Bringing The World Home To You

© 2023 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
91.5 Chapel Hill 88.9 Manteo 90.9 Rocky Mount 91.1 Welcome 91.9 Fayetteville 90.5 Buxton 94.1 Lumberton 99.9 Southern Pines
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The changing of the seasons moved Mipso's Joseph Terrell to make his first solo album

Joseph Terrell sits in a bathtub with his feet up.
Patrick Terrell
Sleepy Cat Records
Joseph grew up in a big Quaker family in the North Carolina Piedmont. He’s spent the last ten years writing and singing with folk band Mipso.

A funny thing happened to Joseph Terrell as he was recuperating from 10 years of heavy touring with the band Mipso. He started noticing the trees.

It was almost like he was a kid growing up in rural Randolph County again. Soon enough, he started pulling up a chair under a tree in the yard most mornings. His companion was his guitar. Then the songs started coming.

Terrell's debut solo recording is called "Good For Nothing Howl." He joined Morning Edition's Eric Hodge to talk about that album.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

How is calling a howl good for nothing a compliment?

"Well, I think some of the best things are useless. And I think it's okay to aspire to that."

Matt Douglas seems like the secret weapon on this record which is not taking anything away from the rest of your collaborators. When you were writing did you envision the horns he would bring to the songs?

"That gets into my collaboration with Chris Berner, a great friend of mine, too. But you're right, Matt is an amazing musician. And he layered some saxophones on here that make it sound like a whole sort of thick horn section, and also played some flute. It wasn't my initial idea. But I was so excited when he came on board."

After not writing or even playing for awhile, what got you under that tree? Do you think the songs were just waiting?

"That's a good question. There is always a feeling when you find a good song where it feels more like discovering something than creating it. And the context for me was that I've always loved playing music and have felt really grateful for about a decade of Mipso.

But the way to make music, the way to make money making music right now, can be kind of grueling, I'll say, and it requires a lot of travel. To the extent that when 2021 rolled around, I was sitting at home and not touring. And I realized that kind of as an epiphany that I hadn't seen seasons change into one another, four consecutive seasons-wise, in about 12 years.

I grew up in North Carolina, and this is a place I love. But when the strawberries came out, and the honeysuckle came out, I just felt like it was a revelation. And I had put the guitar down just because I wasn't enjoying it for a little while. And something about feeling the spring come back. It kind of brought a little springtime into me too. And I started to find the ability in myself to pick up the guitar without any goals or preconceptions.

Persimmon really addresses your rediscovery of trees and nature. Was this one of the first songs you wrote for this collection?

"It was. Yeah, persimmon is about one of my favorite fruits. You don't see them around that much because they're persnickety little guys. They're ripe for about five minutes.

But I learned something about persimmon that really just captured my imagination, which is that people have believed if you cut a persimmon seed in half lengthwise, you find one of three symbols in there and one looks like a fork one looks like a spoon and and also a knife. And people have believed that's a way of predicting the severity of the winter, seeing what symbol you find inside of those seeds."

'All the ordinary silence is radio of you listen' is a line from "Whisper." Is this song about paying attention and listening more carefully to whatever's going on around you? How are you playing with your voice on this one?

"That's right. That was part of my — I guess just —growing as a person is coming to realize how important it is to be present for the stuff that's happening right here right now all around us. And I think that's a little bead of wisdom that comes from many places and lots of people have realized, but to feel it in your own life — it was a profound thing for me. "

You also sing about about listening on "Crooked Tooth" — and waking through the empty streets after Mardi Gras. Who or what is the Fisher King you're searching for?

"Yeah, the Fisher King is the king in an Arthurian legend. The king has discovered the secret to immortality. And that song switches back and forth searching for the Fisher King, turning toward the little things are the two versions of that chorus and I think what I'm getting at is, there's a little bit of a hint. And it's something immortal if we can find presence in the little things, as we, for example, walk around in the woods."

You're quite a fan of old, acoustic guitars. What is it about the sound of those instruments that attracts you?

"An old guitar is like a living thing. And I believe that old wood can be like battery for memories and experiences in the sense that it can be charged. And it can keep within it somehow — and I don't know how to explain this except to say 'trust me, I've felt it in my hands.' When you pick up an old guitar. It feels like you're picking up all the songs that have been played on it before. It's cool."

Joseph Terrell plays guitar and sings in the band Mipso. His debut solo record is called Good For Nothing Howl and its available now wherever you buy music. He'll be playing the Steel String Brewery at Pluck Farm May 20.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
More Stories