Five Questions: Bombadil

In a new web feature, we invite touring bands to answer a quick, five question interview. Get to know a little bit more about N.C.-based folk-pop quartet Bombadil, back on tour after nearly three years. The band (bassist Daniel Michalak, guitarist Bryan Rahija, pianist Stuart Robinson and drummer James Phillips) took time off after a debilitating nerve injury sustained by Michalak affected the use of his hands. But, as Phillips explains below, the band found ways to continue making music and art. Now they’re back. And, coming up on the release of a new album, Metrics of Affection, they play Altamont Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 16. 8 p.m., $10. Last Bison headlines.

Mountain Xpress: This is your first tour in three years, but you’ve played Asheville within the past year. Tell us some of your favorite things to do when you visit Asheville.
James Phillips: We love visiting Asheville. We’re always happy to eat at Nine Mile or Rosetta’s kitchen. We’ve often gone to the downtown library to pass the time before shows. It’s an obvious choice for a musician, but visiting the Moog factory is also really fun. I’m hoping the have a demo model of the new Sub Phatty this trip to town so I can give it a spin and wish that I had more money.

Metrics of Affection isn’t out until July 23 — will you be playing songs from that album on your current tour? And do you like to road-test your songs before you go into the studio?
We are currently working about four of the songs from the new record into our live sets. We’ve got a few more we’re working on live arrangements for, but not sure we’ll have them to our liking in time for the show at Altamont Theater. In general, we don’t road test songs as we use recording as a fundamental part of the writing process. That will probably change in the future, now that we’re touring full time again and we’ll probably want to incorporate the newest songs because it’s more fun for us.

Do you try to translate your recorded sound to the live show, or do you prefer for the two to be different experiences?
We prefer having the two be different experiences. That’s mostly out of necessity, in particular now that we tour as a three piece. We like experimenting with arrangements and instrumentation on the records, but then have to translate those songs to our piano/bass/drums setup live. Theres only so much sound the three of us can make. It’s a fun challenge for sure, an exercise in economy. It’s been particularly exciting to not use a guitar recently, because it opens up space for vocals and harmonies and forces us to think about the songs differently.

While Daniel Michalak was recovering from his nerve injury, did he and/or others in the band seek out other means of creative expression (besides music)? If so, what?
Daniel and all of us continued working on music, writing songs and passing them back and forth. Daniel was forced to figure out means to make music without using his his hands much, which meant relying more on looping sounds and using the computer as compositional tool (he’s awesome at using a mouse with his foot to take that burden off his hands). It definitely influenced his songwriting in interesting ways, some of which will be evident on the new record. Other than that, to keep creatively engaged, Bryan played basketball, Stuart concocted new recipes, and I drew comics about my life.

Are you able to write songs while you’re on the road, and, if so, what’s the process like? Any special processes for crafting songs?
Mostly, we don’t write on the road. One or two of the songs on Tarpits and were written on tour, but other than that our songwriting happens in focused periods at home. If we ever have time off on the road and have access to a piano, we’ll work on songs, but usually we’re working on improving the live show or just playing Bach or something fun like that (we all play piano, so it’s a race to be the first to sit down). I do compose electronic music in the car on my iPad, but not sure if any of that will be released as Bombadil tunes. We are also pretty active listeners in the car which I think influences song writing and arrangement and production.

Band photo by Harry Taylor.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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