Hobbit Band Interview
Michael writes: Doubtless a number of folks in the UK may be unfamiliar with the rock group HOBBIT, but these four fellows have been expressing their admiration, through music, of Professor Tolkien’s Middle-earth since the late 1970’s. Now, two years in the making, their album ‘All for the One’ sees its realisation. ‘All for the One’ is actually HOBBIT’s fourth album being preceded by ‘Join the Celebration’, ‘Two Feet Tall’ and ‘Rockin’ the Shire’. After a somewhat extended absence from the music scene HOBBIT have reformed and the release of ‘All for the One’ is a collection of hitherto unreleased material.
There is of course an extant amount of musical interpretations and borrowings from Professor Tolkien’s works yet in many respects HOBBIT have succeeded in constructing a more personal series of compositions, flushed with immediacy and skill. HOBBIT would view their work as a journey of sorts through Professor Tolkien’s literary landscapes; Fantasy Rock, as HOBBIT’s work has been coined, draws, in part, from a well of musical influences which range from the likes of Jethro Tull, Yes, Styx and Led Zeppelin, to name a few, combine this with a fervent appreciation of Professor Tolkien’s works and the end result, I feel, has resuscitated this genre with aplomb. Certainly ‘All for the One’, in my view, succeeds in conveying the listener along a varied and melodious road through Middle-earth. The album opener ‘Everywhere’ lifts with a driving rhythm and twin vocal deliveries; it is one of several compositions which will resonate with many folks who have sat at Professor Tolkien’s wordsmithy and found themselves ‘opening the book’ at which point the ‘flora and fauna’ that resides therein begins to spark and flicker from the Professor’s anvil.
HOBBIT have also provided a short narrative of sorts between the tracks which serves as a form of continuity, guiding the listener on and opening the track afore them. With tracks such as ‘Nazgul’ and ‘Echoes in Mirkwood’ HOBBIT have added another dimension to the songs with the use of vocal distortions to create a monstrousness and menace. The changes in musical presentations also add to a variation of the compositions thus preventing any stagnation of form. In terms of both character and place such vocal and musical divergence help sustain a sense of the multifaceted denizens and landscapes that breathed out from the pages and formed the rich tapestry found within Middle-earth – not an easy task when one considers the magnitude of such a vast world and its inherent events and actors. ‘All for the One’ contains several real gems and amongst such is ‘There and Back Again’ which, I feel, really gets to the heart of HOBBIT and just what they’re seeking to convey:
‘There’s an invitation just for you to come down
and look at yourself
Senses are wide open, let the trilogy in
It’s not a book on a shelf,
It’s a word to be heard
About things I believe that each of us
Will carry on our way…’
‘Hey Bombadil’ is another track that really works given the ambiguous nature of its subject. Yet here the twelve string and dulcimer combine to produce a strong melodic canvas upon which the vocals dance. This track is full of life and the lyrics are succinct enough to capture an aspect of Bombadil without oversimplifying his character together with music that relates a particular merriment without becoming trivialized or predictable. Fans of Prog Rock will find much common ground also within ‘All for the One’ from the power chords which give muscularity to several tracks to the acoustic interludes and wind instruments in such tracks as ‘Lothlorien’. With changes in key that hint at a bipolar figure the spectral image of Gollum is well conceived in ‘Whispers’, here his spirit is menacing and keen. There are several aspects which, I feel, define ‘All for the One’; a sense of fun is evident and HOBBIT obviously enjoyed the creative processes involved in seeing the crystallization of the album – revisiting the books together with very informed and well constructed compositions that at time are marvellously intricate and dynamic in their execution ( HOBBIT also credit the music of Mendelssohn, Dvorak, LeGrand, Albinoni and Rachmaninov as influences). The only niggle I had really was the inclusion of some high-pitched (think chipmunks) voices intruding on ‘Rivendell’, I think these may have been representative of elves. [Turk has since informed me that they are in fact Hobbits and that the group included them as a nod to long term fans which is always a nice touch from a fans point of view] Here I felt that the track was strong enough and that such effects interrupted its flow; but then I may, here, be missing the point and being somewhat harsh of an album which certainly sounds that it was a joy to create and perform, both in the studio and stage. Moreso it may also be recognized as a fan’s labour of love and appreciation of Professor Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Two tracks really evoke this, ‘Destiny Chaser’ and ‘Last to the Havens’ elicit the characters of Eowyn and Sam respectively. It is refreshing to see the facets of these two characters, who are often overshadowed, acknowledged in such a marvellous way – especially Sam.
