Even when Ritzy Bryan is cursing the classical-music instructors of her youth, she still sounds charmingly regal. "My harp teacher was an absolute bitch," she declares with a crisp annunciation that betrays her Welsh heritage. "And every time I'd play the fucking flute, I'd pass out." Luckily for us, the doll-eyed dervish who fronts the Joy Formidable eventually got around to picking up a guitar.
Chatting by phone from Brighton, England, Bryan sounds soft and reserved, but to see her perform live is to witness a human conduit who channels a remarkable range of rock personas. During a September 2011 show at Detroit Bar, Bryan dropped sweet pop hooks with refreshing conviction over a wash of swirling, shoegaze guitar. The glorious cacophony was backed by the occasional dual-bass-drum freakout. She exhibited a mesmerizing spectrum of movement: At times, her jerky movements were freakishly robotic, while at others, she dipped and swayed with fluid elegance.
But Bryan is oblivious as to from where her performance style comes. "I come off stage, and I almost don't remember the gig," she says, laughing. "It's kind of a weird thing, but it's kind of what you want every night, to zone out and lose yourself."
On Monday, the Joy Formidable will bring their magic to a considerably larger stage at Santa Ana's Observatory in support of their second album, Wolf's Law. The title refers to a 19th-century theory that bones put under stress will become stronger. Though the songs still bear the trademark fuzz and intensity of the band's debut outing, 2011's Big Roar, the sound has evolved with vocals that soar (as opposed to gallop), as well as the addition of lush passages featuring string arrangements.
"I definitely enjoyed turning to some compositional elements on this album with the scoring of the strings and orchestral arrangements," says Bryan. "[Bassist] Rhydian [Dafydd] and I come from a classical background, and it's something we wanted to get into a little bit more."
The Joy Formidable formed in 2007, bolstered by the friendship between Bryan and Dafydd. The two played in an earlier project called Tricky Nixon. The band were rounded out with original drummer Justin Stahley (who was later replaced by Matt Thomas). Their earliest efforts yielded the singles "Austere" and "Cradle," the latter a rapturous, distorted jam with a howling chorus. The band got the attention of Passion Pit keyboardist Ayad Al Adhamy, who signed the band to his Black Bell Records.
By the release of Big Roar in 2011, it was clear the sound had gelled, with the standout track being "Whirring," the hook to which has little meaning when taken out of context, yet manages to get stuck on repeat in one's mind.
According to Bryan, the band toured in support of the album for nearly 18 months. During the mind-numbing carousel ride of backstages, tour buses and hotel rooms, Bryan and Dafydd wrote the songs for Wolf's Law. The band then retreated to a cabin in the snow-quilted Maine woods to record the final product.
"We definitely needed somewhere to reflect, to consolidate, to look at what we'd written," Bryan says.
Of the finished product, a nice representation would be "Cholla," which opens with spooky, horror-film piano, then erupts unexpectedly with a ferocious guitar that hums like a surging death ray. Tipping her hat to those who persevere, Bryan sings, "When nothing comes easy, only the finest are left."
And with a calendar full of tour dates stretching out ahead of them, the Joy Formidable are ready to continue persevering.
"I think it's probably going to be forever," says Bryan, giggling. "[I'll be touring] until I'm an old woman."
The Joy Formidable perform at the Observatory Room, 3503 Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714)
957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Mon., 8 p.m. $18. All ages.