Tag Archives: North Carolina

Interview – Emily Minor

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“North Carolina is the best place in the entire world.  No matter where this job takes me, Carolina holds my heart.”

~Emily Minor

With a relentless loyalty to her southern upbringing, Wilmington native and East Carolina University graduate, Emily Minor epitomizes the idea that you can take the girl out of Carolina, but you cannot take the Carolina out of the girl.

Three years ago, after graduation and a life-changing experience on American Idol, Minor packed up her acoustic guitar and college memories and moved to the epicenter of country music–Nashville, Tennessee. With husband John by her side, Minor jumped into the country music scene feet first, with a big dream and nothing to lose.

Evolution of a Fan caught up with Minor recently to chat about life in Nashville, on the road, and what she enjoys most about being a musician.

EOAF: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age? 

I’m extremely lucky that I was raised in musically diverse home. Our radio played anything from Buck Owens to Stevie Ray Vaughn, from Billy Joel to Whitney Houston. I was always exposed to great music and artists.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?

It’s a lot like what I grew up on, a little bit of everything. I enjoy some of the new country on the radio today but I really love old country. It’s not unusual to find Merle Haggard or Brenda Lee on my iPod. 90’s country is great too, I love Brooks ‘N Dunn. It’s a broad spectrum–Hall and Oates, Aerosmith, and I love working out to Katy Perry.

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?  Do you tend to write the lyrics first or melody? 

Typically an idea for a hook comes to me first and I can usually sing it the way I would hear it in a song. Usually lyrics will come to me and then I’ll sing it back to my husband and together we’ll create a melody on our guitars.

EOAF: Do you play any instruments? 

I play acoustic guitar when I’m writing and learning new songs at home. I don’t play anything while I’m on stage and maybe eventually I will. I love to entertain and sometimes its hard to run across the stage and jump around with a guitar strapped to me. Not to mention, I play with a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians. I leave them instruments to them.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write? 

 I’ve been lucky to live a very uneventful, happy life so sometimes it’s hard to draw from personal experiences but every now and then I’ll write something that relates to my life. I find a lot of inspiration in whats going on with my friend’s life, whats going on around me, or something that has happened to someone I know back home. It’s a lot of fun to make up stories and write about them, create situations in my mind.

EOAF: Your EP has some really great songs on it.  What new songs are you testing on the road and when can your fans expect an LP?

Thank you! I have been writing a lot. At one point this summer it was like my creative juices were just pouring out of me and everyday there was a new song to write. I’m still writing a ton and now we’re in the beginning phases of choosing what songs are good enough to put on the new album. We’ll start the work for a new album this winter. I can tell you that you can expect more songs written by me and my co-writers and a lot of what you heard on the first album. Great, turn it up loud, sing-along songs and some tear-jerker ballads too.

EOAF: Where were you when you first heard one of your songs on the radio and how did it make you feel?

I was in a McDonald’s parking lot and it came on the radio. i had just finished and interview with the station and they were playing it right after the interview aired. I just sat there and listened. I close my eyes and just took in the moment and soaked it all up. And then I screamed and jumped up and down! You never really get used to hearing yourself on the radio. It’s always a treat to hear your songs played. It’s a very rewarding three and a half minutes.

EOAF: What have you learned about the music industry since moving to Nashville?

I’ve been in Nashville for three years now and my mind has been like a sponge. I just soak up everything I hear and read and try to learn as much as I can. For one, I’ve learned that there are so many talented people in town. You never know if you’re going to pop into a songwriter night and see the guy who wrote Eric Church’s “Springsteen” or hits for Diamond Rio. That’s awesome to me. I’ve also learned to be nice to everyone and to never speak badly about someone. You never burn bridges. You never know who someone is, who they know, and how it could come back to hurt you. You can’t make judgements in that town.

EOAF: How hard or easy has it been to connect with other songwriters and producers in Nashville?  

Networking is what Nashville is all about. You’ve got to shake hands–it’s just how the world turns there. It’s really easy to go into a writer’s round and hear someone great and approach them later about writing together. They’re just like you. They want to meet new people, broaden themselves as writers, and have something new to look forward to. Everyone is so friendly in Nashville, It just takes walking up and introducing yourself. Even the big time celebrities are down to earth and don’t mind stopping for a picture or to talk. I saw Vince Gill once and just walked right up to said hello. He is one of the nicest people I’ve met.

EOAF: I’ve read that you really enjoy being out on tour.  What are your favorite and least favorite things about being on the road?  

Of course playing to new people and being on stage is the best part, but I also just enjoy the riding time with my band. We’re one big family, they’re the brothers that I never had. We joke on each other, laugh, get into a little trouble. When you’re on the road for that long with the same people, you have no choice but to like each other and make the most of it. We have a great time. My least favorite thing would be missing out on friends and family things. I have to miss a lot of birthdays, weddings, family dinners–and sometimes that’s tough.

EOAF: What type of venue/music event do you enjoy the most? (listening room, bar, club, festival, songwriters session, etc)?

It’s so hard to choose because they’re all great. I love to play a listening room or writer’s round because it’s very intimate and people are there to listen to your work. They listen to your lyrics, take it all in, and really hear the message you’re trying to deliver. Festivals are fun too because it’s family friendly and I love watching all of the little kids dance around and have a good time. It’s also a great way to meet the fans, hear what they have to say, and get your music in their hands. I really enjoy singing the National Anthem too and I’m always honored to be asked.

 EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?

Nothing is better than being on stage. It’s a high for me. Every now and then we’ll take some time off to recharge or spend some time writing and after a couple of days, I’m losing my mind! I’m ready to get back on the road and play. the best part is watching people sing along to the songs you’ve written, or having them request that you play one of your own songs. That’s always the highest praise. My shows are always super fun but for the most part nothing crazy usually happens.  I once had two grandmas start fighting while we were playing. It was hilarious.

EOAF: Tell me a little bit about your backing band.  How did you guys get together?

We all met through mutual friends. That’s how it works out there. You start playing with people and then they’re unavailable for a gig so you call a friend of theirs who can do it and it’s all one big link. Right now I’m very fortunate to have some talented guys on the road with me. My guitar player is my husband, John, and with him we have a fiddle player, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, and occasionally keys. Not to mention they’re all super nice and down to earth which goes along way with me. You can be a really great player but if you aren’t easy to get a long with and friendly, it’s not going to work out.

EOAF: What is your favorite song to cover and why?

I love to do anything by Aerosmith. If I could die and come back as someone else in this world, I’d be Steven Tyler. I just love everything they’ve done. Right now we cover “Crying”. I saw Steven Tyler and Carrie Underwood cover it and I thought, “I HAVE to do that!” I also love the song “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” by Heart. I watched my Mama sing along to it on the radio as a little girl and I love singing it now. I’m country to the bone but I’ve got a little bit of a rock ‘n roll heart too. I’d love to work some Fleetwood Mac into my set.

EOAF: What is your “must have” when you are on the road?

I always have my own pillow and blanket. I’m peculiar about hotel linens and their cleanliness so I always have my own blankets and pillows. I’d also be lost without dry shampoo for my hair.  It’s great for in-between days. Oh yeah, and my husband. He manages me and plays in the band so I probably shouldn’t leave him at home or I wouldn’t know where to go or what to play!

