As you like it: Mipso caters to the fan experience

Mipso: Jacob Sharp, Wood Robinson, Joseph Terrell, Libby Rodenbough. Photo by D.L. Anderson

Chapel Hill-based string band Mipso became enamored with Honda’s version of a minivan while traveling to 37 U.S. states this year. The group learned, though, that the roomy auto doesn’t fit their needs for overnight rest.

“We are all totally converted to soccer mom life. We love the Odyssey. We think it’s amazing,” says mandolin player and singer Jacob Sharp. “Touring really is asking for a lot of additional stress points in your life, whether it’s physical or creatively or emotionally in your relationships, so being able to stretch out within all of those realms is very important, and you can’t stretch out in a Honda Odyssey.”

The band, composed of Sharp, Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (bass) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle), has stretched its sound with the release of Old Time Reverie. The musicians will showcase new songs when they play at Isis Restaurant and Music Hall Thursday, Sept. 24, and Friday, Sept. 25.

Two years ago the band, then a trio without Rodenbough, released Dark Holler Pop, which rose to No. 8 on Billboard’s bluegrass charts. It was a surprise for Mipso, whose members don’t consider themselves a bluegrass group. The new record will again leave fans and critics wondering how best to describe the sound. Sharp says last time Mipso was “a string band flirting with bluegrass, but this time we’re flirting more with old-time and old-school country vibes. So it’s broader from a sound palette.”

Some of the change in direction comes from the addition of Rodenbough. Her fiddling style is geared toward Irish and old-time music, and her songwriting approach is different from that of her bandmates, too. “She has helped us flesh out our sound into a place where we hoped it would go, but was a little harder to bring as a trio,” Sharp says. “Her voice gives us a new ingredient and a much wider area we can expand to and bring into the fold. It’s been a healthy change to add some diversity in the sound.”

Rodenbough says that Terrell was the first friend she made as a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill, and began playing shows with the trio after its inception. When Sharp, Terrell and Robinson graduated in 2013, they immediately became full-time touring musicians and hoped that Rodenbough would join them after her graduation last year.

“It’s an adjustment to live in a minivan with these three dudes, and be with them every waking and sleeping hour,” Rodenbough says. “It’s been a transition, but it is pretty interesting traveling around the country with them.”

She continues, “I didn’t have a lot of other [job] prospects. It seemed like the thing that’s done when you’re young and don’t have five children or anything. It seemed like the right time, it landed in front of me, and I thought I’d be stupid not to do it.”

Old Time Reverie was recorded last year with Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin, who also produced Dark Holler Pop. The band brought in more than 20 songs and chose tracks that touched on themes of going home, relationships and personal loss.

“A big part of our story continues to be our connection to North Carolina and UNC,” Sharp says. “We’re lucky both of those communities are loyal and tend to congregate around stuff like music and concerts. Sometimes we go to California or Minneapolis or somewhere and you’ll notice a lot of people wearing Tarheel hats or Sierra Nevada shirts. That makes it always seem like home.”

Playing two shows in one city isn’t a new concept for the group. Recently Mipso sold out two nights at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. Each show will have a distinct energy and setlist. At the Isis, Thursday is a seated show and Friday is a standing and dancing show.

“Different people want to listen to music in different ways, and that’s definitely true of our audience,” Rodenbough says. “We have some older fans and some younger fans, and people who prefer the quiet side of us, and people who want to dance a little bit, so this allows for the breadth of experiences that people want to have.”

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About Jason Gilmer
Jason Gilmer is a national award-winning writer living in Asheville. He spent a decade as the prep sports writer at the Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal and has written one book, "Where Champions Play: Spartanburg County Prep Football." He's been writing about the Asheville music scene for several years. Follow me @gilwriter

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