Road To Rooster Walk: Mipso Discusses Songwriting

first_img“All of a sudden there’s a song – there in your hotel room playing your guitar – and you write it, and two or three years later it will come true. It keeps you on your toes.”These words, spoken by Townes Van Zandt, support a popular notion of the songwriter in American popular culture: A rambling man, on the road with a band, playing venues both squalid and splendid, creating songs from thin air with little more than a beat up guitar, bottle of booze and hotel notepad.And there’s no doubt that countless great tunes have been written in such a manner. But there’s another question worth asking: In 2017, are most songs written that way?To find out, we spoke with six songwriters who will be at the ninth annual Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival over Memorial Day weekend (May 25-28) in Martinsville, VA. These six artists: Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass), Anders Osborne, Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange), Lyle Divinksy (The Motet), Marcus King, and Wood Robinson (Mipso) bring different backgrounds, hometowns, experience levels and genres to the craft of songwriting.Perhaps unsurprisingly, they write songs in different manners. In fact, some artists create songs with very little “writing,” literally speaking. For proof, read on to learn about the surprising methods that Andrew Marlin employs when creating fresh material for Mandolin Orange. Then, catch their afternoon set at Rooster Walk 9 over Memorial Day weekend.Editor’s Note: This is the fourth story in a six-part “Road to Rooster Walk” series about the craft and process of songwriting. Previous installments featured The Motet, Greensky Bluegrass, Marcus King, Anders Osborne, and Andrew Marlin.Just like last week’s band, Mandolin Orange, Mipso hails from the stringband stronghold of Chapel Hill, N.C. But unlike their Tar Heel brethren, Mipso features four songwriters, not one.The combination of Wood Robinson (bass/vocals), Jacob Sharp (mandolin/vocals),Joseph Terrell (guitar/vocals) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle/vocals) gives the band an embarrassment of lyrical riches, each with his or her own approach to the craft.“I know that for Jacob, he writes based on a single line that will come to mind, and spend months working around that one line. For Libby, I know that it’s a lot to do with kind of the thematic content of the verse that she writes. She usually writes when she’s driving, and a verse will come to mind,” Robinson said. “And then for Joseph, it’s kind of more on the same lines as Libby does, where he’ll have a rhythm and meter to a verse that he’s working on and then expound upon that.”For Robinson’s part, he admitted no regular process or method to his songwriting, claiming instead that his songs are realized only when “the divine light shines upon” him.But unlike Marlin or Osborne, most Mipso songs are far from finished when introduced to the rest of the band.“None of us are extremely attached to the initial blueprint of the song that was originally brought to the table,” Robinson explained. “So if someone has a good idea, it’s just a good idea. And that can make the song even better. So sometimes (the finished product) was just what the original songwriter wrote and intended. But probably much more often, to a typical listener’s ears, it would be apples and oranges, very different between what was initially performed for the rest of the band, and what the band ends up performing.”For an example, look no farther than “Momma,” off the band’s 2015 release, “Old Time Reverie.”Sharp wrote the song about his late mother, each stanza depicting a different hypothetical conversation between himself and his mother, father and brother.Sharp first presented the song, which at the time was just guitar and lead vocals, to Terrell while the band was on tour in Japan. The two proceeded to work out many of the harmonic elements of the song but left it unfinished.“Then when we got into the studio, with the help of Andrew Marlin, who was producing that record, we started adding orchestral” violin elements, and fretless electric bass, to the song, “that are really beautiful and really haunting,” Robinson explained.The finished product “wound up being much more than a single guitar with a singer – which it could live very comfortably as,” Robinson said, “but it feels like a much more band-orchestrated arrangement.”Though all four songwriters vary in their creative methods, Robinson said they share an appreciation for the craft of songwriting, and the fact that studying one’s trade will only lead to improvement.“There’s some serious truth to the fact that you learn the craft by knowing the craft,” he said. “We all listen to a lot of music and a lot of songs. And almost all of the best songs have already been written. And to recognize that and try to learn from the ones that already exist – you know, you listen to a record with headphones on and you take notes. And find those turns of phrase that you like so much. And somehow some of that sentiment will seep into your head. I know that that has helped me a lot in learning from some of my favorite songwriters. And I know that that’s how all of us think: You can’t write a good song if you haven’t heard one before.”Songwriters who influence Wood: Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon (“among the true greats.”) Jonathan Byrd, Robbie Fulks, Simon Linsteadt, Andrew Marlin, Neil Young. (“There are so many. It runs the gamut.”)Song: “Momma”last_img

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