If not a chuckle, the moniker warrants at least a little smile. All it takes is a listen to opener “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” to be in on the joke. The track starts with guitars gamely warming up and the sound of what could be fireworks popping, fuses blowing or a drum kit being smacked around without any rhythm. But by the one-minute mark, it’s an actual song with a distortion-laden riff quickly swelling into something mighty, the production quality resembling an indie-rock band on HGH.
The hook isn’t really distinct, but the phosphorescent, weighty instrumentation renders this track as something extraordinary. It begins in a dive bar and ends in an arena. At six minutes in, it’s flowered into a huge spectacle, somehow moving faster than before, with an orgy of a thousand pedals eventually imploding into gentle layers of fuzz. This is, in short, a big roar of an album—an experience out to encircle you with sound. To hell with shoegaze—this is skygaze.
Beyond the surface, there’s another story behind The Big Roar’s name. Ritzy Bryan, The Joy Formidable’s guitarist/vocalist, also titled their debut after a natural phenomenon where an immense tidal wave nicknamed “the Big Roar” rides up the Amazon Basin in Brazil at some 20 miles an hour. “Without dissecting it too much, it was a symbol for the album that somehow made sense to me,” says Bryan. “It sort of struck a chord [about] how something is a spectacle. People travel to see it, and at the same time, it’s really destructive for the people that live there. There’s something about that dichotomy that made sense to me.” After devoting a year to writing the record, The Joy Formidable spent a good while tinkering with The Big Roar in a small studio. “It’s kind of been our obsession for the past year and it’s been quite a turbulent year,” says Bryan. “It’s a statement of intensity. It needed a big title as well.”
As the guitarist explains, she wanted the album to have a great power while still maintaining vulnerability. “The album deals with a lot of themes of frustration and anger and grief. There are moments when we wanted the music to capture that completely in its loudest, most aggressive, most bombastic possible form, but at the same time, it’s got a lot of dynamic to it,” she adds. “There’s a lot of fragile, softer moments on the record.”
Perhaps more impressive than the mega-sized scope of the final product is knowing it’s being played by only three people. Bryan’s massive amounts of guitar gear are necessary for giving The Joy Formidable that heft. (In a Spin profile, she amusingly noted, “I mix pedals that shouldn’t go together, and my pedal board gets bigger and bigger.”) Still, the group doesn’t intend to accomplish the same results everywhere they go. “There’s a lot going on in The Big Roar and I would probably have to grow four legs if I wanted to completely replicate it live,” she says.
Accompanying those ambitious sonic visions is the outfit’s potential for real-life success. Although they’ve only been around for about four years, The Joy Formidable are already carving out an international reputation. At South By Southwest in March, Bryan estimates that the group did eight shows in five days.
“We don’t analyze it too much. We want people to listen to our music. There is a definite statement in what we’re doing. There aren’t any big ambitions at all financially. That’s not why we write,” says the frontwoman. “If you’re an artist that shares your music, the hope is that people will connect [to] it in some way or that it’s cathartic for you and maybe an escape for some others as well.”