By Ashley Lucas
When I read that Mipso was playing the Jefferson Center, my heart skipped a little beat and I said an audible “hell yeah” to myself, and have anxiously awaited the show ever since. I am probably one who gets too excited about live music, but this one my friends, is MY top ticket for 2017. I’ve seen a LOT of great shows this year, and as super pumped as I am for Dawes, Willie Nelson, Third Eye Blind, and Amos Lee to come to town, but it’s Mipso that I’m looking forward to the most.
It may be because I have never seen them live; It may be because they just released a new album (WHICH IS FANTASTIC); It may be because the tickets are going for $15 (what a bargain); Or it’s simply that Mipso has been a constant on my playlist for quite some time now. Regardless of the reason, this North Carolina-based indie Americana quartet and its growing setlist of accessible songs are a real treat for the ears.
Their 2013 release, “Dark Holler Pop”, is one of those albums I listen to from start to finish and don’t skip a single song. “Coming Down the Mountain,” which was released in April of this year, is just as good, sparkling with gems like “Hallelujah”, “Hurt so Good,” and “Cry Like Somebody”.
I was able to chat with Mipso’s fiddle player, Libby Rodenbough, about the new album, songwriting styles, and their recent serious car accident. Read more and purchase Mipso tickets before they sell out!
First off, I saw you all were in a car accident recently. Is everyone doing OK? Is that going to affect touring at all?
Libby: “Yeah, that’s one of those ultimate musician nightmares, being that you’re on the road 200 days a year or whatever. We had a broken nose and torn ligaments and plenty of blood and bruises between us, but the lingering thing is that visceral knowledge that this is a risk every time you get in the car. That said, we were so lucky in a great number of ways, firstly being that we’re all relatively okay. I’ve been saying a lot of ‘I love yous’”.
I really enjoyed Joseph Terrell’s (Mipso’s lead singer) new tunes that he tested on us when he recently played The Spot on Kirk. Are you guys already writing for your next album or are there possibly solo records on the horizon?
Libby: “We are all writing pretty much all the time, though perhaps some more sporadically than others. Speaking for myself, I think of writing as an always ongoing process, whether or not I’m sitting down and making demos or physically writing lyrics every day.”
I’m really drawn to bands that have more than one songwriter because it feels like you get three bands for the price of one. I love the diversity of the songs on “Coming Down the Mountain”. It’s a wonderful listening experience to go from “Hallelujah” to “Hurt so Good” to “Cry Like Somebody”. They’re obviously different and signature to the writer, but they all blend together to sound very cohesive. How do you manage to all write individually, yet still come up with a sound that is so uniformly Mipso?
Libby: “Thank you for that. We admire all those great bands with multiple songwriters—The Beatles, The Band, Fleetwood Mac. If you can pull it off, you get such an interesting interplay—and sometimes tension—between the writerly personalities, and hopefully that means you’re making more complex statements as a band about being a human being. The way we try to make it work is by always arranging collectively. So the bare bones may come from an individual, but it becomes a “Mipso song” by a very collaborative process, and ideally everybody’s ears and hands have been on it by the time it gets recorded.”
How do you feel like your sound has evolved with the newest album?
Libby: “I guess the simple way I’d put it is that we keep getting older, and our songs reflect that. We started doing this in college, and there’s a lot that happens in the evolution of your mind from 18 to 26 or 27. We’re entering that phase of life where you feel like you ought to be making some decisions, or perhaps setting off in some particular direction. It’s an angsty time, like second puberty, and as we all know angst is artistically fruitful. As far as the instrumentation and recording process, we try not to overthink that stuff—consider what instinctively comes to mind when you imagine the future life of each song, and pursue that. Maybe one day we’ll feel like the songs call for lute or gong or nyckelharpa!”
I read that you guys tend to get together in cabins and farms to complete the songs that go on your albums. That’s a very “Bon Iver-esque” thing to do. Is that because you’re all living in various places, or because it helps spur the creative process?
