Faced with a band member becoming too sick to tour, most young indie bands would throw in the towel. Bands have certainly quit for lesser reasons. Not Bombadil. The quirky Durham quartet never considered splitting when bassist Daniel Machalak became so debilitated by a nerve problem in his hands that he could no longer feed himself, let alone drive a car or play an instrument.
That took touring off the table for a year and a half, but as drummer James Philips tells it, the group never quit writing songs or collaborating online while Philips was living in Oregon.
“It never stopped being part of my life. It was always the band I was in,” says Philips, who toured with Minnesota songwriter Haley Bonar and labelmates Samantha Crain and Paleface during the hiatus. “All of us were busy on music. I looked outward and Daniel, Bryan (Rahija) and Stuart (Robinson) were busy writing Bombadil songs.”
Those songs materialize next month on Bombadil’s fourth full-length album, “Metrics of Affection” (out July 23). It’s the group’s second since the return of Machalak, who recovered thanks to stretching and relaxation techniques. Bombadil plays Snug Harbor Friday. (Rahija, who is in grad school, no longer tours.)
Bombadil may be lumped in with the current rising crop of Americana artists, but its version is well left of center. With rich harmonies and playfulness, Bombadil appears rooted in folk music. It’s not exactly your grandma’s Woody Guthrie folk, though. There’s a wild Gypsy street performer element to the act.
The uninitiated might guess Bombadil is actually a troupe of performance artists from a faraway land. Ironically, Machalak and Rahija met as exchange students in Bolivia; but while that may have been the starting point, Philips says the group draws on other sources.
“We all collectively like British rock music from the ’60s,” he says. “A lot of the hip-hop and pop music from our youth is inspiring to us. We’re starting to use those elements a little more now.”
He doesn’t completely ignore that folk sound, though. “Bryan grew up playing Piedmont blues guitar.”
A few members were classically trained as well.
“We often talk about the radio hits of the ’90s, and Stuart doesn’t know what we’re talking about,” Philips says.
Hip-hop, classical and pop all blend seamlessly into Bombadil’s already unique sound, which on “Metrics of Affection” shifts from European folk-rock to country rock circa 1975 (think Dr. Hook or Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). That uniqueness could determine whether it follows bands like the Lumineers into the mainstream or are deemed too wacky for mass appeal.
“What comes out doesn’t really sound like any of that directly, though,” says Philips of the folk-rock resurgence that the Avett Brothers (with whom they share manager and label owner Dolph Ramseur) helped ignite.
“We don’t even use acoustic instruments on stage. We sing a lot. That’s similar. The Avett Brothers have led the way for this folk revival that seems to be happening. I usually listen to pop radio in the car. It’s strange when I’m enjoying a Justin Timberlake song and Mumford comes on. I’m happy to see that happening. I think it’s good music.
“I don’t know where we fit. One thing that’s neat about folk music is it’s a little more approachable than other styles. The number of Avett Brothers’ fans that I’ve met that know how to play their songs for instance – that creates another connection.”
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