With three previous records, Mipso startled the bluegrass and Americana scene with its beautiful, breathtaking sound. Its 2016 LP Coming Down the Mountain earned them the No. 1 spot on the Billboard bluegrass charts. But when it came to their latest effort, Edges Run, available April 6, a different side of the band emerged in the writing process.
“There are a variety of ways we write,” fiddler and vocalist Libby Rodenbough said. “But usually one person writes the bones of the song, melody or some lyrics or chords, then we analyze it as a band and end up shaking it up. Either changing progressions or moving things around. So we sort of master-class the songs as a band. But for this record there are a few co-writes which we’d never really done before.”
For songs like “Take Your Records Home” and the single “Edges Run,” the band developed a new process that began to change the way that they viewed their music and themselves.
“On ‘Take Your Records Home,’ it was a song I originally wrote and then Joseph [Terrell] asked if he could rewrite it with his own interpretation,” Rodenbough said. “He made some changes in the structure and some lyrics and then we had this co-write, and it was sort of an assembly line process but what came out was something entirely new.”
For some bands, this process might cause strife and has even caused bands to part ways, but for Mipso, it did just the opposite.
“It was something I had never done before,” Rodenbough said. “It forces you to sort of silence your ego, and that’s an important exercise generally in the band. We’re very democratic and so egos just don’t work with us.”
Edges Run surpasses Mipso’s previous works by giving meticulous attention to structure and overall songwriting. Since the band’s launch in 2011, each album has reflected giant steps forward in maturity. And with Edges Run the poetry of their lyrics sing through even deeper, along with a special highlight of musicianship and exploration of structure, something that producer Todd Sickafoose (Andrew Bird, Anïas Mitchell) brought out in the band.
“We had recorded [Coming Down the Mountain] in June of 2016, and we’d never made two records consecutively or so quickly,” Rodenbough said. “So we had to work faster than we normally do in preparing the songs. That meant that when we got to the studio not all of the songs were finished. So that was probably the first time we were really rethinking things in a more open way even after we were in the studio. We really wanted to record with Todd back in 2016 but he ended up not being available. But he was available in January  but we were so antsy to make a record that we ended up recording Mountain that summer of 2016 in Durham with some local producers. But we still had the plans to work with Todd out in Oregon. And because there are four of us we end up having a lot of material to choose from.”
Edges Run remains firmly rooted in the acoustic, Americana genre, and yet gracefully pushes the envelope, incorporating more percussion, electric stringed instruments, tastefully blending the mainstream sound with pure songwriting and traditional Appalachian sounds. With songs like “Edges Run” and “All Behind Me now,” Mipso’s stellar use of harmony and deep layers of sound bring out a level of maturity comparable to Neil Young, Fleet Foxes and Fleetwood Mac. But the beauty of Edges Run didn’t come without challenges.
“We were all in really close quarters for the record,” Rodenbough said. “We stayed at this tiny Airbnb and were at the studio every day. It was really cold outside so no one wanted to leave to get space and so it all made it that much more stressful and put burdens on us all. The studio was the toughest part. The four of us were going through a difficult time personally, just by coincidence, that got enhanced by that experience. It was also a very dark time for the country, and still is, just a few weeks before the presidential inauguration, and it was a heavy winter, super gray and dark and everything just felt heavy for that month. I think it all came out in the process though. Todd really dove in deep and arranged very meticulously and so we sort of came together in a different way for the first time. He had ideas that none of us would have thought of on our own. It’s cool to work with a producer who lays back and lets you do your own thing, but it was incredible to work with someone like Todd who became basically like a fifth band member.”
Edges Run marks the height of Mipso’s talents of lyricism, structure and arrangements to date. And with a band starting to pull in myriad directions, the four members, along with Sickafoose, managed to blend the various colors in their sonic palette and paint a new picture.
“We sort of found that that was the whole theme all along,” Rodenbough said. “The songs have themes like memory, childhood, growth and loss, and we saw all of these moments in life as not exactly certain but more bleeding into the next. It just made sense after all of it. In a really dark time, it was something beautiful that we needed.”