The genre of Fantasy Rock, here, acknowledges its creative influence so well and the fact that HOBBIT are devotees of the books shines through both in the depth of their lyrics and the musical apparel of their subject. This is purely an album to be enjoyed so go on, join in the dance.
‘There is a world that lies within, you will live it once you’ve been
Come follow the tale that is calling you
I think it’s the reason we’re here…’
Hobbit Interview for Tolkien Society UK
Q.1 You obviously enjoy the works of Professor Tolkien. How and why did you decide to create musical arrangements of which the primary focus is drawn from The Lord of the Rings and, of course, The Hobbit?
Heres a little background:
Turk: I ‘moved’ to The Shire as a 13 yr. old while doing a book report on The Hobbit for a school
English project. Then as a 16 yr. old, I became a full time ‘resident’ of Tolkien’s Middle Earth after a friend (much to my pleasant surprise, and eternal thanks) ‘turned’ me on to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Then, after meeting and co-founding the group with Gene, it was obviously apparent that he too had been a long time ‘resident’, so writing Tolkien related music/lyrics seemed not only a logical move, but a very easy one! My influences: Jethro Tull (my all time favourite), Yes, Beatles, early Queen, early Rush, early Bowie, Kansas, Dio, Ozzy, and Kate Bush (I just absolutely LOVE Kate!!) to name only a few! This all, combined with the difference in vocal approach, Gene (the light), and myself (the dark) worked out together in a very nice contrast for Middle Earth.
Gene: I played in bands as far back as the 60s and have yet to come down from the British Invasion. I was a huge Beatles fan, followed by Zeppelin, Yes, Styx, and Rush. However, I was also a great fan of English Literature & Poetry. I was reading a book about Robert Plant in the mid-70s and discovered the Tolkien influence. After reading the books, like most people, I became part of Middle Earth. Turk and I met later that year and have been like brothers ever since, always in touch with ME.
Q.2 Do all the members of Hobbit share this interest?
All of us but the drummer/Rusty (who can’t sit still long enough to read anything past a sentence or 2!). He ironically, came up with the idea of calling the band Hobbit, based on the amount of songs (not all, but most) we were writing at the time involving elves, dwarves, nazgul, hobbits, etc. We found out quickly after Richard became the 4th and final member in that 1st ‘Age’, that he had also been an established ‘resident’.
Q.3 How did you approach the concept of Hobbit – I mean had you a clear idea of the direction you would take in terms of sound and layout?
Turk: I think we always felt that the 70’s-melodic-art-pomp-prog-rock sound was the only electric genre/era that fit the Tolkien world we were living in, so we just went with it and began the ‘journey’ right away. The ‘folk’ back then did ‘coin’ a genre for us, by calling what we did, “Fantasy Rock”, heh heh.
Gene: We were influenced greatly by Zeppelin, Yes, Tull, and Styx, in that decade. At the same time we became Tolkien freaks, so this combination just happened. We didnt conscientiously write music a certain way. I think as time passed we just became this musical style and lyric expression.
Q.4 Did you find it hard to write in that as the songs were about aspects of Tolkien’s Middle-earth they, in turn, had to feature a sense of a tangible and ’emotional’ landscape and feeling which is conveyed in the books?
Turk: We’ve never really had a ‘hard time’ with the writing. . . we have had an awful lot of FUN, though! As to our “All For The One” — Tolkien-only LOTR concept album, released last year (we had wanted to do this back in the 1st ‘Age’), we were always conscious of either ‘flavoring’ a song properly, or ‘songing’ the flavor, whichever was needed, to transfer that ’emotional landscape’ of the books to the music and/or lyrics as honestly as possible. . .in our minds anyway?!
