Mipso’s Libby Rodenbough Defines Her Role Differently

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It’s been a whirlwind journey for Mipso, the bluegrass-indie-folk band formed by Carolina grads in 2010. What started as a fun side project for three college buddies took off, at first locally and then regionally. Their most recent album, “Old Time Reverie,” debuted last October at the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Bluegrass Chart.

Photo by Briana Brough.

With a background in classical violin, Libby Rodenbaugh began playing with what was then the Mipso Trio as a student. Her fiddle work is on the first track Mipso ever recorded, but she only played periodically when schedules allowed for the first few years. Eventually, the band dropped the “trio” and added Libby full time – the lone female member. Last year, they clocked 240 days on the road. We caught up with Libby during a rare day at home.

What made you decide to officially join Mipso?

I was really hesitant. I’d never been a performer, and I didn’t really see myself as a musician – that sounds funny to say because I had played music forever. But I had never done it on stage, and it felt a little unnatural to me. When [the other bandmates] graduated, [they] did it full time for a year, and I’d play with them on weekends; sometimes I’d fly out for a show somewhere. Honestly, it was so fun.

I thought, “What are the chances I’m going to have the opportunity again to join a band where everything’s already been laid out for me?” They’d done all the groundwork; they’d started touring and made a name for themselves. All I had to do was jump in, so I did when I graduated.

Do you feel the need to define yourself as “the female band member?”

I go back and forth about it. I feel like a lot of women think about how they get dressed every day anyway; I get even more hung up on it because we’re on stage. And we play for such different crowds: Sometimes we’re playing for an older conservative crowd in a seated theater, and sometimes we’re playing for young kinds in a bar in Manhattan. There are questions about how much I want to play up my sexuality, about what’s appropriate for different venues and about how the audience will perceive me.

I think it would be empowering to not worry about it altogether, and sometimes I do have that mentality. The good news is that I have such a wide-ranging interest in clothes [and] this job allows me to really run the gamut. At the same time as I make this sound fraught and complicated, I definitely have fun with it! And the guys are really great, sensitive, liberal dudes, so it’s all good. But there’s still a definite lack of female energy around me on the road.

How does Mipso maintain its jam-packed tour schedule?

It’s definitely not sustainable – not for me, anyway. We want to do it at this intensity for another year or so at least, which is another album cycle. The hope is that then we’ll have laid the groundwork for sparser touring in the future. We know we won’t be able to do this once we lead less inward lives, like getting married and having kids; and some or all of us definitely want to do that. It’s already a capricious industry and then we’re at a capricious phase of our lives. This is a really discrete moment in our lives where all we’re doing is trying to make our own music. We know that, and we want to do it while we can.

What’s the best part of being home?

I’m both constantly alone and never alone when I’m on the road. When I’m home, I hang out with my friends, go to IP3, go out to the bars. I try to play a lot of music, but not [much] Mipso – to remind myself of the other music I like to play. I listen to music. I play my records. I drink a ton of coffee and spend a lot of time just in my house. That’s where I finally have the time to write.

I walk down by the Haw River. Saxapahaw is like a little island out in the middle of the country: There’s an interesting mix of people. It’s a nice microcosm of the New South out here. Cane Creek Farm recently moved behind my house. I’ve always run in the fields out here, ever since I’ve lived here. Now it’s filled with pigs and baby goats; it’s a very life-affirming way to start my day.

Libby graduated from UNC in May 2014, where she was a Morehead-Cain Scholar and studied folklore and American studies. The Greensboro native lives in Saxapahaw.

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Jessie Ammons

Jessie is a former Chapel Hill Magazine editor-turned freelance culture writer based in Chapel Hill. She tends to structure her days around a morning cup of coffee and evening glass of wine.
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