EOAF: How do you feel when you come back home (to NC) to perform? 

North Carolina, especially Greenville and Wilmington, have been so good to me. And even all of the little towns around. Everyone is so supportive and caring. I can always count of seeing some familiar faces in the crowd and someone is always wanting to feed us or offer up a shower and bed for a nap.

EOAF: What do you miss about Greenville?  How did your time at ECU prepare you for where you are today?

Greenville is so wonderful and near and dear to me. I grew up in Wilmington but in a lot of ways I feel like I really grew up and learned who I was in Greenville. The small town, the close-knit community, I just love that. I really miss Saturdays in the stand cheering on the Pirates too and tailgating with my friends. I majored in Education at ECU. I thought I needed a “real” career, but I started a band while I was in college. Getting my start playing around Greenville really taught me so much and prepared me to move the band to Nashville and take this more seriously.

EOAF: What do you do when your aren’t writing or touring?  Any other interests or charity work?

I’ve been blessed to work with some great charities over the past couple years. I’ve done some breast cancer and heart research events and I always appreciate being asked to join them. I try to spend as much time with my family any chance that I get. We are all very close and I miss them terribly. On normal days, I spend my time doing things like grocery shopping (my favorite place!) and laundry. I find them relaxing and it brings a sense of normalcy and routine to my life.

EOAF: What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to pursue a music career?

Start a band! Play! To anyone who will listen, it doesn’t matter if you make money. The money will come. Just start a band with really great musicians, practice, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. No one likes a big ego. And get on the road and play, get your music out there. It doesn’t hurt to move to one of the music capitals of the world,  Nashville, LA, New York. Atlanta’s music scene is really growing a lot too. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do.

It is clear that fame and recognition have not gone to Minor’s head.  She maintains her homegrown charm and light-hearted spirit, which translates into relevant music that keeps her fans coming back for more. Minor’s fall/winter tour is underway.  Check out her website and catch her as she blows through your town!

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Video of the Week – Seth Avett Sings “A Famous Country Singer” by Matt Butcher

I return to this video time and time again.  Matt Butcher’s songwriting on this song is beyond exceptional, and Seth Avett’s calming voice and delicate finger-picking make it that much sweeter. The combination is about as close to perfection as you can get.

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Album Reivew – The Avett Brothers’ “Magpie and the Dandelion”

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F*&k yeah, my boys are back.

~Anonymous longtime Avett fan

Sometimes you just have to be blunt about the bands you love. With The Avett Brothers’ eighth studio album out today, Magpie and the Dandelion, brothers Scott and Seth Avett kick the dirt off of their roots and plant a new crop of songs that are fixin’ to take full bloom.

Collectively, Magpie and the Dandelion is a polished throwback that is stripped of cumbersome instrumentation and soundboard tricks, while still maintaining the clean studio sound that comes with a Rick Rubin production–a winning combination. Perhaps Rubin finally decided to step back and let the boys do what they do best–make music.

While this may be the case, it was surprising to learn that Magpie and the Dandelion was recorded around the same time that The Avett Brothers recorded last year’s album, The Carpenter.  Side-by-side these albums feel very different. The Carpenter walks the line between grand themes of life and death, while Magpie and the Dandelion returns to the intimate storytelling that has served the brothers well from their humble beginnings.

“Pack the old love letters up. We will read them when we forget why we left here.

The Avetts aren’t strangers to a brutally honest and moving love letter.  They’ve laid out their fears and feelings for listeners several times before in songs like “November Blue,” “If It’s The Beaches,” “My Last Song to Jenny,” and basically every song in the “Pretty Girl” series.

When these earlier songs were written the boys were bushwhacking their way through the early phases of love, often in an emotionally fervent state. Conversely, the songs on Magpie and the Dandelion reveal that the Avetts have moved on to a new, more complicated chapter of love–one that has been forced to withstand the hardships of life on the road, the struggles of caring for a sick child, and the possibility of growing old alone.

There is an authenticity that comes with bearing one’s soul for the world to see—laying out the mistakes, the doubts, the fears.  This album continues to propel the story of a band of brothers who have been in the game for over a decade.   Now they look back on where they have been, wonder what they may have done differently, and hope to find answers beyond the bright lights of fame.

Put the sketches and the notes in the box labeled ‘Burn With Furniture’

The album opens with “Open Ended Life,” a southern rock barn-burner packed with punchy banjo, electric guitar solos, a feverish fiddle, and the bluesy whine of G. Love’s harmonica.  As if denouncing “If It’s The Beaches,” the boys light fire to their past–love letters and all–watch in the rear-view mirror as it burns to the ground, and speed away in an old beat-up truck.  This track is pure bonfire, beer-drinking, hoot and holler fun, straight from the hills of North Carolina.

It’s alright if you finally stop caring, just don’t go and tell someone that does.

On “Morning Song” the mood becomes more introspective and the instrumentation simplified.  Piano and drums round out the sound as Scott and Seth sing of the reality that accompanies embarking on life’s journeys alone.  The harmonies alone will cut you to the core.  With the song’s closing chorus, the listener is flooded with overwhelming emotion, as the beautiful voices of Avett family members sing, “I have to find that melody alone.” “Morning Song” evokes feelings of hope despite despair, and will surely be added to the canon of outstanding folk-ballads that have come from the minds and hearts of these men.

Whoa oh whoa.

The Avetts are masters of bending and blending genres.  On “Never Been Alive,” Seth manages to layer Pink Floyd’s dreamy “Speak to Me/Breathe” with a Sam Cooke vocal cadence.  This combination yields a deliberately subdued ballad that feels trippy, but sluggish at times.  Though “Never Been Alive” has been road tested for several years, it remains an underdog, perhaps having not yet reached its full potential.

Let me see your skeleton, well before your life is done.

The album’s first single “Another is Waiting” is definitely the most radio friendly folk-pop track of the collection.  Full of rambling banjo runs and tight drum lines, “Another is Waiting” speaks to the dangers of any industry that chews up and spits out protégés with little regard.  This track’s positive message is sure to translate over radio airwaves to young, impressionable listeners worldwide.

Bring your love to me. I will hold it like a dandelion.

During a songwriter’s session at the Newport Folk Festival, Seth was asked how he decides what becomes an Avett Brother song versus a Darling song.  With a thoughtful pause, he replied, “I have to actively answer that question every time an idea comes up.  I can’t say that I always know, because a lot of times I am surprised at what makes sense for us to present together.  But, the Darling songs that end up just becoming Darling songs, they look to me the same way that Scott’s paintings do, as far as this is a singular vision.”

In listening to “Bring Your Love To Me,” it appears that perhaps a Darling song slipped into the pile of 30-plus songs that the band initially brought to Rubin.  Hearing fingertips sliding on tinny strings, Seth’s pleading promise to protect a fragile love, and the warm tones of intermittent hums offers fans a little glimpse into what can be expected on the fourth Darling installment.

I want to be there for you, and when I come home will you still want me to?

