Interview with Joseph Terrell of Mipso

As I was scouring my local independent bookstore for the some new fire, I came across an album entitled Dark Holler Pop by a group just down the road a piece (the group is from Chapel Hill, just about 30 minutes from my hometown of Raleigh) that goes by Mipso. The title caught my eye so I picked it up and brought it home to see what it was all about. I know this blog doesn’t usually deal with bluegrass, or country or folk or “new grass,” but don’t let the presence of a mandolin and a banjo fool you, there’s nothing rough about this quartet’s sound. I usually stick to indie and rock, but this transcends genre in a way. Sure, it has fiddles and rustic lyrics, but it also oozes authenticity, a key component that so many bands miss out on these days. Maybe they don’t have a team of producers forging a tune that will pound through your speakers, but is that a bad thing? So is it folk? Country? Bluegrass? Soft Rock? Or something else? Drop us a comment, tell us what you think.

In the meantime, I caught up with Joseph Terrell, who plays guitar:

1. You met in a music class at UNC, right? Was it an “Aha” moment where you realized that you should get together and make an album or was it just something that kind of developed?
Flattered you would think we met in a music class. We met as 18-year-olds still wet behind the ears. We barely knew a C from a G chord. That’s the real genesis of the band, becoming friends outside of a musical context and then discovering an interest in North Carolina music and exploring that together.
2. Tell me a little about the making of your new album, “Old Time Reverie”
In a way we came back to our comfort zone to try and push ourselves a little further outside it. We recorded in the same studio in Chapel Hill, The Rubber Room, where we recorded our last record and brought along a good friend, Andrew Marlin, to produce it. But we were deliberate about adding two instruments to the process: clawhammer banjo and Rhodes electric piano. We had in our heads a further exploration of the rhythms and melodies of old time, more than bluegrass, mixed with some of that ethereal Rhodes pad of 70s pop. “Still Crazy” era Paul Simon, early 70s Stevie Wonder, too…not exactly stuff you’d associate with a string band, but a great ingredient for a stringband/pop sound.

3. What does the term “New South” mean to you?

We see it as we travel, whether in Athens or Louisville or Nashville or at home in Chapel Hill and Durham. I see a renaissance where folks are celebrating a rootedness and richness of Southern tradition, whether music or food or fiction, while also expanding their vocabulary and palate, so to speak. Some of the associated hype can get tiring…personally I don’t feel the need to visit every Bourbon and bacon and mason jar-themed bar in Brooklyn, for example. But there’s history and tradition worth diving into and learning from, and a lot of smart, progressive people around the country are taking that seriously.

4. The Chapel Hill area has a great alternative scene, do you think that has influenced you?
Oh yeah. Chapel Hill has a lot of pride in its music history and scene, and we felt that when we were in school. I remember going down to CD Alley on Franklin St. when I was a sophomore to buy a Mountain Goats CD. I felt like I needed to know what it was all about. It’s been a while since the 90s boom in alternative rock stuff, but the influence of the Superchunk folks and of Merge Records is still huge, putting out some of our favorite new records like Hiss Golden Messenger’s new one. So there’s a pride in the area and also an infrastructure, great local venues like the Cat’s Cradle and the Local 506. Those folks took a chance on us when we were still a wee little student band, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with their experience and faith in the local scene. That’s how we were able to get started. Period. And it’s funny, now in my neighborhood are Robert Sledge from Ben Folds and Don Raleigh from Squirrel Nut Zippers, not to mention Jim Watson from the Red Clay Ramblers. So it’s cool to see these guys walking their dogs and stop to chat for a while. Part of the history, but very much present.
5. You said you didn’t know you were a bluegrass band, how would you classify yourselves?
Would you agree with the statement that you’re on the forefront of a new genre?
We’ll do our best to make the tunes and leave the classifying to the classifiers! I don’t think we’re on the forefront of a new genre so much as carrying the torch of experimentation within traditional music. It’s been going on a long time, back to the Red Clay Ramblers, who I mentioned, back to New Grass Revival or Seldom Scene in the 70s, even back to Bill Monroe who was a real disrupter and experimenter in his time. 
6. Do you consider yourselves “Ambassadors of the South” when you tour in places like Minneapolis and Chicago? How do you think you change people’s views of the south, if at all?
If people’s conception of the South is all Confederate flags and corn cob pipes, we certainly blow that out of the water. Similarly, if my view of the Midwest is simplistic and superficial, I hope I’m opening my eyes to some nuance. I like to give folks the credit that they know there’s depth and complexity beyond the stereotypes of the South, and North Carolina and Chapel Hill are great examples of that. 
7. Which songs from your new album are you favorites?
I’m proud of how we pushed ourselves into new territory with “Bad Penny.” Listen for Wood’s bowed parts on the third verse and try not to get goosebumps. I also think Libby’s new tunes are excellent and add a lot to the record. Then there’s trademark Jacob Sharp on an intimate moment like “Momma.” That one hits hard, too. We’re happy with how it all came out. 
Enjoy some hits here:
And watch out for “Old Time Reverie” when it drops Oct. 2

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