Hobbit: Standing Two Feet Tall!
Hobbit are one unique band - and their All For The One concept album has been hailed by pomp and prog fans as a masterpiece. So those unfamiliar - here's the story behind the band, their influences and that legend of an album.
You guys have a most unusual history if I dare say so.
Your first foray into the business started out well, supporting a range of bands and creating quite a buzz. Why did it go wrong and where did it go wrong?
Probably every rock n roll band that didn't become hugely successful will burn out one day. Hobbit had great potential and some good opportunities back in the early 80's. One thought is that we didn't have the right material for the time, but it was the legal problems with management that plagued us, as we look back.
What was the last frustration to cause you to split?
There wasn't really a single event or conflict between any of us. We pushed very hard for about 7 years. We four did not split on bad terms at all. We simply reached the end of our mission; it didn't work, and we all needed the change.
Why were your first recordings left on the shelf? It seemed as if the label involved missed a prime opportunity.
After the attraction of financial backing for Hobbit, there emerged very different strategies for success and influence on the type of material that we wrote. However, it all started with the unfortunate situation of having an initial manager and later a takeover by another. Everyone wanted us to make it to the top, but couldn't agree on how. It was a very heavy thing for all of us, but we harbor no bad feelings or point any blame.
So after the split of the band, what did you both do to 'earn a living'? Did you stay in music?
We continued to write and play, but not with the intensity. We wrote and recorded another album with 3 really young but good musicians, and may release it one day. Turk continued to play with a band called LIX, and also runs a music store. Gene went back into engineering (Can you believe that he has a Masters degree from MIT?). Rusty continued to play drums with various bands, but Richard stopped playing completely and started his own business.
It sounds like you have always kept in touch - what was the driving force behind picking things up again?
Yes, we have all stayed in touch through the years. As far as getting back together, we owe it all to Turk. He tricked us into coming together to record a song for the Thin Lizzy tribute album of 2001. Here's the scene:
Sunday, October 8, 2000
The original Hobbit actually played together last night. Gene, Turk, Richard, and Rusty. From the instant we all piled into the studio, the feeling was magical. We couldn't play that good because it had been so long. Still, when we played together it felt just like it used to. It's been 13 years! We played what we could of Takin Your Heart Away, Till I Get You Back, Rockin, Intensity, and a bunch more. Hobbit was playing again! We played, sang, laughed, pounded Budweiser, and had an incredibly good time until about 1am. Richard even had an idea for a new song. What we created together is still alive.
From this session, we soon got back into songwriting. There was no mission, it was just so much fun to write again.
A lot of bands have been drawn towards empowering their own destinies by harnessing the power of the Internet and the ability to reach fans on a direct one-on-one level. Was this an influence on you guys?
Not really, because Hobbit began long before Internet. However, after we re-united back in 2000, digital recording, CD's and Internet definitely played a role in the vision of where to go with our music.
Since the release of your previously unreleased albums, how have things developed as far as the fan network?
We had a great following in the southern part of the US back in the 80's, especially in Texas. Those fans waited for years and finally gave up on getting Hobbit albums. This was due to legal problems that kept the recordings in a bank vault for many years. For them it's a return to the past. Songs like Two Feet Tall, Midyear's Eve, and Love Is Forever received significant radio airplay all over Texas back in the 80's. However through the Internet, we now have a good fan base in many parts of the world. Our 70's/80's style of pomp rock music has generated the strongest interest in Europe, but South Africa, Australia, and South America have also joined in. It continues to grow daily!
At what stage did you decide to record a new studio album and was there any debate behind what the concept of the album should be?
I ask this as it seems the band was always destined to make an album such as All For The One!
We decided to focus all of the lyrical work toward Tolkien related themes. [A little history here. For the first few years of Hobbit, we wrote about this theme and similar ones; and called our music Fantasy Rock. By 1979, we were strongly advised to move into mainstream rock by Robin Brians, the guy who did ZZ Top's first few albums. We did that, it didn't work for us, and at this point we had come full circle] The rebirth of Hobbit was slow at first, but as our confidence and playing ability came back, we began to generate riffs and musical ideas like never before. It was probably a year later before we really got the vision to tie everything together as a single Tolkien expression. We had dreamed about doing this from the beginning, which we like to call the first age.
What is the origin of the songs on All For The One. What was the period of writing and research for the album?