Did someone say “Norwegian Wood?” It’s not the first time that Beatles have found their way into an Avett Brothers’ song.  Musical influences unconsciously shape the sound of every band, but what makes “Good To You” unique is that it is a heart-wrenching, honest and emotionally transparent personal account that could have only come from this band.  On this piano lullaby, Scott and bassist Bob Crawford share intentions and fears with their families, in light of the fact that their time away from home may come with sobering consequences.

Part from me, I would not dare take someone in love with me where I’m going.

“Apart From Me” stands alone as the album’s most jaw-dropping ballad.  The songwriting on this track matches that of “Murder in the City,” raw, powerful, and thought-provoking.  Scott’s voice tears through the listener’s soul, as his gritty exterior crumbles under the weight of past decisions.  Looking back on the pursuit of his dreams, Scott seems to question the path he led his family down over the course of his career.  Seth’s delicate finger-picking balances the harsh reality of Scott’s words and the listener is left peering into the wilted spirit of this woeful artist.

How long can you live in shame and drop a lifelong curse on your own last name?

Thematically in line with “Good To You” and “Apart From Me,” “Skin and Bones” picks up the pace as the Avetts weigh the pros and cons of the famed artist’s life on the road.  There is an irony that emerges as lyrics speak of the “beast” that drives the band down the road farther away from home.

This “beast” has reared its ugly head before, particularly when Scott has discussed how he struggles to find balance between his artistic passion and everyday obligations.  At his most recent art talk, Scott explained, “Artists are put on this planet to do…three things.  [Ruskin] says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think, but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze, but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t…As soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.”  With lyrics like “It’s the tin and the board that keeps me going home, but it’s who I am that won’t let me alone,” it appears almost impossible to tame the artist’s inner beast, thus the push and pull carries on.

Bring me light from where I thought it was dark. Be the spark that has a chance to light a candle.”

“Souls Like The Wheels” is a welcomed live addition to this studio album.  Originally released as a studio track on The Second Gleam in 2008, this live version of “Souls Like The Wheels” features Seth, his guitar, and an amazed audience at The Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis, MO last year.  Even with the occasional hoot and holler from those fans you’d like to punch for making noise during ballads (in particular the girls who scream “We love you Seth!”…seriously if you are one of those girls, please just stop), this version evokes images of Seth and his HD-35 at the front of the stage in the warm glowing embrace of the spotlight.  These are the moments when fans know they are witnessing greatness.

I’ve got love pouring out of my veins, but it’s all vanity.

No Avett ablum would be complete without one of Seth’s face-melting electric guitar solos.  On “Vanity,” Seth and Scott trade verses, and tackle the ugly truth that underpins our words and actions. Recently, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell joined the band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to put his own rock-god spin on the song, proving that he’s still got the chops that served him so well in the 90s.  “Vanity” stands alone in its rock-ballad style, while still contributing to the album as a whole.

I will seek the approval of no one but you, in love for the changes I take.

Magpie and the Dandelion closes with “The Clearness Is Gone,” a waltz-ballad previously released as a bonus track on The Carpenter.  The Avetts plug in and offer listeners a strong finish to an album that chronicles the band’s journey.  Though the band forges ahead into the bright lights, “The Clearness is Gone” contains muted hints of “Oh What a Nightmare.”  Perhaps this nod to their former-selves serves as a subtle message to their fans that have started to question the band’s direction.  Those fans should trust that deep down inside of these men, there is a screaming Avett just waiting to go berserk, melt into the stage and then dive into a sea of sweaty fans.

We won’t waste a long goodbye on the smoke or foolish lies that finally passed us.

Magpie and the Dandelion just feels like home.  It successfully bridges the gap between the fan who boasts about being among a handful of people at the 2007 Plan 9 Emotionalism record release show and the fan who first experienced the life-altering sound of Avett harmonies on Bonnaroo’s main stage in 2012.  The album features more banjo for the bluegrass-loving fans, top-notch songwriting for the lyric-hungry fans, electric guitar riffs for old Nemo fans, and a thoughtful musical progression and growth for the fans that actually appreciate watching these talented men mature and fight to feel comfortable in their own skin.  Today, a collective exhale and “thank you” can be heard across the spectrum of Avett fans as they sit down and take in the phenomenal work that is Magpie and the Dandelion.

**For fans that can’t get enough of The Avett Brothers, there is a deluxe Target-exclusive version of Magpie and the Dandelion that includes six unreleased demos off of the album**

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Album Review: Bombadil’s “Metrics of Affection”

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If The Beatles and Weezer got together and had a baby, and that baby joined the drama club, that baby would grow up to be Bombadil.

Consisting of multi-instrumentalists Daniel Michalak, Bryan Rahija, Stuart Robinson and James Phillips, Bombadil borrows its name from J.R.R. Tolkein’s character, Tom Bombadil, who is equally as enchanting as the Durham-based quartet. Having just released their self-produced, fourth LP, “Metrics of Affection,” Bombadil proves that authenticity mixed with a dash of merriment and a handful of emotion equals the perfect musical recipe.

Last month, the touring members of Bombadil graced the Tipsy Teapot stage in their idiosyncratic band regalia — collared shirts, ties, and accessorized sports coats — and treated a modest but attentive audience to many of the tracks off of their new album. While the live versions of these songs offered a quirky visual to match the lyrics, the intricacies are best revealed and reveled on the studio version. Sitting down with the liner notes, reading the lyrics and allowing the songs to tell their stories truly takes the listener on a journey through the land of Bombadil.

On “Metrics of Affection,” Bombadil stands proudly at the helm of their ship and assumes complete creative control. With production in-house, the band was able to push the boundaries and experiment more than on any previous albums, resulting in a rich but not overproduced collection of songs. While vocals and traditional instrumentation — piano especially — remain at the forefront of each track, thoughtful use of samples, synths and drum machines advances the overall sound without stripping its playfulness and originality.

Throughout the album, vocals and keys emerge in the spotlight, as hints of acoustic guitar round out the sound. Melodic and often flirty piano accompaniments, paired with witty, relatable lyrics about love, loss, whales and cats certainly draw listeners in for a deeper auditory experience.

The album opener, “Angeline,” offers a catchy beat and lyrics of friendly advice to move on from the past, all made sweeter by the charming harmonies of Christy Jean Smith. “Learning to Let Go” is the album’s clap-stomp sing-a-long track, accompanied by faint horns that lend an imperial air.

The ever-popular banjo makes its first appearance on “Born at 5:00,” though it is not what makes this song one of the album standouts. Here, Bombadil succeeds in packing all of the milestones of one man’s life into a 3:11 minute song — a bold and touching reminder of the fleeting nature of of our time on Earth.

“Isn’t It Funny” features a militant drum line underlying Michalak’s first attempt at rapping. With an Eminem-esque cadence, Michalak’s passion surfaces while recounting an illness that almost ended his music career. The men of Bombadil lay their emotions out for the world to hear on heartfelt ballads like “Boring Country Song” and “Have Me,” and heart-breakers like “What Does It Mean” and “One More Ring.” This sentimental roller coaster ride of love and loss is capped off by “Patience is Expensive,” a hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental that oscillates somewhere between hope and despair.

Quirkiness sets in with “When We Are Both Cats,” which speaks of unrequited love and feline reincarnation — not the typical love song, folks. The animal theme continues on the old-timey, maritime track, “Whaling Vessel,” where Bombadil sings from the point of view of a hunted whale. While these song themes may seem off-putting to some, their unique nature translates magically, further lifting the album’s spirit.

