Though it wasn’t as harrowing as “The Nanny Diaries,” Welsh rocker Ritzy Bryan’s 18 months in Washington, D.C., as an au pair for a wealthy family proved to be an eye-opening experience.
It was just three years ago, before the singer returned home to form her now-celebrated power trio The Joy Formidable, which plays San Francisco on Thursday.
Yet to Bryan it seems like another lifetime. Wanting to leave the UK for awhile, she found a nanny-seeking U.S. family online, packed up her guitar and flew over for a live-in job minding two pampered tots.
“The time I spent there was really where I felt like I came into my own as a songwriter,” she says. In retrospect, says Bryan, 26, who appears backing their new Pixies-meets-Catatonia assault “The Big Roar,” the situation was “quite laughable,” because people don’t think of her as a maternal person.
“It’s ridiculous to think that I was actually in charge of looking after anything other than myself,” she says.
Without a car and friends, she occupied a basement room in the suburbs. “It’s quite a lonely existence, being an au pair,” she says. “My escape was very much in writing.”
Bryan admits she’s a big kid at heart herself, so she and the children got along well together.
“They were sweet, and we had some good times,” she says.
There also was a tiny basement window to squeeze through if she wanted to escape for an evening. “I used to come and go without them really knowing if I was in or out—like a little cat door!” she says. “But it seemed to inspire a lot of creativity in me. It was quite an intense period of soul-searching, and I learned a lot about myself.”
When the guitarist’s old bassist chum Rhyddian Dafydd invited her to fly back and join his new band, she agreed. That group quickly failed, but it sparked a songwriting partnership for the pair.
With drummer Matt Thomas, they landed in London, and recorded both their debut EP “A Balloon Called Moaning” and “Roar” in their attic bedroom studio.
Their sound truly is a deafening roar, with Bryan revealing herself to be one of the most commanding new front-women in rock.
Thanks to Bryan’s au pair days, touring the U.S. feels like second nature now. The band already has ritual restaurants they visit, like IHOP.
“Because that’s where we were on our very first American breakfast,” she says. “Watching Matt consume twice his body weight in pancakes!”
IF YOU GO
The Joy Formidable
Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 621-4455; www.bottomofthehill.com