When Mipso, a quartet from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, released their fifth studio album in 2018, it marked a subtle, yet noticeable shift in their approach to American roots music, one that values mood and atmosphere over traditional virtuosity.
Since their formation in 2013, Jacob Sharp (mandolin, vocals), Wood Robinson (bass, vocals), Joseph Terrell (guitar, vocals) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle, vocals) have played bright, airy, upbeat bluegrass common among their many peers in the North Carolina string band scene. For their latest release, “Edges Run” (AntiFragile Music), the band abandoned the comforts of home to record in Oregon with producer Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird). The resulting songs have a goosebump inducing intimacy with softer touches on the instruments and a warm sense of close space that lets the listener feel the air in the room. It is no surprise that Rolling Stone recently named Mipso “An Artist You Need To Know” for their efforts.
Now Mipso are preparing new material in a farm house in rural North Carolina with the intention to continue evolving their modern interpretation of bluegrass.
“The material partly called for that treatment,” says Rodenbough of “Edges Run. “We’ve all settled in as instrumentalists to a different wheelhouse than most people who play the bluegrass version of our instruments. When we started out, I think we defaulted to bluegrass because that seemed like an obvious choice for our instrumentation, but I think at heart we’re more textural instrumentalists, so we were leaning into that a little more on this album. Not that we don’t want to have fun and upbeat songs, I think we’ll have some of those, too, but it’s interesting for us to use our instruments in less obvious ways.
“We’re taking it really slow. We’re trying to be exploratory more than we normally are. I think, normally, we’re in such a hurry to get into the studio. This time we’re just trying to have fun with songs, mess around with them before we call them finished.”
Mipso’s textural approach to bluegrass translates well to a live setting, as demonstrated in their series of D.C. Sessions videos. “We started to get a lot more, I don’t want to say jammy, but we started to expand instrumental sections that aren’t solo driven in our live performances,” says Rodenbough. “It’s a really fun thing to do on stage, to build energy for an underdetermined amount of time, and it’s fun for an audience, to see how we have to look at each other and listen to each other to make that energy flow happen in a collective seeming way.”
If you like what you see in the videos, you can expect an even richer performance when Mipso perfrom at Tybee Post Theater on May 3. “I think those songs will sound similar, but will probably be expanded even further and have a more dramatic energy because we love to feed off of a live audience. If they’re bringing an excitement and a sort of electricity, then we’ll probably give it back two-fold.”
Mipso will be joined by another popular string band from North Carolina, Chatham County Line, for a very special three-city tour starting with Tybee Island. Chatham County Line are known for their live approach of guys in suits huddled around one microphone harmonizing and plucking out timeless sounding “newgrass” tunes. The veteran musicians have put out seven studio albums and recently released a collection of covers called “Sharing the Covers.” Expect some exciting on-stage collaboration between the two bands.
“Those are old friends of ours that have been a part of the acoustic music scene in North Carolina for a long time,” says Rodenbough. “When we were starting out, they were a band that we looked up to and learned their songs. We played some shows with them years ago, but it’s been a long time.”
“We’ve never played Tybee Island and I think we wanted to do some shows like this in the summertime, fun shows in a beautiful place like that. This is our job, but we might as well make the most of it, too.”