Propelled by a rolling piano melody, the album closer, “Thank you,” is the perfect note on which to end this baker’s dozen of goodness. With lyrics like, “Keep your family close/Because when you get in trouble/They’ll be the last to lose their hope/And say your prayers every night/They don’t have to be to God/It just helps to sort your thoughts/And you never know they might be right,” listeners are called on to be grateful and gracious for all of the small, but meaningful moments in life.

Bombadil’s most recent installation combines all that is currently overdone in folk-pop — stomp, claps, banjo, cellos, unidentifiable accents — and somehow makes it feel renewed. Perhaps it is the persistent piano or the eccentric storytelling. Regardless, “Metrics of Affection” is a triumphant composition that covers the emotional spectrum of life and love, beginning with a journey and ending with gratitude.

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Interview – Dolph Ramseur

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Thirteen years ago, Dolph Ramseur left the tennis court to start his own independent record label, Ramseur Records. He had no real experience in the music industry, but was armed with a deep-seated passion, blue-collar work ethic, and relentless determination–three key ingredients for success in any industry.

Today his roster includes bands like The Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim and The Law, Bombadil, Paleface, Jim Avett, David Wax Museum, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Samantha Crain. After over a dozen years in the business, Ramseur still maintains a humble demeanor, a sweet southern charm, and a homegrown love for music. Simply put, he is a fan just like the rest of us.

Recently, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Ramseur via phone to learn a bit more about the man behind the music:

EOAF: Good morning Dolph, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Briefly, what is a typical day like for you?
Dolph Ramseur: Well, I get about 250 emails a day, and then on top of that, mix that with phone calls and instant messages. But, it’s really just sort of making the foundation for the artist, building upon that, trying to see what is coming in the future, what’s down the pipeline and plan for that accordingly–whether it’s tour dates or recording.

EOAF: So are you pretty hands on with promotion and booking for some of your lesser known bands?
DR: To a certain extent we are. Some of our acts don’t have booking agents so we have to find shows for them. But then the ones that do [have booking agents] we help out with the promoters, and getting the word out about shows and when do tickets go on sale, and how do we promote these shows, and what kind of Facebook ads are we going to take out, and what should we post on the website. There’s a lot of moving parts.

EOAF: Do you have a fairly large staff to do this or is it still a pretty small operation?
DR: Well, we are still small. I have an employee in Nashville, one in Los Angeles, and then one in the Winston-Salem area, and I am in Concord, NC.

EOAF: So you are still working out of your house?
DR: Yes, we all do that.

EOAF: That’s convenient.
DR: Yeah, we’ll its got its advantages and pitfalls, as anyone who works out of their house will tell you.

EOAF: That type of flexibility sort of allows you to move where you need to go. Do you often get on the road to support your musicians?
DR: Yes, although I can’t do it as much as I used to, just because it’s so busy on all aspects of what we do. But, yes, I get out quite a bit.

EOAF: What would you say over the past year has been one of your highlights of being at a show?
DR: Well the two shows with The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks this past year were great. Seeing The [Avett] Brothers down in Atlanta in front of 12,500 people was pretty special as well, because I was at the first show when the guys played in Atlanta. You know you go from playing to 50 people to 12,500 and you see the growth of the band. It’s pretty amazing.

EOAF: Does that shift ever seem overwhelming? Do you ever ask yourself, “How did we get here?”?
DR: Well, I know kinda how we got there. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of talent from the band. I feel like we’ve got one of the best fan bases in the world. So, you mix all three of those things together and some special things can happen. But in some ways I’ve lost scope of maybe how big it is, and maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, I saw the guys play to 8 or 9 people in Charlottesville, VA 10 years ago and they put on the same show to those 9 people that they did at their last show in Charlottesville to over 4,000. So, I think we all have blinders on when it comes to that. We are thankful that we have that kind of crowd, but it’s not something that we, I mean, it is what it is.

EOAF: Now some of the bands that I believe you have on your roster now were introduced through your relationship with The Avett Brothers. Do you kind of keep an eye on their opening bands as a way to find new talent?
DR: It just depends. I find them everywhere.

EOAF: Are you actively looking for new talent, or do you feel like you are pretty much at capacity at this point?
DR: Well, we are pretty full, but you never know what you might come across that strikes us. That’s sort of a hard one, you know, because you just kind of get bit by the love bug on it, so I just don’t know.

EOAF: You’ve probably served as a mentor for the musicians that you manage, but do you also serve as a mentor for your staff?
DR: There’s a lot of give and take with my staff. I always had the saying, ‘big team, little me’ so we always learn from one another. I’m learning something everyday at this job. So, we share the knowledge of this, and I think the main thing that we are trying to do is to have fun doing this, because there are so many people working jobs that hate their jobs. My staff and I are really lucky because we are doing something we really love and have fun doing. As far as being a mentor, I’m not sure. I think we are all in this together, so it’s not necessarily that kind of role I’m playing.

EOAF: As a manager, how would you define your job. What are the important qualities that you think have led to your success?
DR: I guess, well, you see in some ways I don’t even feel like we are in the music business. I’m in The Avett Brothers business. I’m in the Carolina Chocolate Drops business. I’m in the Bombadil business, the Langhorne Slim business. I feel like all of these acts we work with are all handmade kind of acts. They are all unique. They are all different from the norm. It’s tough for me to answer. I’ve been at this now for about 13 years and I had no experience of it before getting into it, so maybe I had no bad habits and I didn’t know the pitfalls necessarily. We kind of just went by the seat of our pants. But, you know, I’m from a very blue-collar family, so I’m just a hard worker first and foremost. I show up everyday, and I care. If you show up everyday and you care about what you are doing, it’s almost hard not to have success, because there are so many people not showing up with that passion. I can’t speak for those folks, but we just take a lot of passion and pride in this, and I want everybody on the planet to hear these acts.

EOAF: That passion and that gut feeling you get when you find a new artist, or hear someone like Langhorne or Paleface, does that feed into your decision to bring them on? Would it be difficult for you to represent someone who you didn’t have that feeling about?
DR: Yes, it would be tough. It just wouldn’t be fun.

EOAF: You’ve said in other interviews that you are really just a fan of music, and that is kind of what got you into this. Do you think your musical tastes have evolved since staring Ramseur Records 13 years ago?
DR: Well, I’ve always been left of center when it comes to music, so I like all forms. If anything I get jaded because I hear so much stuff, and it’s hard to digest so much music that’s coming at me sometimes. My father was a big Johnny Cash fan. He was a big Hank Williams Sr. fan. He was a big Roy Orbison fan. He loved The Platters. He was a big Pavarotti fan. My father is about as blue-collar as you are going to find. He didn’t go to college, real hard-working fella. So, he exposed myself and my sister to a lot of different kinds of music. So maybe I get that a little bit naturally. He also had a thing when it came down to gospel music, he would rather have someone who was not a great singer but put a lot of heart and soul into it as opposed to a great singer who was just going through the motions. I learned that early on from him. I don’t know how much my tastes have evolved, because I just like so much stuff.

