Whether you’re from Los Angeles, Seattle, Nashville or New York, many artists face the same uphill battles to survive: booking a proper tour, filling seats, producing effective merch, keeping tabs on royalties, etc. In 2009, those problems played second fiddle to an even greater dilemma for Bombadil: health and wellness. “I had problems with my hands,” explains frontman Daniel Michalak. “Nerves and tendons were injured from repetitive stress, overdoing it from lots of things: Playing music, the computer, driving, lifting gear all day. … I started to get chronic pain in my hands so bad that I really couldn’t eat, let alone play music. I ended up having to move back home with my parents…. so I didn’t play an instrument for almost two years.”
How did all this happen? What lead up to such a sidelining injury? Let’s rewind a bit.
Bombadil are a four-piece folk-pop group from North Carolina; a concept formed when Bryan Rahija and Daniel met in Bolivia, studying abroad in 2004. When the duo returned to the States, they picked up Daniel’s brother John to play drums and contacted Stuart Robinson to handle the keys. Robinson had already written songs with Daniel in the past, so the decision was a no-brainer. After a year of the “write, tour, write, tour” routine, the band landed a gig at the University of North Carolina. It would turn out to be the biggest of their career up to that point.
“UNC booked us to open for the Avett Bros.,” Daniel explains. “We played that show and Dolph [Ramsuer], who runs Ramseur Records, was there and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to have you guys record a CD.’ We [agreed] and it’s just been kind of going like that ever since.” With no physical contract, and little fear of what the label would control, the band released the EP Bombadil in 2006, A Buzz, A Buzz in 2008 and Tarpits and Canyonlands in 2009. In that time, Ramseur helped the band with booking and artist development. Bombadil also replaced drummer, John—who went off to medical school—with current stickman, James Phillips, who they found on Craigslist. Everything seemed to be falling in place, but no one could have expected what would happen next.
“I wish I really understood what happened,” explains Daniel. “I feel like I’m still in the process of figuring it out myself. [After the nerve damage] I began to write more music that didn’t require me to play anything. I could create these beats with my laptop. I couldn’t type, so I was using the computer mouse with my foot, which is not as hard as it sounds. … I would still get together with the guys once a month and they would write chords and I would sing over it and write lyrics. We had to stop performing, of course, because I couldn’t play… plus everybody wanted to do different things. I think everything that happened to me made us say, ‘Okay, let’s just take a break from this for a while.”
With the combination of rest and extensive therapy, Daniel slowly began regaining the use of his hands, and Bombadil traveled to Pendavavis Farm near Portland, OR (where the annual Pickathon Festival is held and Decemberists tracked The King Is Dead), to record All That The Rain Promises in 2011, nearly two years after the band’s previous release.
“There was no heat other than a chimney, and we went in November, so it wasn’t too bad,” he laughs.
Fast forward to 2013. Now, with the band back to 100 percent, they have booked a modest tour and prepared Metrics of Affection, which was tracked in Phillips’ home studio last summer. “It was out of necessity,” says Daniel. “We needed to get together, we wanted to start playing music again and the best way to do that was to start living in the same town, and the best way for us to get a hold of one another was just to live together.”
So what does Daniel offer fellow musicians who fear they might over-work their body? “Don’t play too much, stretching [is crucial], trying to get really relaxed and playing ergonomically (I’m still working on that). The best thing is rest, so we try to not do more than three or four shows a week. Stress is a huge part. There is no secret surgery or pill, your body just needs rest.” Elaborating on the point of stress, Daniel adds, “Music isn’t everything. I know for me, I had to come to a point where I accepted that I may never be able to play again and be okay with that. I think it’s important that people do other things, and don’t get bogged down on whether their song or art [will succeed]. Getting injured was a great opportunity for me to find new ways to create songs through doing drum loops or having others write chords and collaborate.”
Metrics of Affection is available now.
By Andy Mesecher