Gene: This wasnt a strategy, but it evolved like this: Turks songs are much more about subjects in the books, with colorful characterizations and personification. I like to write with lyrics and phrasing style that is generally more mystical and uses metaphors here and there, to relate to our own lives. Most of us who have read the books (some many times), relate to this great story even subconsciously. Finally, Ive been into classical music for a long time, as well as rock. I cant imagine Middle Earth without either one. All For The One captures both extremes of good and bad, light and dark, etc because of this blend of melodic and power.
Q.5 Do you construct each song around the lyrics or is it the other way around?
Turk: It varies, but I guess the music comes first in the majority. Sometimes though, you just come up with a really neat vocal/melody first, get excited, and then write the music to it. . .which does happen quite often! Thankfully, and lucky for us, we never held to any standard ‘rule’, which is just the way we like it! That way, there are many more surprises whichever ‘fork’ in the road one takes?! (ha ha)
Gene: For me, its always a vocal melody or musical riff that comes first. From there, I start singing without any words just vowels, consonants, phrases, etc. We call it Elven Tongue! This produces a pattern to fit the initial musical creation. That part may be like a verse, transition, chorus, or otherwise. It doesnt matter at this point. The next inspiration is some keeper lyrics from the gibberish. From this springs the theme or hook line of the song. I thrive on melody, where Turk does it with power and terror! I guess every writer has his own technique, but this is generally how I get there. Finally, even though Turk and I kind of formulate the songs, Richards contribution is always present. Everything we write is copyrighted as all three of us.
Q.6 In the tracks ‘Destiny Chaser’ and ‘Last to the Havens’ the subjects are Eowyn and Sam respectively. What touched you about these two characters that inspired the tracks?
Gene: In Destiny Chaser, I had the verse riffs and vocal melody only for a while, and then came up with the chorus. The phrase Destiny Chaser sounded real cool and fit the part. Then I thought of what it meant, and how it related to LOTR. Bingo! Eowyn was like that, in that she was not content to wait for time to take its own course. So, the first actual lyrics were the chorus. Once the identity fit Eowyn, then the remaining lyrics were easy to fit the melodies that I started with. I think this song is a good example of how our long musical history with LOTR seems to bring thoughts and themes together even subconsciously. Last to The Havens started out as some acoustic guitar riffs from Richard. The first verse came next, and we liked the melodies. It was some time later that we came up with the actual chorus part at the end. Thats where last to the Havens entered the song, but it wasnt instantly about Sam, it just sounded good. Then we realized that this was a song for Sam, and wrote the other lyrics and dialog to capture this. Lets face it, everyone who ever read the trilogy admired Sam. He was not the star, but he exemplified the uncommon hero that we loved. I know people who have never read the appendix of events long after the story ended. Its short but very touching. Thats why we always thought of this song as the ending to the album. We think the last 15 seconds say it all, including close the book.
Turk: Whew, how much space do we have?! Ha. . .will try to keep this short? Eowyn is the ‘poster girl’ for all strong, independent, a “little rebellious”, yet beautiful, caring, and ‘feminine’ women! She is also, in fact, the most important female in Middle Earth, mainly because of her obvious “Destiny” to slay the Witchking, who, by prophecy, no man could kill (even Gandalf, a Maiar, admitted that he was not strong enough to defeat him!) If she does not ‘chase’/fulfil this destiny, the Battle of Pelennor is lost! You can then ‘vision’ the Lord of the Nazgul destroying Gandalf, then rounding up his 8, with all attention on Gorgoroth, flying post haste to Mt. Doom (with a few thousand orcs following) to find/stop and kill our beloved, stumbling and barely alive hobbits, then returning “the precious” to Sauron. . .game over. . .Garn!! After all that, she then becomes co-protector of the eastern borders of Gondor, loving wife of Faramir, and mother of the continuing line of Stewards, to protect forever the line of Kings! One very amazing woman, indeed. . and very deserving of a song, don’t you think?!