EOAF: You grew up surrounded by all of that great music. Do you actually play an instrument or sing?
DR: No. I do not. I keep telling people that I am one of the world’s greatest musicians, I just haven’t found what instrument will get it out of me. I do not play, and I think I learned that from tennis. I taught tennis at country clubs and I went to college for tennis and I kind of lost the passion for that because I did it so much. I’m almost glad I don’t play an instrument, because it kind of keeps me from overloading too much.

EOAF: When you started Ramseur Records, did you start it with the intent of putting out albums and being a manager, or did that combination evolve over time?
DR: Yeah, it kind of evolved. Again, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all.

EOAF: And starting the label came out of a relationship with Martin Stephenson?
DR: Yes. Martin had gone through the whole gambit of the industry from being an independent artists who got signed to a major label. Martin, very much like The Avett Brothers, never had radio success, but he was selling thousands of tickets in the UK, and really doing well. He had a very similar story to what The Avett Brothers have going on, where they have kind of danced around mainstream success but sort of still stayed under it. That’s kind of what Martin did. So, I learned quite a bit from Martin and he is very similar to The [Avett] Brothers and he’s got the same gift they’ve got.

EOAF: How did you meet him?
DR: That kind of goes back to me being a music fan. He had left major labels and went through the indie route and was putting out records on his own, and I reached out to him. He noticed I’m from NC and he’s a bit of a fan of music from this state, like Doc Watson and Charlie Poole and the Piedmont blues players from the state. So we just struck up a friendship, and I told him that he should come over to NC and I will introduce you to some pickers. That’s kind of how it all happened. I really didn’t have any real idea of getting into the business. When I met Martin I could see where musicians need help, and they need some support and someone to help and put fuel on the flame.

EOAF: So, a manager is like a Jack-of-all-trades. You have to do everything, wouldn’t you say? You are the sounding board, you book, you promote, you do all of these things.
DR: Yes, definitely.

EOAF: In that light, I saw that The Avett Brothers recently released their first single off of their next album. Are you involved in those types of decisions, like which single will be released, album art, song sequence, etc?
DR: That’s a yes and no type of question. It differs for every act, because some acts will want our input on a certain aspect of the [process]. Like, some may want to know feedback on a single. Some may be dead set on a track listing and some may be dead set on artwork. Some will need help on artwork, and some will need help on the track list. It varies from case to case. We are and we aren’t, just depending on what the project is, where the artist is. Sometimes the artist may change where they need help, because they are so close to the project. They sometimes need help from someone that’s got a little separation from it.

EOAF: In terms of an artist like Langhorne Slim, his last album, to me, was Grammy-worthy. Does it ever surprise you when things don’t get as much attention or the attention you think they deserve?
DR: No, no. We are just thankful for the attention we get and we can’t sit around hoping and wishing and ‘what ifs.’ We have to play the deck of cards we are dealt. You know that album to date has sold 22,000 copies. That is a lot of records for an independent act like Langhorne. I look at all of then albums like babies. You want them to grow up and do well. Sometimes they do and sometimes it doesn’t stick. It’s hard to say what America or the world wants, and the way certain things go. You know, who knows? I have no clue.

EOAF: How do you find a balance between managing all of your acts?
DR: It’s hard for me to know what time is spent on what. With some of my acts, certain employees will spend most of their time with those certain acts. Of course I spend most of my time with The [Avett] Brothers, with The [Carolina Chocolate] Drops. So it’s just kind of hard to say how that time is divided up. I’m so close to it, it’s hard for me to kind of step back and see it.

EOAF: Can you speak about your handshake contracts? Why does this work for you and has it ever backfired?
DR: No, it hasn’t backfired and I don’t know, I just got into this business to have fun. I feel like if so much energy is spent on that kind of stuff it just sort of takes the spirit out of things. That’s not to say that you can’t have great spirit and great goodwill between two people in a contact, but I just kind of like the old thing that you get further with shaking hands than balling up a hand in a fist. Again, I don’t recommend it to other people. I just do my own thing.

EOAF: What kind of advice would you give to a rising musician who is looking to get signed or looking for someone to represent him/her?
DR: I would say more than anything would be to try to master your craft, and also try to realize that no matter how great you are, there’s always ways to improve. I don’t really deal with anyone like this, but I kind of sense that some artists think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. A lot of times that’s sort of when they plateau and never kind of get any further down the road than they already are. I feel like if you are an artist who is always trying to push the boundaries of what you are doing and always trying to improve as a singer, as a songwriter, as a performer, I would say definitely master your craft and a lot of things will fall in place with that. Also, there’s this sort of sense that you’ve got to get this success right now, and I don’t feel that’s the case. A lot of times people who did have success quickly, it would be a rocket ship–as soon as it goes up, it’s coming right back down. You have to think of it more as a balloon ride. Also I always say to steer clear of the American Idol, The Voice, those kind of things. I just kind of feel like that’s all smoke and mirrors in my opinion.

EOAF: Charity appears to be a big part of your business model. Why is that so important to you? Was that something that you thought of from the beginning, or has that just evolved over time?
DR: That might be my family background. I feel like all of my family has sort of had that mindset. We’ve all been pretty fortunate and hardworking. My grandparents where cotton mill workers, and they were real thankful to just have a job, and they were really active in their church and in the community. I remember my grandfather, who was born in 1902–my other grandfather was born in 1900–but my Grandpa Ramseur I remember, as a kid, every Thursday he would dress up in his Sunday best and go to the hospital and just pray for people in the hospital. He’d just go room to room and ask them if it was okay if he could pray for them. He did that for years. So, I guess I get it kind of honestly.

EOAF: Is there anything coming up in the near future, like the My Favorite Gifts Christmas Album, that you have in the works?
DR: There might be some things in regards to St. Jude with Bob’s daughter. Hopefully there will be some things that will come from that. We’ve got a new Cheerwine campaign with The [Avett] Brothers, the second installment of The Legendary Giveback and that’s going to be pretty exciting. We are always looking at things and seeing what might work. There are a lot of things being done that no one even knows about. We are fortunate to be in a position to help.

EOAF: That is awesome, and the fan base definitely takes it to another level as well. They organize their own fundraisers. I’ve seen it in action. It’s pretty amazing and inspiring, and it’s nice to know that you all have a piece in that, and that you’ve inspired other people as well.
DR: I can’t speak any more highly for the fan bases that [our] bands have. We are so fortunate. I feel like all of the acts realize that they wouldn’t have the careers they’ve had without the fans for sure. That’s another thing that I think has benefited me is growing up in the hub of NASCAR. When I was a kid, Richard Petty would sign autographs until nobody wanted one, but he would always thank the fans and let the fans know that without the fans he wouldn’t have the opportunity or then platform to do what he does.

We’d like to thank Dolph Ramseur for his time and contribution to Evolution of a Fan. To learn more about Ramseur Records and the artists, please visit the official website and Facebook page.

