowns and the need to seize the moment are recurring themes throughout the album, from the towering, buzz saw-edged beauty of “Cholla” to the elegiac acoustic ballad “Silent Treatment,” the lofty, pulsing, wall-of-guitar anthem “Forest Serenade” and the stunning orchestral grandeur that is the album finale, “The Turnaround.”
“I think we needed somewhere that was very peaceful and away from it all, so Maine and Casco definitely fit that description,” Bryan said.
The band's 2011 tour had come to a premature end when a Portland, Maine, concert was canceled, and a friend recommended the forest retreat to the road-weary Bryan and Dafydd.
“We were really drawn to this little cabin in the woods, because we have a mobile kind of recording studio that comes with us everywhere,” the singer said. “We really kind of liked the sense of peacefulness and we were there for a week over Thanksgiving and completely fell in the love with the surroundings and the little cabin, and I think just the writing and the focus and the energy was just really powerful, so we just decided that we had to go back there in January and finish the record.”
The couple began by capturing ideas on tape, recording the bulk of the album's vocals and guitars at the hideaway. Drums, orchestrated sections and choirs would be added later at studios in London.
“People have asked if we had cabin fever, because we got snowed in, in about nine feet of snow,” Bryan said. “And there were just the two of us, just Rhydian and myself. And you know, it was kind of nice because it was kind of like going back to a kind of a really basic way of living. You know, we actually managed to live off of one chicken for about two and a half weeks.”
She laughed, adding, “There was a really good energy. We didn't really see anybody else for those three weeks. And I think you kind of start to realize you've been isolated for a while when you start talking to all the animals that come to the doorstep.
“There was like an opossum, he used to visit every night, he kind of caught on to the fact that I'd feed him, and the squirrels and the deer in the forest.”
Feeling the passion
Bryan is proud of the music that resulted from that time alone with Dafydd, and she admits that at least a couple of the songs on the album are deeply personal expressions of the feelings that have passed between them, such as the alternately tough and tender rocker called “Tendons.”
“Yeah, it's an incredibly difficult thing, to maintain a relationship in a band,” she said. “And the thing we feel even more passion about is the band and the music. I think we definitely feel like we've got a new chapter ahead of us that's a little bit less complicated. There's such a lot of friendship and respect and it really hasn't changed the dynamic of the band.
“But it's quite strange looking back on some of the songs that we've written, you know, because on this album there's definitely a song that celebrates our friendship but maybe pre-empted kind of our split and how difficult we were finding parts of the relationship. But it's a real testament to how much we care about the band, and what good friends we are.”