Bombadil: "A Buzz, Buzz" and Much More

With their first official CD “A Buzz, Buzz’ due to be released April 29, 2008, the four talented and musically astute gentleman of the folky, unique group, Bombadil, had quite a bit to say in regards to their history, their music making, their current goings on and the album itself. The band, comprising of Stuart Robinson, Bryan Rahija, James Phillips and Daniel Michalak, are musical troubadours who proved to be quite the conversationalists, full of stories as we chatted via phone for a while in regards to all things “Bombadil.”
Jennifer Harp

HGMN:  Let's begin with some personal history from each of you.  Why don't you each tell me how you got started in music.bomba6

James:  I'll start.  I remember by the time I was two I had worn out a copy of "Born In The USA."  My sister and I would run around in circles when listening to that album.  I started playing recorder in the first grade, clarinet in the third grade and drum set in the seventh grade.  

HGMN:  Now for Bombadil you play..

James:  Drum set and recorder.

HGMN: Stuart..your beginnings?

Stuart:  I play keyboard and...what did you want to know, how we started out?

HGMN: Yes, how old were you, your first instrument, that sort of thing.

Stuart:  Well, we had a piano around the house that I always banged around on.  Then when I was five, my parents decided to sign me up for lessons with that.  I decided I liked it and that was pretty much it.

HGMN:  For Bombadil you play mostly keyboards?

Well, I'm trying to learn a little guitar from Bryan, but not really.  (laughter)  I played trumpet for my middle school band, too and do that some now along with the keyboarding. 

I'll tell you my story next, Jen.

  All right.

bombismilesBryan:  I started playing guitar when I was 12, probably.   I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and my friend's little brother went to a guitar camp where he sat around with a bunch of old guys and learned Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt and I thought that sounded pretty cool.  So, I started going to the camp with him and started learning like old time bee-bop, and that was really what I cut my teeth on, so to speak  (laughs)

HGMN:  And, now, you play..

Bryan:  Mostly guitar, but I also do some bass and various other things.

HGMN:  Instrumentally, it seems as if you guys all seem to feed off of each other.  This is obvious mostly in your live performances.

Bryan:  Yeah, I think so.  I get really jealous of James, playing the drums.  (laughter)  So, yeah, we do learn from each other.

HGMN:  Okay, Daniel.

Daniel:  I'll go last.  (laughs)  Where do I begin?  Ummm...I've always liked music.  I played guitar all throughout high school.  I played bass, too, sometimes with the band.  But I mainly play guitar. 

HGMN:  Tell me about the history of Bombadil.  Also, the conception of the band name.

Daniel:  Sure.  The name of our band comes from a character in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy; Tom Bombadil.  He appeared in one chapter and you never hear about him again.  bomba2

HGMN:  Why did you chose to use that character's name for your band?

Daniel:  I'll have to check our fact sheet,  (laughs), it sounds good.  This character lives in the woods with his wife.  He appears to help save people from being eaten by trees.  I talked about it with the manager we had at the time and mentioned that we play the kind of music that Tom Bombadil would play.  So, we like the word 'Bombadil' and after thinking about it for a second it kind of stuck.  As for the beginning of the band, well, at first there were a lot of twists and turns.  We started with me and my brother, John, who was the drummer for the band first, and plays drums on the upcoming album.  As for Stuart and Bryan, we all met each other our junior year.  We all started playing music together and then my brother left.  We started searching on Craig's List for a drummer and fortunately found James. 

HGMN:  Each song you have is reminiscent of a good story.  Do you plan for the songs to come out in this style?  You guys are like the bards from the days of old.

Bryan:  Ummm...I guess in a lot of ways we are trying to do 'folk' music.  Storytelling is a really important part of folk music.  It's important to have a reason to sing and have something that you want to share, or tell, with or to your audience.  More often than not, they really don't want to hear about 'you'.  I think other people are more interested in things that you've seen or experienced.  So, yeah, I think that storytelling is a good way to meet the audience half-way.  Telling stories is defiantly something that we try to do. 

HGMN:  Now, do one of you do most of the music writing or is it more of a collaborative effort?

Bryan:  There's a lot of collaborating.  Mostly, me, Stuart and Daniel, we come to the table with an idea, or a bit of a song.  They can be in various stages of completion and we all work on it from that point.  Sometimes, we do what we're told and sometimes we give each other ideas on how to complete it. 

HGMN:  Your band is signed with the label Ramsuer Records.  How did that come about?

Stuart:  We met Dolph Ramseur after playing with The Avett Brothers, about two and a half years ago, at UNC-Chapel Hill.  We opened for them and Dolph really liked the sound we made.  He came up and talked with us and we sort of bonded with him.  He is an asset, that's for sure.  We thank our lucky stars every day.

HGMN:  Your tour schedule is becoming quite full, which is good.  Tell me about your van problems that you've had recently. 

James:  We had a lot of car problems!!  (laughter)  Our old van really did not like the state of West Virginia.  We were a little disappointed with the van.  It quit both times we went to West Virginia.  The first time was actually the first time I had ever driven the van.  I was driving it up the side of the mountain and I tried to rev it up to get over the top and something went 'pop' and green smoke started coming out of the van everywhere.  We had blown Bomba3out the heater core.  (laughs)  Well, actually I had blown out the heater core.  (laughs)  Fortunately we found a really nice mechanic and he routed some things around the heater core, so then we didn't have heat any more.  Which was pretty terrible.  This was in the beginning of winter, in October.  So, when it quit the second time, we just gave up on it and got another one. 