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Interview – Time Sawyer

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“Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young, the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom, and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above, it was green with vegetation, and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

There is something intriguing about the process of naming a band. While some musicians choose to use their surnames, others find inspiration in art, literature, or everyday events. Such is true for the up-and-coming band out of Elkin, North Carolina named Time Sawyer. This folk-rock band, which consists of Sam Tayloe (vocals, guitar), Kurt Layell (lead guitar), Houston Norris (banjo), and Clay Stirewalt (drums), came together a few years ago to make “real music” with a grassroots feel matched with high energy. It was out of this common mission that they started to lay a foundation and grow a loyal fan base. Beyond bringing their own music to the people, Time Sawyer founded Reevestock Music Festival. Now in its third year, Reevestock not only boasts a great line-up for a smaller, more intimate festival, but also remains true to its local roots by benefiting the restoration of Elkin’s last theater, The Reeves.

I recently caught up with Time Sawyer’s Sam Tayloe to learn a bit more about the band’s name, their story, songwriting, and how they are building a music empire in their rural hometown.

Evolution of a Fan: Can you give me a brief explanation of where the band name “Time Sawyer” came from?


ST: Kurt and I started the band in 2010 and we were looking for something to connect where we are from to where we are headed.

“Time Sawyer” let us do that by pulling from the character Tom Sawyer to represent the rural area that we came from (Elkin, NC) while also being used as a grassroots character, in touch with [his] craft.

We chose “Time” because, in songwriting, I don’t think there is anything you can write about that doesn’t have time involved. Truly in life I don’t think you can either. But in songwriting, you can be writing about how much you love how great something is and you want time to stop dead in its tracks, keeping you in the moment, or, you could be doing all you possibly can to escape from some hard times, relationship or otherwise, so you want time to move along. It just seemed to fit with time being such a constant with anything you are involved in.

EOAF: How did the current band come to be? How did you all meet?


ST: The current band is the only band, which has been really neat. Kurt and I started working together a bit earlier after being introduced by a mutual friend. It just kinda worked out that we got to add some really great supporting pieces without much work, as Houston was my best friend in high school and Clay, Kurt’s. We also have a 5th member that we love as an original–Mr. Bob Barone plays pedal steel with us anytime we can have him.

EOAF: It looks like you guys have turned out a lot of albums in a short amount of time. Who is the primary songwriter and what is the process like for the band? Is it a collaborative effort, or does the primary songwriter just come with the song and arrangements?


ST: Yeah, we try to keep our nose on the grindstone. Kurt and I are the primary songwriters. It’s been really fun to watch the operation grow as it has. Kurt is writing some amazing songs right now, and I’m really excited to work on this new record we are planning for later this year. Collectively we have written about 20 so far for it. When we write songs, usually Kurt or I will finish one entirely, show the other, get feedback, then bring it to the band to help with what else we should add to it, and form a direction for the song. Houston and Clay really bring a lot to helping with songs when they get to them. Recently however, Kurt and I have written some together, or had a song that was half way done but needed or chorus or bridge, etc and we would help the other. It really seems to be working well as we grow.

EOAF: What do you think makes a “real” song? 


ST: I think that is a very loaded question (haha). Real can be a lot of things, but I think genuine is the only thing that has to be constant. I feel like–and hope others see it the same way–being honest and genuine is something you can see/feel. There are times that you get duped, but those situations can be turned into genuine songs themselves.

EOAF: From where do you pull your musical inspiration (other artists, personal experiences, observing others)?

ST: Most of what gives us the fuel to write is our own experiences. I have begun some now to write a few “story” type songs where I don’t have to completely use all me, but usually am still personally connected to the song. Other musicians help to give us ideas as well. Kurt and I both have a few of the same favorite artist that help to inspire for sure.


EOAF: Talk a little bit about how the idea for Reevestock came about. I know you are in your third year and that it continues to grow. How did you come to decide to put on this festival, and why is it important to you/band?


ST: Reevestock is a festival that is really 3-fold. I started thinking about bringing some more music and activities to our hometown than I had when I lived there as a kid. Some of my favorite events to attend are music festivals so I figured I’d look into that option. After some research, it seemed like a feasible option. Choosing The Reeves Theater became more of a symbol than anything. The whole event is a benefit for The Reeves, but it’s also an event with purpose to benefit the whole town of Elkin and our musical needs. Maybe need is a bit far, but I’ll leave it. We do continue to grow and that really helps me to feel like we’re doing this right. We will continue to grow, have fun, and help benefit as many people as we can.

EOAF: What are you most excited about for this year’s Reevestock?

ST: All of it. Most (kinda) of the work is already done, so I’m eager to get the music going! It’s really a fun time.

EOAF: What does The Reeves Theater mean to you personally? Do you have childhood memories of going there to hear music/plays/movies? If so, would you share a few?


ST: Honestly, I don’t have any memories of the Reeves as a kid. I believe I was taken by my mom to see the Lion King and a few other movies there, but I have no recollection of it. As I said before, it helps to serve as a symbol of just keeping music alive.

EOAF: What do you think is special or unique about Yadkin Valley music. Why is its preservation so important?

ST: I think music is special. No matter what people go through, people find music to connect with. Our area is rich in bluegrass heritage and is really known for that. Besides our bluegrass though, we don’t have much of a musical touch, so that is what I’m looking to change.

EOAF: On your webpage, whoever writes the blog entries often says “Hootie Hoooo” or calls your fans “Owlets”…This made me laugh when I read it. Where did that come from? What’s the significance of the owl references?


ST: Kurt brought the owl into the Time Sawyer world and we’ve had a wooden figurine of one since our very early shows. Since then we have made it our power animal, ha. We started “hooting” at fans on Facebook post a while back, but Kurt’s brother, Justin Layell actually coined “Owlets” for us while writing for us on tour this past spring.

EOAF: How do your songs typically evolve from studio to stage?

ST: We build and play songs for a while before the studio, even play lots of them live, so most of what you hear on a record as been tested. We do find different ways to add some zest or change a song up here or there after we have played them for a long time post-record. It’s always fun to throw in a surprise.

EOAF: What is one or a few of your favorite things about performing live shows in different venues (coffee houses, house shows, clubs, festivals). How does the audience affect your performance?

ST: All of those places bring so much to the table if you’re willing to take what is given. House shows offer you a very intimate and open-eared crowd. Those are really fun because of that. Jody Mace puts on Common Chord House Concerts, in Charlotte, NC. It’s a really great group. Festivals and venues give you that crowd interaction that may talk through some of [your set], but also give you that “let’s dance” vibe, too. You can take something good from any show. We want to make friends that become our fans. We are really close with our growing fan base.

EOAF: Finally, what do you want to leave behind as your musical legacy? What do you think fans/listeners will remember about Time Sawyer in the future?


ST: We want to make sure people remember Time Sawyer first, but we are making large strides to do that. We feel very confident in our growth and what our music stands for. That being said, I think we’d like to be remembered for our honesty and ability to connect with fans. Being genuine like we talked about. Being remembered as the most badass band of all-time works, too.

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Time Sawyer will be performing at Reevestock along with The Dirty Guv’nahs, The David Mayfield Parade, Joe Pug, A Great Disaster, Owen Poteat, Luke Mears, and The Jon Linker Band. The festival runs from Friday, August 2nd (at The Liberty) through Saturday, August 3rd (at Elkin’s Hidden Amphitheater). Single and two-day tickets are still available, so get out there and check out some amazing musicians, all while supporting the restoration of a historical landmark that captures the essence of the good old days in a small country town. Does it get any better than that!?

