Bombadil was founded by a group of friends who met while attending college in Durham, N.C. They graduated in 2006, released a self-titled EP that was well-received, and soon seemed on their way to finding an audience. But by 2009, bassist Daniel Michalak was struggling with an unexplained pain in his hands.
“I started noticing it during shows,” he says. “And it got to the point where I couldn’t hold a spoon to feed myself, or brush my teeth, or hold the phone to my ear.”
Michalak’s daily routines became increasingly difficult — and draining.
“I ignored the warning signs and tried to push through the pain, rather than listening to my body,” he says. “And it got worse and worse, to the point that in early 2009, we had to stop — stop playing, stop everything.”
The band released an album that year, Tarpits and Canyonlands, to positive reviews. But with Michalak still sidelined with what was diagnosed as nerve damage, went their separate ways. Michalak says the months he spent getting well were long and hard.
“I couldn’t do anything. I spent a lot of time just looking at the ceiling,” he says. “I did a lot of walking. And then I had a lot of time spent in doctors’ offices, trying to figure out what was wrong.”
Pianist Stuart Robinson spent that time trying to actually be a doctor. He pursued medical school and, for a time, stopped playing music altogether. But the bandmates remained friends, and one day, Robinson says, he and Michalak had a big-picture conversation.
“We were talking about how it was going to be 10 years before [I was] an independent, practicing physician. And he kind of mentioned, ‘Well, think how far you could grow a band in 10 years.’ Not just an upstart, struggling band, but, I think, something that really existed.’”
Robinson says making music in the immediate present suddenly felt like “a priceless opportunity.” Bombadil reconvened in 2011 and has been active since then.
The band spoke with NPR’s Linda Wertheimer about its fourth album, Metrics of Affection, out next week. Click the audio link to hear more of their conversation.