When The Joy Formidable found itself with a concert cancellation in the fall of 2011, its members decided to rent the proverbial "cabin in the woods" in Casco, Maine. Happily there was no portal to an underground lair of engineered monsters.
It was simply an idyllic middle-of-nowhere place to work on the band's second album, "Wolf's Law," which greeted the world in January just as massively rocking as the first.
For the unfamiliar, The Joy Formidable is a Welsh trio that walks the line between shoegazer rock and grunge -- somewhat like Smashing Pumpkins with an attractive frontwoman. The band's aptly titled 2011 full-length debut, "The Big Roar," drew rave reviews and earned the band opening slots with the Foo Fighters and Muse.
The trio found itself writing the follow-up on the road, and the cabin helped the members nail it down free of distractions. But they're not even sure that mattered.
"We were completely consumed by the making of this record," says singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan. "I still think that would've been the case even if we had been in lively surroundings. But we really wanted the complete contrast to being on the road. So I think that was the main tool of going somewhere quiet and secluded and peaceful and just a complete contrast from the writing that we had been doing."
The album was named after the medical theory that bone under stress will grow stronger, a metaphor for the singer's emotional state.
"It's a motif that runs through the album," she says. "We talk a lot of places of healing and connection with the world and with yourself and the people around you."
They were also drawn to the mythical/cultural symbol of the wolf, which is why they changed the spelling of the medical term from the original "Wolff."
"We grew up in very rural places, and I think it's a big part of our imagination. There's something quite wild and primal about the music that we make."
"The Big Roar" was fueled, in part, by the anger and pain of her parents' messy divorce and her estrangement from her father. "Wolf's Law" opens with the song "This Ladder Is Ours," setting a tone of reconciliation.
"There are a lot of emotional ties to this record," she says. "I was starting to feel like there were some relationships in my life, with my father in particular, I actually felt like we were starting to heal. Me and my father hadn't spoken for several years. We've kind of lost other family members in the interim, and I think there was a sense of just wanting to move forward and wanting to reconnect and not wanting to waste any more time. That definitely seeps through the record."
The cabin in the woods did not inspire a gentle forest-y sound from The Joy Formidable, which again cranks it up to epic levels and piles on orchestration on the closing ballad "The Turnaround."
"I think this album has very dynamic ranges, from having a big sound to being very fragile and being very vulnerable as well," she says. "I think we've been very open as writers, and if there's cohesion in the voice and the lyrics, and as a unit you're confident in what you're singing about and telling a story, then the style and the sound from album to album and song to song, we definitely like to be brave with that. We like the song to lead the way. We like to experiment, and it's a big part of our songwriting. That's definitely why this album has more guitar flavors from sounds and pedals and effects."
She attributes her poetic lyrical style to writing from the time she was 7 or 8 years old -- "so young," she says, "I never based my voice on anybody else."
"At the same time," she adds, "you're not sure who consciously or subconsciously kind of seeps into the writer you become. I grew up listening to great lyricists, like Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, storytellers like Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen. I read a lot, and all that informs the kind of writer you become."
It's revealing that on Record Store Day, The Joy Formidable released a single with a B-side live cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Badlands."
"It's a great song, and he's definitely one of the reasons that I got into music. It was from going to one of his concerts and seeing the energy and passion for music he brings to the stage every night. So we were just celebrating that and having a moment with it. We didn't really rehearse it. It was recorded very live. Just a celebration of him and something that we love."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. First Published April 23, 2013 4:00 AM