“In the common walks of life, with what delightful emotions does the youthful mind look forward to some anticipated scene of festivity!”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

**Thank you to Sam Tayloe for his time and enthusiasm, and Jody Mace for constantly spreading the word about great music!**

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Interview – Mipso

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Sometimes first impressions are meant to be thrown out the window. This is because, in fact, impressions aren’t formed in a vacuum. Rather, they are often influenced by external and internal factors–weather, mood, people around you, time of year, personal conflicts, perceived reality–the list is endless.

The first time I saw Mipso (then Mipso Trio) perform was at their sold-out show at Cat’s Cradle last year–a Carrboro music staple on the outskirts of the pristine campus of UNC-Chapel Hill where band members, Jacob Sharp, Wood Robinson, and Joseph Terrell studied. Life was good, they were making music together, and they had sold-out one of the area’s most recognized venues. To top it off, Mipso was being supported by some of the state’s best songwriters that night, openers Jim Avett and The Overmountain Men. What more could these young, talented men ask for?

Onstage they appeared starstruck and in awe that so many people came out to see them–as they were still in their infancy as a band–but they proved to have some veteran tendencies. Their harmonies were tight, crisp, and clear. They smiled out into the bright lights beaming back at them, and had a natural stage presence. When David Childers joined them on stage, they appeared humbled and honored. Whatever kinks were worked out on stage were hardly, if at all, noticeable to the audience, because of well, the audience. Here is where first impressions get influenced if we aren’t careful. Drunk college co-eds who would rather be seen and heard than to listen to well-crafted music were wall to wall that night. They were successful in putting a blemish on my first impression of Mipso. It was sort of that ‘guilt by association’ rule. If this audience was made up mainly by friends of the band, well how serious were they about making a mark on the North Carolina music scene and beyond? I left disappointed, but thankfully not completely despaired.

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You see, occasionally I forget that there was a time when I was not a polite concert-goer–when I, too, was a drunk co-ed. So, with that in the forefront of my mind, I set out to form a new first impression of Mipso, one based on the important elements of a band–the music and the people. I caught up with Sharp, Robinson, and Terrell last month at Peasant’s Pub in Greenville, NC for a little chat about the past year, growing as a band, songwriting, recording their upcoming second LP, and surprisingly, the bluegrass movement in Japan.

As we nestled into our seats on the patio, I quickly learned that these young men possess a depth and maturity that is rarely found in recent college graduates. Sharp, on vocals and mandolin, picked up the instrument in the eighth grade off a bet with his Dad. “I picked it up and hit it with various things, but don’t think I really started playing it until I was sixteen or seventeen,” Sharp recalled. Robinson, on stand-up bass, has been playing music in some capacity since he was three or four years old. With a strong foundation in jazz theory, he picked up the electric bass in 8th grade and transitioned to the stand-up by the time he was mid-way through high school (June 22nd to be exact–he joked). Terrell, on guitar and vocals, learned to pick from his grandmother while in middle school, and started playing in bands and taking his craft seriously by age sixteen.

Collectively, they each bring a different type of songwriting prowess to the table. On their first full album, Long, Long Gone, Terrell was the primary songwriter, but the responsibility has shifted on their upcoming untitled album as Sharp and Robinson throw a few songs into the mix.

“I think [the melody and lyrics] inform each other. I don’t often have lyrics sitting around. Often times I have a lyrical idea with a melody. They tend to come together. Some songs come quickly and then I’ve got a notebook that’s got some stuff that’s half-finished and they will be half-finished for six months. It’s a labor of love that you always have to pay attention to because you never know which idea will fit,” shared Terrell.

If songwriting for Mipso were to be compared to the Deadliest Catch, Robinson would be the eager greenhorn of the band. He casually admitted, “I’m learning how to song write. Being involved with [Sharp and Terrell], who are very much more accomplished and better songwriters than I am, they have taught me that the role of the songwriter is to communicate an emotion that would make the listener think that [he/she] already thought of that, or think, ‘that’s me’. I’m learning that the purpose of the song is to communicate to the listener, not to express necessarily something that is intensely personal. You want another person to relate it it…A song that I am in the process of writing right now is a direct response to a song by Dawes called A Little Bit of Everything. It’s an incredible song, and it really had quite a profound effect on me. It’s been surfacing for a while now.”

Terrell added, “It’s funny, I’m not interested in strictly personal writing. I think of it more as a challenge to tell a cool story, and I like to do that. There’s a big difference between the way Jacob and I write. Jacob writes more personally, I think it’s fair to say. It’s cool to have that mixture and that variety. Wood is more of a mixture of the two.”

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It is obvious that this next album will be more of a collaborative effort among the band. This approach not only challenges them personally, but also pushes them to learn how to work together to produce a sound that is ultimately unique–a sound that is Mipso.

“I think with collaborative writing, someone brings an idea and you flush it out together. Or sometimes Joe or myself will bring a finished song that doesn’t need too much beyond working out the parts. But we are still learning how to write together,” said Sharp.

Terrell added, “One thing we’ve learned is that the song that’s on the page–the lyrics and the music–is not the whole picture. What we do together is the biggest picture of what makes the song sound like a Mipso song–the harmony that Jake picks out and the baseline in particular, because Wood is not a bluegrass bassist. He really has a cool jazz background.”

While Mipso wouldn’t categorize themselves as a strictly bluegrass band, they certainly pull inspiration from the traditional genre, and do so with the utmost respect.

“So, bluegrass players are really good, like virtuosos. There is a distinct level of virtuosity in that genre of music that would not be fair to claim as our own,” pointed out Robinson.

“I think we are influenced and inspired by bluegrass. So I think we are bluegrassy in the same way we are folksy,” added Sharp.

When you sit down to listen to Mipso’s previous work, it is clear that their influences run the spectrum, from Paul Simon to Doc Watson. As they continue to define their own signature sound, much of that fine tuning has been taking place in the recording studio. On their upcoming album, they are working with producer Andrew Marlin at the Rubber Room Studio in Chapel Hill. Marlin, who is best known as half of folk-bluegrass duo Mandolin Orange, has signed on to guide the recording process. With Marlin behind the boards, Mipso has gained a mighty mentor who is proficient in all areas of production.

“Working with [Marlin] has been really enlightening,” said Sharp. “It’s almost like we have an apprenticeship, because he’s a great friend but also one of our favorite, most respected musicians, and really talented songwriter, and mandolin and guitar player. So everyday we went in and learned something new individually, but we also saw a different side or perspective in the recording and writing process.”

“It’s very cool to have an external source, to have a very deliberate and apparent hand in the process of writing these songs. We bring these songs with an idea of where we are going with them, and having another person outside of the band say, ‘Hey, this should be slowed down a bit. Maybe it could use a little snare in it.’ Is amazing how those little things can bring out the character of the song in such a beautiful way,” said Robinson.

Also joining the guys in the studio will be their fourth band member, fiddler and singer Libby Rodenbough. When Mipso first started two and a half years ago, they were known as Mipso Trio–catchy right? About a year ago, they decided to drop the ‘Trio’ which happened to fall in line with the addition of Libby. Libby had already contributed to all recordings, so it seemed like a logical move.

