April 17, 2018
Mipso has had quite the busy year. Fresh off of releasing and touring to support two albums in the past year (2017’s Coming Down the Mountain and this year’s Edges Run), the Chapel Hill quartet played to a packed house at the Visulite Theater on Friday, April 13. Although they’ve been labelled as a bluegrass band, they appear to be moving away to a more sleek, modern sound. Edges Run still contains traditional bluegrass instrumentation (mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, acoustic guitar), but there’s also plenty of keyboards and percussion on most tracks, as well as more folk- and pop-based song structures. The band flew out to Eugene, Oregon in the winter to record the album with producer Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco, Andrew Bird, Anaïs Mitchell) before they had even finished writing the songs, and you can feel the effect of the cold winter landscape on the songwriting and production. The album is spacious, somber and gorgeous throughout. The album seems to be a turning point for them, as it captures a young maturing band that growing into its own sound.
Most of the show in Charlotte featured plugged-in, full-band arrangements of their songs (complete with electric guitar and drums), a portion of the night had the four members unplug their instruments and crowd around a single microphone. This more intimate moment was one of Mipso’s best decisions of the night. Both live and on record, Mipso excels at creating and executing really tight, beautiful harmonies, and this moment allowed those harmonies to shine through. As a sort of homecoming (this was the only NC stop on the tour), the crowd was filled with family and friends of the band, and there was an incredible energy in the room as the audience was fully engrossed in the production.
We caught up with Jacob Sharp (mandolin, vocals) to ask him some questions about their most recent album and the group’s recent departure from Chapel Hill.
Did you notice a big difference in the songwriting and/or the completed product by bringing the songs to the studio as sketches and working on them together?
Jacob Sharp: Definitely. This was really the first record we wrote after having several members move from Chapel Hill. It was hard, on some of the tunes, to release ourselves from the pressure of having finished products ahead of the session. But we were confident in our own abilities and intentionally chose a producer whose fingerprints we wanted to leave a heavy mark on the songs – , so it seemed like a smart idea. Listening back to the record now over release week I am happy with how the process this time let the songs really grow.
What drew you to want to work with Todd Sickafoose?
Sharp: In the earliest stages of envisioning what this album could look like and how we should approach the tunes we had a writing retreat at a farmhouse near Saxapahaw and just listened to records that were inspiring to us individually. We just wanted to get on the same page about what type of sounds and vessels could best carry these ideas we had. Anyway there was a lot of overlap of records produced by Todd Sickafoose. We were all drawn to different aspects of his musicianship and the soundscape that he seemed to craft on record.
Who were your biggest influences (musical or otherwise) on Edges Run?
Sharp: I think we’d all answer this differently so I’ll just speak for myself. For me leading in to this session I was most musically drawn to albums like Young Man in America by Anaïs Mitchell and also some of the early Wilco albums. But I think as far as biggest influences part of what was cool about this session was that I more intentionally let my bandmates have influence over my taste. That may seem funny because we’ve played together so intimately for so long, but sometimes you really hold your ground. This time I didn’t need to do that as much.
Releasing the album cover as a puzzle is very unique, where did that idea come from?
Sharp: Our grandmothers wouldn’t buy our pint glasses…
Since you have moved away from the Triangle:, what do you miss most about living there?
Sharp: I miss the community. I love the people who make and appreciate music in the Triangle. But though Brooklyn is where I’m living the Triangle still feels like home. And I’m there all the time, so I still find myself connected to the fabric of the community. And I can get my Neil’s biscuit and Cosmic burritos fixes.
Edges Run has lots of space in the arrangements, slow tempos, an almost somber feel. Was this an intentional stylistic direction for the album?
Sharp: Yes, definitely. We wanted to lean in to the emotional power of space – and let these songs stretch out and speak for themselves a bit. For me, that’s one of the strongest parts of the record.
Listen to “People Change” from the new album Edges Run by Mipso.