We actually began writing the songs for AFTO in the early spring of 2001. The first ones were Wind and The Way, Mirkwood, One More Time, and Rivendell. We each pretty much write the lyrics to the songs that we sing, although there is always helpful input from both sides. Gene's are the lighter and Turk's are the darker songs and lyrics. Gene's lyric and phrasing style is generally more mystical and uses metaphors here and there, to relate to our own lives. Turk's lyric style is more descriptive and filled with the lore of Middle Earth. This contrast lends itself to the inherent themes within Tolkien's work. Richard adds guidance and color to these things. Anyway, here are some random thoughts about some of the songs. Gene used some classical music influences in Rivendell, Thoughts of Frodo, Farewells, and others. Richard and Turk came up with the powerful Mines of Durin. In Mordor was one of the last to be added, and was actually written back in 1978, as was Nazgul. After Gene's riff with that dulcimer, the only possible theme could be Bombadil, and it turned out to be a favorite since he was left out of the movie (Garn!) A number of short songlets helped tie the entire theme together.
For those that are new to the band or haven't heard the album yet - how would you describe it to them?
If you are an avid fan of Lord of The Rings lore, then you will be quite entertained. If you are looking for a typical package of today's rockers and pop hits, you might be a bit disappointed. It is truly a non-stop 74 minute ride through Middle Earth, and there is a lot of music, sounds, interesting lyrics, and much lore for Prof Tolkien's masterpiece! You won't catch it all in one listening. We span over 25 years of creating music together, including four albums, and believe that All For The One is our best.
The album has a real personality, what was the thinking behind the spoken word parts? It seems the album tells a full story rather than just being "influenced" by the Lord Of The Rings legend.
In addition to his lead vocals, Turk is the storyteller or narrator throughout the journey. It's something we started long ago, even in concerts, with the initial one being the lead in to In Mordor. Besides these parts, he also did a great rendition of orcs, ents, wizards, and even Sauron himself (digital effects helped a little!). If you're good, you can decipher every one of these. We consciously placed all the songs, transitions, and dialog throughout the work, such that it would follow a chronological path through Middle Earth and the story of the Ring. You can imagine the countless hours of digital editing!
And what of the various instruments that fall outside the 'norm'. A crash course in playing them, or have you always played a wider variety of instruments?
We have always been involved with multiple instruments, and have a great appreciation for color. Richard and Gene both play keyboards as well as guitar. Tammy did a lot of keyboard tracks too. Turk could have been a great lead guitar player as well as bass. Gene started playing flute back in the 70's, but the dulcimer is new. Today's synthesizers have incredible capabilities for those who like classical melody style, like strings, woodwinds, and horns. These sounds belong in music for Middle Earth!
The album has a great vibe to it - it sounds as if it could have been recorded in 1975 - is that true to your roots and influences as musicians?
It was certainly not our intent to sound like a 70's band, but that is our roots. This come out in our interpretation of Middle Earth. It would be interesting to hear a contrasting one from maybe the psycaledic 60's or late 90's punk, but we really think our 70's style fits best.
What other musicians/artists/bands did influence you as performers/writers?
Collectively, our most important influences are probably Beatles, Yes, Zeppelin, Tull, Styx, Dio and Ozzy. However, each of us have different influences. I think you can probably hear flavors of these bands in all of our music. As far as the Tolkien influence, Gene read a book about Robert Plant and learned about his work. He probably turned a lot of people on to it, with songs like Ramble On.
What are your favourite 5 albums then?
Like any other band, we each have favorites, but as a group these would have to be Sergeant Peppers, Led Zeppelin 4, Best of Rush, Yes Songs, Bowie's Who Sold The World, Kate Bush, Dark Side of The Moon, and Queen II.
What have you been working on since the release of All For The One? Any new material?
Yes, we have 6 or 7 songs in the works right now. Each of us generate the basic ideas and parts to songs we sing, but all of us collaborate from there. The next project will be a bit more upbeat. We have a good rocker called Cirith Ungol and another heavy one called Seeds of Aftermath. We have one coming along that has the feel of a Dream Theater song. We also have an album's worth of rockers from the mid 80's that we'll release at some point.
Following on from that question - what could you guys possibly do next?!!
We will always have the connection to Tolkien, and relate to themes in the story, but won't create another concept album. It's time for something new and different. You may be surprised! We will always live in Middle Earth, no matter what happens.
I must ask too - how many times have you both seen the Lord Of The Rings movies? :)
Each movie at least three times (not counting the DVD's at home!)
Anything else you guys would like to add?
Just to very much thank you Andrew, Melodic Rock, Phil, and all the folk, old and new, who have joined us in the land of the little people. Stay tuned for more!!
Thanks for talking about Hobbit and all the best!