As a music student, MK Rodenbough rushes to and from classes, crams for tests and projects and even finds time to work, like so many students here at UNC. However, something sets her apart from the typical student here.
She has her own band.
Rodenbough, a junior from Greensboro, grew up with an instrument in her hands at all times. Music was important to her mother, so Rodenbough and her three older siblings played throughout their childhoods, learning and taking lessons together.
“It was really important to our mom that we were able to do that, because she wasn’t when she was a kid,” Rodenbough said. “So I grew up playing music alongside of my siblings but not usually with them — there wasn’t a lot of collaboration. Libby and I are the only ones who really stuck with it up to this point.”
Libby Rodenbough, a 2014 UNC graduate, joined the renegade traditionalist group Mipso after graduating, where she plays the fiddle and serves as a mentor and guide for her younger sister.
“It’s nice to have someone who’s a lot further along in the industry, to ask questions. Libby’s been really great about that,” Rodenbough said. “I think it’s interesting because that wasn’t really something she planned to happen — she just ended up in the right place at the right time with some friends who were starting a band, and it’s been cool to watch that progress.”
Rodenbough, following in her sister’s footsteps, said she has taken advantage of the many opportunities available at UNC, forming the group MKR over the summer.
“I had played by just myself as MK Rodenbough in high school, and had just decided I wanted to play a completely different style of music,” she said. “I would describe what I used to play as piano-pop, which is not what I play anymore. I just got together with some friends that I met in the music program and just asked them if they’d be interested in backing me up and they were totally on board.”
Combining the musical stylings of folk and rock, the group — with Rodenbough on guitar, Stephanie Tepper on drums and John Thorp on bass — has found a harmonious balance where they have thrived and gained steam since the initial meet up.
“Well, we were honestly thinking that it would be just for that one show in the summer,” Thorp, a senior music and philosophy of cognitive neuroscience double major, said. “But it turned into this whole thing, which is really awesome for all of us.”
“We’ve known MK for a while — she’s a really good musician and has a lot of connections in the area, too,” Tepper, UNC class of 2016 graduate, said. “Within a few weeks of having this set up she already booked a few really good gigs, so it’s a cool opportunity for us to have that connection.”
Performing in local venues such as 2nd Wind and Local 506, MKR added the Carrboro Music Festival to the list of gigs after they performed there Sunday.
The performance offered a much-anticipated break for Rodenbough, after a hectic week full of tests and papers.
“It’s definitely nice to play on the weekends after a week of just being like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I can do this anymore, I just need a break,’” she said.
Balancing studies, work and performing is a challenge for Rodenbough, but she said she takes it in stride.
“I think it just takes, like anything when you’re a student, a lot of planning, a lot of scheduling,” she said.
Although living the life of a UNC student and band leader can be difficult, Rodenbough says performing her own music is completely worth the struggle.
“I love playing live — it’s something that still makes me somewhat nervous, but it’s really nice to finally get to play in front of people after a while,” she said. “It’s definitely a different experience to play your own music."
With music encompassing Rodenbough's life to this point, with a bright future ahead of her and her group, there’s a safe assumption to make:
She knows how to rock out.
"It’s terrifying, but also really fun," she said. "It’s definitely still rewarding even though it’s tough work.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.