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Band of the Week: Bombadil

April 30, 2008  |  2:48pm
Band of the Week: Bombadil

Hometown: Durham, N.C.
Fun Fact: While students at Duke, the members of Bombadil accidentally burned down their original practice space, a house on loan from the University. The house had to be completely demolished a week later.
Why It's Worth Watching: Bombadil's stunning debut album combines a love of international folk with homegrown mountain-blues, played with a good-time rollicking feel perfect for road trips and lazy summer days.
For Fans Of: The Avett Brothers, Akron/ Family, The Decemberists

"He’s a whimsical dude, he lives off in the forest in his own world and he plays music all day unaffected by all that is going on around him," explains Bombadil guitarist Bryan Rahija. "We just liked his place in the world." He's speaking of his band's namesake, Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings. The whimsical Bombadil proves to be the perfect description of the band and its music, a marriage of Bolivian folk and the piedmont blues found in the surrounding hills of its North Carolina home.

Rahija and Daniel Michalak (bass) previously played together in a Rolling Stones cover band while at Duke University, a group Rahija says was "not a very serious project, and had a name that is probably to embarrassing to be said in print." It was not until the fledgling musicians spent six months studying in Bolivia that they found a musical calling which they both became serious about. During their time abroad they discovered a common interest in the folk music of the region. "You know that old Paul Simon song ‘El Condor Pasa’ [a traditional Peruvian folk-tune]? Hearing stuff like that for six months really affected us," Rahija says. "It has such a cool and unique spirit behind it. We started lessons for some of the indigenous folk instruments and wound up recording a bunch of stuff on my laptop at a children's music school down there."

Upon their return home, they recruited friend Stuart Robinson (keyboards) and Daniel's brother John on drums (who has since left to pursue medical school, and has been replaced by James Philips), and began to flesh out the ideas first born in Bolivia. "We became a band and started playing shows, which turned into more shows, and it just gradually became what we do," Rahija says. "We really liked the folk music we heard down there and we just took pieces from that and tried to bring it together with all the other things we liked."

Delivering an odd mishmash of styles with a maniacal twist, Bombadil creates a loose, freewheeling atmosphere at its shows. The band members, who often switch from instrument to instrument between songs, work without a set list on stage, instead opting to vibe off the audience to decide the direction of the evening's music. "We are trying to create our own phenomena and culture about our live shows," Rahija explains. "We find it is so much more fun to just wing it on stage."

Despite the widely divergent mix incorporated into its sound and the intensity with which the band approaches its live shows, Bombadil has a much simpler focus for its music in general. "We are not trying to create elaborate moods or toy around with the sounds," Rahija says. "At the end of the day, our emphasis is really on the songwriting. It’s just for the love of each song."

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