In spring 2016, members of the string band Mipso found themselves looking at a musical embarrassment of riches.
The group, which is opening for I’m With Her on Feb. 28 at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, was ready to begin recording, only to discover that the person they wanted to produce their next album, Todd Sickafoose, wouldn’t be available until January 2017.
Instead of biding their time, they decided they had another option.
“We realized we had more than an album’s worth of material already,” violinist/singer Libby Rodenbough said in a recent phone interview. “This was in, I guess, mid-2016. So we decided we would just make an album in the Triangle with some of the people we knew well there and trust it. Then we would keep the January session on the books.”
The Triangle is the nickname for Mipso’s North Carolina homebase, anchored by Raleigh/Durham, Chapel Hill and Greensboro/Winston-Salem.
In retrospect, Rodenbough, as well as guitarist/singer Joseph Terrell, agree that doing two albums in such a short timespan may not have been the best idea.
“There were definitely some times during that period where we felt like we had bitten off more than we could chew,” Terrell said in a separate phone interview. “Looking back, it’s interesting to hold these two things true in my head. One, is that I’m really proud of both of these records. I think they both feel like us. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend this process of making records to anybody because it was stressful as hell.”
“It’s a lot to make two albums in something like six months,” Rodenbough agreed. “It was a lot for us financially, and it was a lot for us interpersonally and emotionally.”
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“Coming Down the Mountain” was recorded in the summer of 2016 and released in spring 2017, while the Sickafoose-produced “Edges Run” was released April 2018.
The songs Mipso band members Terrell, Rodenbough, Jacob Sharp (mandolin, vocals) and Wood Robinson (bass, vocals) chose for “Coming Down the Mountain” were in good shape to be recorded live in the studio. That wasn’t the case for “Edges Run.”
“For ‘Edges Run,’ we had songs that we didn’t know exactly what to do with. We wanted Todd, the producer, help us make sense of them a little bit,” Rodenbough said. “There was a lot of taking songs apart and rearranging them and messing with the structures of the songs or the feel and there was a little more of an experimental approach to production.”
The music on both albums continues to expand the breadth of Mipso’s sound, from bluegrass and country pop to eerie organ and ambient pop.
Mipso had to wait nearly a year to perform the “Edges Run” material live, since the 2017 tour was intended to promote “Coming Down the Mountain.” Rodenbough said she has enjoyed the process of getting reacquainted and readying the “Edges Run” songs.
“We actually have had a drummer on the road with us,” she said.
“And the other element that we’re trying to incorporate are some of the keyboard sounds, the organ and piano sounds,” she said. “They’re all simple parts and we’re all capable enough players on a keyboard that we can probably all cover the parts, but it’s a matter of figuring out where we need the other instruments we play and where somebody can hop on a keyboard for a little while. We’ve been figuring that out.
“I like that kind of challenge because I think that the best live shows are when the performers are a little bit unsure of themselves, just enough that you have that sense it’s possible that things could fall off the rails,” she said. “So I think it’s better if you can find ways to naturally confuse yourself a little bit for the live show. That’s a good thing.”
WHAT: Mipso, opening for I’m With Her
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 28
TICKETS: $45, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/events
BAND’S WEBSITE: Mipsomusic.com