with Onward, Soldiers
Sat., March 9 • Doors: 9 p.m.
The Whiskey • 1 S. Front St.
$8 • www.bombadilmusic.com
This will be their first full-on tour in three years. The educated men of Bomabdil (three graduates of Duke University and one of UNC Chapel Hill) have stepped in and out of the limelight at various times since the band’s inception in 2005—mostly to pursue further academic endeavors. Or, in bassist Daniel Michalak’s case, a leave of absence can be attributed to nerve damage in the hand.
Somehow, though, the ever-present pauses haven’t hurt their grasp on North Carolina’s folk scene. Accolades include opening for the The Avett Brothers and four upcoming shows with Carolina Chocolate Drops. This is probably because even without a member of their quartet, the rest of the players continue on. In fact, even before guitarist Bryan Rahija set off for graduate school in August 2012, he helped with the making of their fourth full-length album—“Metrics of Affection,” set to debut on July 23rd—despite the fact Bombadil will lose him come tour time.
Rounded out by James Phillips (drums) and Stuart Robinson (piano, ukelele), Bombadil brings to the stage a sometimes brooding, sometimes effervescent blend of folk and indie-pop. The beats of bass and drums are inviting and intoxicating, while the guitar, piano and other instruments unfold a catchy infusion with harmonic vocals.
All four men contribute to songwriting, providing Bombadil a multitude of layers within all of their projects, as influences and inclinations meld. From sounding like the Beatles in their “Revolver” days to entrancing folk fans in the simplistic way of The Avett Brothers, Bombadil continues to be a fine addition to the NC music scene—whether as a whole or in parts.
encore chatted with Phillips in anticipation of their March 9th performance at The Whiskey with local darlings Onward, Soldiers. We learned it can be kisses or text messages which convey love (who knows, these days), and which song from “Metrics” the drummer is most amped to reveal.
encore (e): Tell me how you each got involved with your musical instruments.
James Phillips (JP): Stuart and Daniel both grew up taking piano lessons. I, on the other hand, grew up just wanting to be loud, so I bugged my parents to get my a drum kit. Finally, in seventh grade, they relented and endured years of cacophony (which I am greatly thankful for). In my 20s, I’ve taken piano lessons and prefer playing piano, and Stuart and Daniel both would rather play drums. The bass feels left out most of the time, but we try to be nice to it.
e: Something I find interesting about you guys is that throughout most members’ other endeavors, no one is replaced. You didn’t just go find another Stuart or Daniel, or now, Bryan. Lots of bands have an ever-changing line-up full of replacements. Why do you stick to a core group of guys even through lengthy academic pursuits (or nerve damage, as the case may be)?
JP: I replaced the original drummer of Bombadil (John Michalak, Daniel’s brother) in 2007. Since then, we’ve gone through a lot together and view Bombadil as a collaboration between the four of us. Although Bryan doesn’t tour, he’s still very involved in many aspects of the band and will likely be on the records moving forward. Since we’re all so involved in the writing and production of the songs, I think it’d be really hard to bring in a new player to replace one of us. Also, we have to spend so much time together and know each other’s quirks, so bringing a stranger into the fold seems a bit frightening.
e: Since you all write, do you notice any musical differences between the four of you?
JP: We all certainly have major musical differences and rarely agree on music that we all like. I think that stems from our musical backgrounds and interests. Stuart is a classically trained pianist; Bryan grew up learning traditional folk guitar; Daniel grew up on prog rock; and I listen mostly to electronic dance music and soul. We try to bring those elements together to make Bombadil songs. I’d like to think we’re all pretty open minded in that regard, but it certainly takes a lot of effort in the writing and recording.
e: What sets “Metrics of Affection” apart from your previous albums? And while we’re at it—what was the basis for the title?
JP: We worked on “Metrics” for some time (we made “All That the Rain Promises” in 10 days) and used some new production strategies on this one. We’re moving a bit away from folk instrumentation into other realms, which is exciting. I think the songs are much more personal this time.
As for the title, “Metrics of Affection” refers to the difficult part of any new relationship where one attempts to gauge the other’s affection and commitment. How can you tell if someone cares—is it the amount of eye contact, number of texts, Facebook photo tags, postcards, or kisses? It seemed like a lot of the songs on this record where addressing that issue, so we choose it as a title.
e: I read in a January interview with Shuffle Magazine that you’ve been playing “What Does it Mean?”, “Have Me,” and “Learning to Let Go.” Now that the official “Metrics” tour has kicked off, what else are you playing? Which song are you most excited to unveil and why?
JP: We’ve also been playing a song called “Boring Country Song” for some time now. We’re working on bringing up some of the other tunes, namely “Angeline” and “Isn’t It Funny,” but I’m not sure when they’ll be ready. I’m most excited about unveiling “Isn’t It Funny” because Daniel has a really awesome rap part in that tune. As the last two records have been very much studio creations, we’ve had to go through this stage on each song where we have to figure out—and practice—performing the song live. It’s always fun to see how the song grows and changes in that process. I think now that we’re back at it full time, we’d like to write and arrange the songs, play them live, and then record them, just to see what kind of record that makes.
e: In this same interview, it was mentioned that “Metrics” is kind of you guys figuring out your lives. What direction do you think you’re going—both emotionally and as a band?
JP: I think emotionally we’re all settling back into being a full-time band and being in Durham and traveling frequently. It’s definitely an adjustment. We just did our first 10-day tour, which was rewarding but a bit exhausting. We have a lot of goals we’d like to meet. We have about five albums of songs written that haven’t been released (not that they all will see the light of day, either, but it’s nice to have a lot to pick and choose from). We have some exciting collaborations coming up over the next year. It’s great to be able to work on each other’s songs and be in close proximity to each other. Basically, we want to work as hard as we can on the band and see where that hard work can take us.