Libby Rodenbough is calling from Kennedy Airport in New York City, where she and her colleagues in Mipso have been finishing up a new album.
She is waiting in line to check in for a flight back to North Carolina. The founding members of this beloved folk-Americana group are from here, formed Mipso here, and all but one of them still call North Carolina home.
In fact three of them — violinist Rodenbough, acoustic guitarist Joseph Terrell and standup bassist Wood Robinson — grew up in the Triad, and mandolinist Jacob Sharp is a Tar Heel native as well. Even Yan Westerlund, who drums for Mipso as an adjunct fifth member, calls North Carolina home.
It is appropriate that I am catching Rodenbough in transit, as the accelerating growth of Mipso’s career has carried them far and wide of late. A fall tour took them all over Europe, including multiple dates in Germany and Sweden.
“It was my first time in a lot of these countries,” says Rodenbough.
A highlight was being able to stick around a few cities long enough to do some exploring.
“We spent three days in Paris and Munich,” she says. “We were pleasantly surprised to discover we had somewhat of a fan base in Germany.”
Indeed, there is a pronounced appetite for Americana acts on the continent, and their bluegrass-style lineup makes Mipso especially popular with Europeans.
Mipso changed gears a bit for their current Living Room Tour, which comes to the Carolina Theatre on Sunday. The group will perform in a stripped-down format without drums, which returns them to their roots as an acoustic quartet. It will be their first drumless tour in two years.
“It’s exciting to go back and remember how we used to perform,” says Rodenbough. “We’ve rearranged some of our newer material, which was recorded with drums in mind, to make it work.”
“We missed the way we used to construct songs and make them work rhythmically without drums. So we’re going to do a special tour like this every year or two.”
She is quick to clarify that it’s an interlude, not a permanent change in how they record and perform.
Meanwhile, Mipso has put the finishing touches on their sixth studio album, which marks the group’s first release on what Rodenbough calls a “real label.”
Mipso has signed with Rounder Records, a venerable institution in the folk and roots-music world that has been releasing albums since 1970. Some of the better-known artists who have recorded for Rounder include Alison Krauss and Union Station, George Thorogood, Robert Plant, Boz Scaggs and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
The as-yet-untitled album is scheduled to come out in August. The delay between completion and release owes to the fact that the label is preparing a rollout that will essentially reintroduce Mipso to the world. The move to Rounder is an opportunity and an affirmation that Mipso has graduated to the big leagues.
According to Joseph Terrell, “It’s hard to imagine Mipso would exist if not for the influence that a key handful of Rounder releases have had on our music, so it’s exciting to join a label whose legacy we already love.”
For their first album on Rounder, Mipso has thrown a few curveballs into their musical approach.
They worked with a new producer, Sandro Perry, a Toronto native “who does a lot of warm, melodic and minimalist music with sparkles of many different synthesizer sounds spread throughout,” says Rodenbough. “We asked him to produce us because we love the music he makes.”
In addition, Rodenbough reveals that the album contains “a couple of really poppy bangers — some super-solid pop songs — in a way we’ve never done before.”
So for Mipso, 2020 represents a new year, new label, new album, new tour and, to a degree, new sound.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” says Rodenbough.