Libby: “Yes, I think it was Justin Vernon who first came up with this idea that quiet pretty places are good for writing folk music. I don’t know exactly, but certainly there’s a rural feature of the collective imagination in a lot of the music worlds we like. This is making me think, there’s a beautiful Porter Wagoner spiritual, “I Thought of God”, that touches on the way you can find the divine—which I’m extrapolating to include the creative muse—in city and country alike.
A less philosophical answer to your question would be that there’s more real estate in wide open places so you’re more likely to find a spare large wooden structure for four musicians to take over for a while. But yeah, we live in different places now so we try to find good destinations for meet-ups, and it’s nice if it’s a different space from where you do your everyday thing, so there’s a little consecration vibe going on.”
Speaking of songwriting, can you describe your individual songwriting styles (i.e. do you start with the melody or lyrics first, etc)?
Libby: “My favorites of my own songs are the ones where melody and lyrics kind of descend into my brain as a single bound-together entity. That’s rare though! I guess most often it’s melody and then I have the sound of words in my head with that melody, but not full-formed words yet. And then I just kind of tease them into halfway sensical statements.”
Who are your greatest musical influences? And who are your guilty pleasures?
Libby: “I’m just going to speak for myself here for the moment, though I think there’d be a lot of overlap with my bandmates… I love Gillian Welch, Randy Newman, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, the McGarrigles, the Roches. I have great respect for old time fiddle players, and I think I’ll always feel ultimately inferior to them. Bill Frisell floors me. I don’t know that I have been able to garner much influence from them, but Ethiopian jazz musicians like Mulatu Astatke that I’ve learned about through the Ethiopiques series never fail to move me. I love danceable understated pop music like Francis & the Lights and Robyn…somebody recently introduced me to “Tilted” by Christine and the Queens and that’s been in my head a lot lately. I don’t think I feel guilty about any of the music I like! Why would you?”
Did you grow up in a musical family?
Libby: “My parents really wanted me and my three siblings to play instruments, so that was always an expectation at my house. I talked about it with my mom recently, because I’ve been volunteering at a kids’ music camp this summer and struggling with how much pressure to put on the kids, and she was like, no one really questions that young people should be required to learn arithmetic and writing as part of their education. Why shouldn’t music be included in that? I guess the only downside is that if, like me, you start in a musical world where you don’t really thrive, which for me was classical music, it can take you many years to realize you even have it in you to be a musician. Six years ago, as an untalented classical violinist, I would’ve laughed at the notion of myself making money as a professional musician. It’s all about finding the stuff that moves you. That’s not to say that classical music doesn’t move me, because it absolutely does! I just don’t have the discipline for it. I want to sit back and watch.”
Can you tell readers what they should expect from a Mipso show? What do you try to focus on as performers?
Libby: “We try to legitimately have fun on stage, because my favorite shows are like that. We try to really feel the things we’re singing and playing. That is a tough task sometimes on the 10,000th time through a song! But it’s a good challenge. I try to draw energy from the people in the room. Maybe it’s just one person. When you acknowledge that you’re there having an exchange with other actual human beings in front of you, it makes you want to take responsibility for the exchange. It makes you want to communicate something, because otherwise what’s the point?”
What does the future look like for Mipso? What are your goals as a band?
Libby: “We want to make music we care about, too. That’s not always easy. And we want to pay our bills.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What are a few things y’all can’t live without while on tour?
Libby: “Tacos, coffee, oxygen”
Who’s on your playlist?
Libby: “The Weather Station, Stevie Wonder, Larry Golding, Wilco, Anais Mitchell, Hiss Golden Messenger”
What’s the last show you binge watched on Netflix?
Libby: “This was on Amazon Prime, so shoot me, but: Fleabag”
Who’s the messiest band member?
Libby: “Probably either me or Wood.”
Seth or Scott Avett?
Libby: “Way too divisive of a question. Would have to be a hybrid of the two”
First song you learned to play?
Libby: “On guitar, it was “You Really Got a Hold on Me” by Smokey Robinson. On violin, an absolute classic, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Will UNC’s football team beat Virginia Tech this year?
Libby: “Come on.”
What song do you wish you’d written?
Libby: “Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father by Randy Newman”
You can get to know Libby and the band better by coming out to the Jefferson Center August 24th for a special evening of songs and storytelling.