Now, how can you do justice to Samwise Gamgee in one paragraph? This hobbit is THE single most important character in the whole tale, and the real hero in my humble opinion?!! Without his loyalty, friendship, stubbornness, determination, stamina, and undying love, Frodo doesn’t even make it to Mordor, much less into Mt. Doom! The heartache he has to suffer from his best friend, courtesy of the One Ring and Gollum, would have easily turned the average person away. Spiritually and physically, this is one very tough little hobbit!! I mean, he’s every second on constant alert and battle with Gollum, he sees his friend deteriorating by the minute, fights orcs, fights off the giant spawn of Ungoliant in Shelob, is even a “ring-bearer” for a short period, carries Frodo on his back for the last ‘steps’, and earlier in the journey, he was actually going to take on Strider!! He’s a ‘gardener for-crying-out-loud!! Then, after all that, he watches over the Shire for many years, and during those years ‘fathers a ‘host’ of children (one becoming a hand maiden to Queen Arwen)!! And. . .he is then invited by the Firstborn (with the Gods’ blessings) to come to Westernesse and live in The Halls of Mandos forever! Quite an impressive feat, eh?! Sooooo, we though Sam well deserved of some ‘music’ time also!
Q.7 How do you feel, personally, about AFTO? What do you feel you have accomplished with its realization?
Gene: For me its the most creative work weve done. It lacks some of the power and more pop rock that Hobbit has been known for, but its a creation that spans great depth. We didnt set out to write and record a concept album like this, let alone 74 minutes. After the first group of songs, it just evolved into this. Remember, when we first started out back in 1978, we were told my people in the music business to move away from all this stuff about little people and fantasy. When we regrouped four years ago, its like this creation found us. It was the statement that we couldnt make back then. Anyway, it fulfilled everything I wanted. I explored lyrics, melodies, musical transitions, without any set rules. Im not sure how one singer could have captured both light and dark in Middle Earth. Thats where the contrast of Turk and I blended like never before. Ill admit that to listen to the entire album at one time is not for everyone, but for real LOTR fans its a pretty complete journey. Still, it does represent what we feel in music about Tolkiens great work. Were very satisfied.
Turk: To me, it was one of the (if not THE) best experiences, and MOST fun I’ve had as a Hobbit. “The Hobbit Fellowship” re-visited, Middle Earth, and the writing/recording of music. . .you just can’t get any better than that?!! As far as “All For The One” goes: we had a dream waaaaaaaaay back in the 1st Age (AFTO being the 4th Age), of doing an ALL LOTR concept album, so we are firstly, very happy to have been able to make that dream a reality. In fact, we wanted to do it so badly, and our love for the ‘Good Professor’ and his creation was so strong, that Gene, Richard and I, paid for everything out of our own ‘pocketses’!! I’m very proud, and extremely pleased at how it turned out, and also feel confident that we DID do proper justice and tribute to the tale. And of course, we always hope that when ‘folk’ sit back and listen (please, un-interrupted if possible) that they will agree?!
Q.8 What can we expect from HOBBIT in the future?
Gene: Weve been working on a number of new songs, and continue to explore unique styles and themes. We dont plan to create a follow up to All For The One, where its a non-stop collage of things. If we produce another album it will be a collection of good songs that stand alone. We will probably release a couple of these as MP3s online first.
Turk: Well, right now we are kind of resting in our Shire after our own journey! But even as we kick back with a mug of ale and some “Longbottom”, there are a few different ‘fagots burning in the fire’. There is the much anticipated “Ringers: Lord of the Fans” film documentary coming out soon, that we have some pics., some classic concert video clips, and a little of 2 songs recorded in the 70’s and 80’s [ many thanks to Carlene, Cliff, Josh, A.J., and Chris Seeman!]. . .”Midyear’s Eve”–Two Feet Tall CD, and “Join The Celebration”–Rockin’ The Shire CD, making an appearance in. There are also some ‘archived’ songs from ’85 (3rd Age) that we and our good friend Lee Bradfield, are trying to decide how/when to release. We are also considering a possible DVD project. And, of course, there are about 10 snippets of new material we’ve been slowly playing around with, so as Gene always likes to say. . “you never know what might happen?”
Finally, we’d like to thank you Michael and The Tolkien Society (profusely!!) for your time and fellowship, and the opportunity to get our story out there! We are honored, and very much appreciate you!! And Like I always say. . .until next time. . .HI HO!!
CD:ALL FOR THE ONE (2003 / Midwest Records)
Gene Fields (vocals / guitars / keys)
Paul “Turk” Henry (vocals / bass / guitar / narration)
Richard Hill (lead guitar / keys), Rusty Honeycutt (drums)