How the Rock Band The Joy Formidable Reminded Me about the Complexity and Power of Art

A little over a month ago I had the chance to tick an event off my bucket list: seeing The Joy Formidable in concert. In an age where rock and roll has largely become homogenous, shallow, and forgettable, this Welsh rock has blown my mind over the course of three English-language studio albums (some Welsh releases are out there for the lucky few who can find them), and seeing them in concert exceeded my expectations.

But this wasn’t just one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to (I rocked out the whole time and was feeling it the morning after, believe you me), it was also a perfect example of the amazing power and complexity of art in all its forms. A few things happened which spoke to me as a writer:

  1. At one point, singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd came down into the crowd and performed an acoustic song. I was right behind them, which was pretty cool, but as I looked around during the performance, I was more struck by the mile-wide smiles I saw on several faces, as if this one moment was making the fans’ entire year. They looked blissfully happy that these two were sharing this moment with them like this. I want my art to do that for even one person, not because it will be some feather in my cap, but because something I have created will have touched a person that much. This power is real, and it needs to be harnessed and channeled so others can experience it too.
  2. On a related note, the trio had PHENOMENAL stage presence, and the way they fed off each other and connected with the audience was outstanding. They joked with the audience, had full-blown conversations a couple times about completely random things, and every last second of it worked. These three were just rock stars on a stage shooting the breeze in between songs as naturally as if they were having a beer with their mates. They didn’t just shoegaze on stage either, they played to the crowd, they engaged them, they reminded us that they were happy to have us there. Are you doing this with your fans? If not, you should try to. It doesn’t take much to let your readers know they matter to you and that you’re thinking of them even if you don’t personally know most of them. Build some trust with them, and they will return the favor and stick around for the ride, believing it’s completely worth it, and isn’t that part of the point? Going on a flippin’ fantastically awesome journey together?
  3. The final thing I learned is they aren’t afraid to do the unexpected, and you shouldn’t be either. I was shocked that they didn’t play two of their bigger hits–“This Ladder is Ours” and “Little Blimp”–but their absence did not make the concert a waste by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in a way it was refreshing because they felt free to play other parts of their catalog. Similarly, their just-released new album, Hitch, is a sonic departure for them that a lot of people aren’t jiving with as readily as their previous releases, but I give them five thousand kinds of props for their decision to do some risk-taking in an effort to explore new facets of the creative streaks that are inside them. We as writers should be doing this as well, no matter how scary it seems. If you aren’t stretching yourself, what’s the point? One of those worst pieces of writing advice I’ve ever heard is “Write what you know.” Bollocks. START with what you know, if you like–that makes perfect sense–but if you stick with things you know, your art will suffer, and readers will suffer by extension. Don’t be afraid to try something new; after all, you can’t please everybody.

Art has the power to be something spectacular. Rock music, paintings, books…all of these creative avenues can help us express who we are, learn more about ourselves, and connect with others in ways no one else can. Being an artist is an enormous responsibility, but it’s also an enormous privilege, and as The Joy Formidable showed me (on April Fool’s Day of all days!) it’s something that can bring people together and blow their minds in the best way possible.

Now what’s not to like about that?