“We’ve always felt like she added a lot,” Terrell shared. “We formed the band when she was taking a year off school, and she actually collaborated remotely from Chicago on the six song EP that we put out. We wanted to shorten the [band] name anyway, and that coincided with Libby joining so it made a lot of sense. She’s still going to be in school next year, so she’s going to be playing with us, but there will be lots of shows where she won’t be playing with us. So, we are a three-piece with a close musical collaborator.”

Sharp added, “Libby has taught us a lot about how we can benefit from having a fourth piece. As we grew more comfortable in playing with her and also recognizing it was a consistent thing, it was fun to start writing for a fourth piece, but it’s nice to know that we can still be a pretty tight three-piece.”

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So what can fans expect from their upcoming second LP, slated to be released in late October/early November? Based on the album’s first single, Carolina Calling, themes of state pride and family roots rise to the surface. However, the band shared that thematically the album will expand from the epicenter that is the only home they’ve ever known–North Carolina.

“I started thinking about graduating in November [’12]. I’m used to this place–North Carolina and Chapel Hill–but it would be cool to capture what this place is to me and all of us at this moment in time. I took the project on of writing the song that I felt was the senior spring song. It’s Chapel Hill-centric, but also about North Carolina. There’s something special about being in North Carolina that you don’t get in other places. That’s the idea I had [for the song],” explained Terrell.

In terms of the feel of the entire album, they believe that it will have an elevated sound–even more ‘Mipso’ than before.

“I think we’ve grown into our shoes a little more since the first album. I think it’s easier than on the first album for people to say, ‘Oh that’s kind of a bluegrass song.’ Now they sound more like Mipso songs,” Terrell proudly stated.

Sharp added, “It’s better blended.”

“You can see very direct themes in the last album–home, leaving home, coming back home, loves and lost loves, and certain other things–but it is kind of cool to be pushing our comfort zone for thematic writing [on our new album],” added Robinson.

While quality songwriting and recording are necessities for any band to be successful, so too is becoming integrated into a local music scene. Luckily, the North Carolina music scene is welcoming, even as it busts at the seams with talent. While Mipso carves away a place in the music scene, the band also pulls inspiration from those who have paved the way.

“It’s so important to be a part of a music scene, and North Carolina music scene is awesome. Two of my favorite bands are Chatham County Line and Mandolin Orange. They are awesome and right around the corner from us,” said Terrell.

Sharp chimed in, “Also, Andrew [Marlin] embodies the Carrboro music scene and is definitely at the top of it. He’s just always out playing. Whenever he’s not on tour, he’s anywhere where there’s music–always has his guitar and jamming with someone in a variety of styles, and he can play for like five hours straight if he wants. He’s never happier than when he’s performing. If it’s like one person in a bar or a packed Cat’s Cradle, he doesn’t care. That’s his craft and where he finds his joy. So that for me–it’s not just about practicing in a room or playing a big show–it’s about playing all of the time.”

In addition to their local music scene, Mipso is making a concerted effort to establish roots first throughout North Carolina, and then beyond. Since graduation in May, the band has been able to look forward with a new sense of direction and intent.

“For us it’s exciting because this whole year will be very focused and intentional. It was always something we just did on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s cool that it feels much more embodied and fully a part of our lives,” explained Terrell.

“As far as getting further afloat from North Carolina, it’s really a big goal of ours to first be really rooted here, to cover the state pretty thoroughly, because we keep learning about all of these cool communities. So, it’s fun for us to explore. Lots of them are places we’ve been as kids or something but never knew there’s this great music scene. That’s really exciting for us, and it also makes more sense to move out in smaller circles and just keep widening the radius,” added Sharp.

Robinson rounded it off, “It’s really cool to ground yourself as a North Carolina band by making sure that everyone in North Carolina–well not everyone–hopefully has a chance to hear you. We are really proud to be from this state, so we might as well make other people proud, too.”

Establishing their musical roots in North Carolina means playing local venues–anywhere from general stores to house show living rooms.

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On the subject of house shows, which seem to be a very popular option among smaller indie acts, Sharp explained the appeal, “We’re seeing a much wider variety of venues and shows now, and it’s fun because you learn how with each one you have to tackle it a bit differently. House shows are especially cool because you’re taking this place and changing the space that it’s creating. It’s especially cool to watch people see how their living room turns into a venue. It’s a different type of community that comes to a house concert.”

Terrell added, “You’re pretty much guaranteed to talk to people a little bit more personally, play a little bit more intimately. Might happen at other shows too, but at a house show it’s kind of like what you expect, which is pretty sweet.”

Mipso plays a Charlotte house show, sponsored by Common Chord Concerts, this Friday (7/12), and has plans to continue touring throughout North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Connecticut. When I asked them if they had plans to tour out West, I was quite surprised by their response.

“Well we’ve got an idea about going East,” said Terrell with a laugh. I was perplexed. Out East?

“We are going to Japan and China in August. We are doing fourteen days in Japan. Last Summer I was in Japan. I wrote my honor’s thesis on the geography of music and it was about how bluegrass spread into Japan, specifically. So, I spent all Summer in Japan doing research, and just really listening to people who have for a long time been listening, and just gathered their world histories,” explained Sharp. “I was there for eight weeks and played a couple of concerts. More importantly I was seeing concerts and many festivals so we have strong ties to this small community of bluegrass musicians and bands who have an incredibly rich tradition of playing since WWII. So, we kind of just plugged into that network. We are playing the Takarazuka Bluegrass Festival. It is in its forty-third year. It’s a four-day festival, with about one hundred people. It looks like we will be playing five concerts outside of that, four of which are paired with Japanese bands.”

Mipso certainly has an exciting tail-end of the year ahead, including an overseas tour and putting the finishing touches on their second LP. Despite their steady growth as a band, Sharp, Robinson, and Terrell know that they still have mountains to climb, and they are very comfortable with that. Mipso doesn’t seem to carry the sense of urgency that would be expected from a group of recent graduates. They all possess a realistic level of patience that seems to be lacking in our world of instant gratification–which in itself is quite gratifying. As they move forward together, they pay special attention to the lessons put forth by their mentors, including one of North Carolina’s favorites, David Holt.

As the interview came to a close, Terrell shared a bit of the wisdom that has been imparted on him by Holt. “The other night I thought a little bit about this, but hearing it from [David] meant a lot. He said, ‘You guys have some really cool songs. I want to hear about why you wrote them–what the story is about.’ It reinforced to me that people want to hear the songs, but they also want to get to know you on stage, and the space between the songs is really important, too.”

That evening those at Peasant’s Pub were treated to an excellent two-set show. They were engaging and filled space between the songs with witty banter that held the audience’s attention. This time around I was able to appreciate Mipso’s set from a better vantage point. On stage, their awestruck quality was replaced by an ease, as they appeared much more comfortable and at home in their songs. The songwriting had matured, which was evident in the new songs they played. They even threw in a crowd-pleasing cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, which showed not only their sense of humor, but also their ability to cross genres and make a throwback song their own.

I was pleased to leave that evening with a new, shiny and fair impression of the band and their music. Mipso is moving in the right direction, at a smart and steady pace that exudes a quiet confidence. Armed with patience, talent, and big dreams, these young men will continue to gain fans as they travel the globe and share their songs and stories.

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