When Bombadil hits the road before their August 30 show at the Grey Eagle, they’ll bring the whole house with them. It’s not the first time they’ve done it, either.
“This is the third Bombadil house,” said bassist/singer Daniel Michalak of the 1910-built, two-story brick rental in Old North Durham. He, drummer James Phillips, and keyboardist/singer Stuart Robinson moved back in together this past April after Phillips returned from a short stint in Portland. “We’ve found that our personalities are best if we’re right on top of each other. It keeps ourselves focused and is the most efficient for us.”
The eclectic pop quartet are best friends, and since forming in 2005 have mostly managed to separate work from life, though the two facets often bleed together. They do their best to take enough breaks to escape one another and keep things fresh, but the music always draws them back together.
Over the summer, that allure meant work on a new album and also the return of guitarist Bryan Rahija, who moved in for the warm season after working in Washington, D.C. While 2011‘s All That The Rain Promises came from what Michalak calls a “sad, dark place,” the new album (as yet untitled, with an eyed release date of late November) finds the group “more resilient to the darkness.” With bigger, upbeat songs this go-round, Michalak says there’s “more to it” than their previous albums.
He, Rahija, and Robinson each contributed 3-4 songs for the album with Phillips handling the recording and engineering. Under the moniker Sumner James, the prolific Phillips has also completed a solo record (titled 29 Days and due out August 28) that’s heavily influenced by the electronic sound from his time in the Pacific Northwest. Michalak has high praise for his bandmate’s side project, and says that while that style is unlikely to weave its way into Bombadil’s sound, the growth of all four musicians is strongly evident in their latest work.
“The day when I don’t like the new songs more than I like the old songs will be time for us to stop,” he said. “The songs are getting better. We’re getting better.”
But soon it will be time to say goodbye again, at least temporarily. Following a September 1 show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, Rahija will head off to Michigan for business school. As a result, for the bulk of the next two years, Bombadil will primarily be a three-person show, which is how they will perform Thursday at the Grey Eagle.
“Bombadil has always been kind of crazy and over the top, so scaling back with the number of members on stage kind of makes us focus on the songs,” Michalak said. “Of course it’ll be quieter. We won’t get to do so many instrument tricks or moves or rely so much on the instruments. There’ll be more of a focus on making the words sound good.”
The absence of Rahija’s guitar means less of a rock edge, and more of a stripped-down, singer/songwriter style from the piano, bass, and drums onstage, which Michalak feels is a great fit for the Grey Eagle. “It’s a listening room and a good place for this sound,” he said, promising a show full of engaging songs and surprises in which the audience will never be bored.
Michalak also plans to fit in a meal at Rosetta’s Kitchen, his go-to Asheville restaurant, before returning to Durham. Back home, final touches on the new album await. That and dealing with those housemates of his. From the sound of things, he wouldn’t have it any other way.