Fiddler Lyndsay Pruett. Photo courtesy of Dreamspider Publicity.
The Asheville-based trio plays all instrumentals mostly originals and often at a brisk pace with inspiring solos. The trio features a pair of flat pickers in guitarist Stickley, 36 and violinist Lyndsay Pruett, 34; along with jazz-trained new drummer Hunter Deacon, 31.
Their show in AMH is Saturday, March 17 starting 8 p.m. The concert should be a blast with JS3 and opening acts of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, and Heather Taylor with Sean Jerome.
Stickley, an N.C. State alumnus, is from Durham. Deacon, from Knoxville, Tenn. joined the band in January in place of Patrick Armitage. He adds even more improvisation to acoustic virtuoso blends of bluegrass, rock, progressive rock, grunge and metal. Band inspirations vary and include Green Day, Tony Rice, Dave Grisman and even Duran Duran. The new single Playpeople best exemplifies a rarified mix.
We have an even more creative, improvisational approach, Stickley said before a show in Colorado last week. We put a lot of feeling into the music, with the same hard-driving, grooving rhythms that weve always had. Were searching through our musical dictionaries, incorporating new vibes and allowing personalities to shine.
The Jon Stickley Trio has wowed crowds at LEAF, and several premier venues in Asheville with an eclectic sound appealing to those with a mere passing interest in pure bluegrass. JS3 in 2016 was Music Video Asheville peoples choice and won judges awards such as for best video song for their energetic Point to Point.
Their latest CDs are Maybe Believe released last May, and Lost at Last in 2015. The titles reflect first stepping beyond bluegrass into other musical genres, and now feeling more comfortably with established and ever-developing blends. They were recorded in Echo Mountain Recording Studio. The band self-produced a self-titled CD as an experimental project a half-decade ago, and a five-track CD entitled Triangular in late 16, Stickley noted.
He said the band is considering a live album to capture the distinguished versions of songs that evolve including of previously-recorded ones. He said the next studio project is in winter 18-19 at earliest, as the band is busy touring year-round and nationwide.
Thus, he writes while touring. The songs mature and come into their own on the road, after writing then playing them. Writing songs is like doing homework. You get moments of inspiration. Ill be noodling around, recording ideas on my guitar. When I have more time, I flush out those ideas into songs. Then I take it to the band. We work the full arrangement.
Wisely, JS3 arranges many of its songs with live jamming in mind and much space for individual freedom and room for improvisation between tight basic structure, Stickley said. The band experiments with variations, playing a song several times live before finding its ideal version then recording it. Well dredge around, and resurrect a song into a more fun way to play it, Stickley said. Sometimes, a consensus ideal version emerges into a standard way to play a song. Other times, further improvisation often ensues.
Were not repeating a memorized piece show to show, but the basic structure is crisp and a springboard for jams. Were familiar enough to do it with our eyes closed, Stickley explained. Everyone knows the song so well, we can jump off of it when feeling inspired. Were like a jazz combo. Surprises happen. That movement and flow inspires us live. Its different every time.
An example of live improvisation is of Jerusalem Ridge, the classic Bill Monroe fiddle tune recorded on the latest CD. We rearranged it with many changes and modulations, Stickley said. That created a template. Since then, weve done many changes. Our live version is completely different from what is on the CD. In that case, fun parts done live stuck, and we do that from now on.
Adaptation goes on in the studio. A song that evolved in the latest session is Cecil. We purposely left it loose, to sketch it out. Producer Dave King helped us do that, Stickley said. It started as an upbeat dance song, that sounded cheesy. We scrapped everything rhythmically and rebuilt it from the ground up with a sludgy (gritty Zepellin-like) drumbeat over fast pickin and interplay between guitar and violin.
In contrast, the bands many single takes include the mellow opener Jewels. The band didnt even hear it, before we hit the studio, Stickley noted. Clever song titles include Microbruise, a take off on Ashevilles many micro breweries.
He said of recording, Man, its a challenge. Youre put on the spot. People can hear microscopic details. But you have luxury of time, to perfect the tones and lyrics and leave a legacy. As he notes, a recording is what people will hear forever.
Stickley has played guitar since age 12. People hearing him live say they are amazed by how briskly yet crisply he plays. Pruett also impresses with jams, sparking flourishes out of focused control. She also uses finger picking, in plucking strings in pizzicato style such as on her Lady Time that closes the new CD.
Her ears are so good. She has great tone, Stickley said. Its tough to rein in a fiddle, like she does. It takes focus and intensity. He added that Lyndsay adds a different element of musicology, combining classical training with playing in gypsy jazz bands.
Shes a huge part of our sound. Shes coming into her own more and more, Stickley said. Were giving her space in shows to experiment, and for solo songs for her expressive, beautiful violin concerto moments.
Deacon with thick mutton chop sideburns is called Jam Chops. He has a lot of personality, and sensitivity in his playing. He really jams, Stickley said. We brought him in because I liked where he was creatively, and feel-wise. We turn him loose for a drum solo, then head right back into a song. Lyndsay and I were quickly surprised and inspired by his jamming.
Deacon is classically trained, and has a B.M. in Studio Music and Jazz from Tennessee. He performed nightly in a half-year residency in China and has recently toured nationally.
He came on board in the very first week of this new year. Before he moved to Asheville, the band took turns practicing twice a week in Asheville and in Nashville where Deacon still lived. It was a crash course, ahead of a show Jan. 22.
The new lineups sound feels fresher and hotter than ever, live and in the studio, Stickley said. Creativity is happening. Weve hit our stride in terms of creating tunes that are uniquely us. Thats a really exciting place musically.
JS3 adapts its play list to venues, playing lighter in listening rooms while amping up a hard-rocking set such as at LEAF and likely AMH. Even still, We throw in some sensitive numbers.
Stickley has played in roots music shows in Asheville Music Hall, which is best known these days for electronic music and younger crowds. Four years ago, the trio was a special guest the Tuesday night funk jam there. We knew its a fun-loving, open-minded crowd. But were way off from the whole funk thing. So we were scared. But we went over great.
Concert admission for March 17 is $16, or $14 in advance. Doors open an hour early, at 7 p.m. For tickets call 255-7777 or check ashevillemusichall.com. For more on the trio, check jonstickley.com.