HGMN:  Tell me about what you all do to pass the huge amount of time you spend driving from show to show.

James:  As for what we do in the van...well, everyone but Stuart reads.  Stuart doesn't really like to improve his mind at all!  (laughter)  We've also been memorizing the capitals of Africa.

HGMN:  Really?!  Why?

James:  Drop one on us.

HGMN:  (laughs) I have no, that's in Africa.

Daniel:  The capitol is Harare.

HGMN:  I'll check on that and email you if you're right or not.  (laughter)

James:  This is actually going to be a song.  Our new song is about Kuala Lampur.  Now what country is that the capital of, Jen?  (laughter)

HGMN:  (laughing)  I have no idea...somewhere in Africa I imagine..(laughing)

James:  It is the capital of Maylasia.

Thanks for clarifying that.  (laughter)

James:  We also pick up a lot of records from people we play with, so we'll listen to the records and talk about what we like, what we hear.  We have a lot of really random conversations. 

Daniel:  We all have very specific positions in the van, too. 

HGMN:  So, certain people sit in certain places and have certain responsibilities?

Bryan:  It's sort of like, depending on where you are sitting in the van you have a different role.  The driver is obviously the driver, the person in the captain's chair, we don't call them the 'navigator' we call them the "executioner".  The executioner's job is to make decisions and make sure the driver executes them.  Different executioner's have different styles, depending on who it is.  (laughter)  Then, in the back, there is the 'strategy team."  And the strategy team's job is to confer and issue strategy reports that are commissioned by the executioner, based on the results of their report. 

HGMN:  I see.  It sounds almost like a military operation.bomba4

Stuart:  We run a tight ship, Jen.  (laughter)  Another job of the strategy team is to rubber neck.  To fill in the driver of everything they see.  Lot's of information gathering.  (laughing)

HGMN:  What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you guys at a live performance?

James:  I've only been in Bombadil for only twenty-five percent of the shows so far, but in December we played in Winston-Salem, NC, at The Garage.  It was, you know, a normal crowd.  The show was going fine. You know, fine, but not great. Then, all of a sudden, about half way through, about thirty people, dressed head to toe as Santa Claus's poured into the venue.  I think they'd all had a fair amount to drink by the time they go there.  (laughter)  They were very happy.  They were very, very much enjoying the band.  (laughter)  They stood right at the center front of the stage, dancing around.   Dolph Ramseur was actually at the show and he said that no one would ever believe him when he told them this story.  (laughter)  They were throwing Santa Claus hats at us, yelling and carrying on.  Insane.  That's pretty unusual. 

HGMN:  Did this all throw you guys off?  I mean, did you just crack up?

James:  It was okay.  It was like, they were really into it. 

HGMN: Let's talk about your upcoming new release, due out April 29th, "A Buzz, Buzz'.  Do you guys each have a favorite track?

Daniel:  Picking a favorite song...well, that's kind of like choosing a favorite child or something.  (laughs)  I think some came out better than others.  I think that for different reasons we all like different tracks.  It's hard to pick one. 

HGMN:  How long did it take to complete the recording.

Bryan:  The first time we went to record was in Janurary of 2007.  The last time we went to record was in November.  We were probably finished with the master in December.  So, I guess you could say it took almost a twelve month period.  And it was hard, juggling our jobs and our tour schedule with the recording, so it just took a long, long time.  We were sort of new at it and there were some challenges with the recording process. 

HGMN:  Well, your style of music and how you guys play is not very, well, "traditional".

Bryan:  Yeah, we really pushed his softward to its limits.   One of the biggest challenges in recording this record was getting a piano.  That was kind of a daunting task.  The studio we used did not have a piano.  The studio was in this guy's home.  So, he kept offering me this great, like, software package, where he said he could give me what a grand piano would sound like in an auditorium.  We were like, "no, no, no..we really insist on using a real piano."  So, we got on Craig's List and eventually found one in Clayton, NC, about an hour away.  Went out, rented a Uhaul, drove it in...drug it in the house six hours later, sweating in the snow.  (laughter)  We finally managed to get it in the house and tried to tune it.  A few of the strings had broke and that kind of thing, so we just gave up on it.  What we finally decided to do was to take the engineering recording equipment off site and recording where a good  piano was.  This ended up working good, it was just a challenge every time we wanted to record we had to pack up all the equipment and go.  It was challenging.  Oh, and our first engineer ended up leaving for Italy after nine months.  We just couldn't get everything down, how we liked it in time.  So, we had some complications. 

HGMN:  So, with the new CD coming out the end of April, your tour is extending into the fall, right?

Bryan:  I don't know about the word "touring."  We look at it as more of just going in to work, I guess. (laughs)  I mean, we are trying to play as many shows as we possibly can.  Hopefully the shows keep coming in and we'll keep on driving.  We do have kind of a big 'tour' in June.  We are going out to the North West.  We are tapping that tour off with a show at Bonnaroo, which is really exciting. 
bomba5Exciting is the right term for the current goings on of the group Bombadil.  They are indeed quite the bards of old, in a sense, telling stories of their own experiences with each song they perform.  The group of four put on a fantastic live show, incorporating audience participation with much glee, interchanging instruments with each other and wearing signature items of clothing, such as suspenders, sweater vests and various types of hats.  The live performances of Bombadil are most worthy of catching when and wherever one can.

April 29, 2008 heralds the release of their much anticipated studio album, "A Buzz, Buzz."  You can order the new CD, check out the band, their tour schedule and a bit of their music via  the following links:

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