[Interview] Jon Stickley Trio Discusses The Evolution Of Music
The members of The Jon Stickley Trio; Lyndsay Pruett, Patrick Armitage, and Jon Stickley; have been saturating the festival circuit and generating a lot of buzz with their gypsy jazz, hip-hop, and bluegrass all-acoustic, high-energy sets leaving attendees with much to talk about in the aftermath of every live show. Captivating, original songs and their inventive spins on cover songs keep crowds dancing from the opening note. Bullet Music has a deep love for the trio being fortunate enough to spend time with them when they came through Atlanta (read our previous interview here), and we were thrilled to have an opportunity to catch up with them again at FloydFest for a chat in between sets.
With the mixture of music that FloydFest brings and the integration that happens at events like the Buffalo Jam, how do you feel about your part in them and the potential collaboration opportunities?
Jon: One interesting thing we just realized is this month we participated in a super jam every single weekend and it's something that happens a lot in this scene of festival bands, Americana, and jam bands that come together at festivals; and it's amazing because everyone can kinda flow together almost seamlessly. We all jam together on stage but we also play together off-stage just for fun.
Lyndsay: It's funny for us as a band because we are either the grassy element in a funk world or the funky element in a grass world.
Jon: We always tend to either end up being the weirdest band or the most traditional band.
As a band what would be an ideal pairing in an event like this or do you think the unexpected pairings turn out better and produce something that is organically magical?
Patrick: A lot of these festivals seem to have started to realize that if they can pull in artists from other genres it will pull more people to festivals so hopefully these different genres will collaborate more.
Jon: Our band is kind of a weird and interesting fusion of styles ourselves so we fit in a lot of different places and enjoy pairing up with all kinds of different bands.
How does that work out with your band? Is it that one of you loves bluegrass, one of you loves hip hop, one of you loves jazz; and you bring each piece together, or do you all love the same types of music and just mesh it all together?
Jon: We all come from very different backgrounds.
Lyndsay: Yeah, Patrick comes from more of a hip hop background and Jon and I play bluegrass together.
But you're classically trained, correct?
Lyndsay: Yeah, I come from a classical, swing, and jazz background. Stickley comes from a more punk rock background.
Jon: I was always a drummer in an indie rock punk band in Durham and Chapel Hill, but then I just got bit by the bluegrass bug and I never looked back. All of those influences are part of what we do now; they all still come out.
How does that work, because I have this theory that bluegrass is the universal music and it can be anything. Does that play Into your style and bring the jazz and hip hop integration in respect to bluegrass? Is there some kind of key in bluegrass that unlocks the ability to be able to translate through other genres?
Jon: It was the first style of music that I ever played that was all about jamming with other people. It's folk. It was made to be simple in a way but can be refined in a lot of different ways. At its core, it's a style of music made to bring people together to play together. Whereas like [in] rock bands, you don't get together to play with one another that much. It just doesn't happen. It just has a collaborative spirit. I couldn't believe when I went to my first jam that these people didn't come together beforehand and rehearse. I remember thinking "how do they know these songs?"
Was that intimidating to you as an artist?
Jon: It was a little bit, but it was more that I wanted to learn how.
Lyndsay: Coming from classical music, I was blown away that these people just wanna stay up all night and play together. It's not a rehearsal thing or a competitive thing.
Do you guys think there will be an evolution of these fusions that will create new genres?
Jon: Oh it's endless and it's already happening, and it's been going on forever. Everything is just fusing together. You see a lot of these couples doing percussion singer/song writer combinations.
Like Shovels & Rope?
Jon: I dunno if Shovels & Rope started it, but it's almost this whole new genre.
Lyndsay: There's Jack White and the White Stripes as another example....
Jon: They were doing electronica all analog with a pump organ and bass drum and I think we are just an example of that. I love bluegrass, but I also really love other things. I think we all are like that.
Lyndsay: We are of the age right now where all of our contemporary friends, band friends, we are all exposed to so much music that at this point every band is a fusion of some kind, but it didn't use to be that way. Maybe it's the influence of the internet, like before this everyone was just in their own individual scene, but it's definitely not like that anymore.
Do you think the influence of that kind of ideology came from the top down with popularity or from the bottom up? Bands like Mumford & Sons for example, where do you think those larger bands influence came from and where did yours?
Patrick: Bottom up. Totally.
Jon: The top is bullshit. Nothing good comes from the top down. To me, it seems like people come up with something cool and then people who see an opportunity to make money off of it take it to the top and make it popular, but those people at the top are always watching the bottom to see what's going on and what they can take.
Patrick: The other thing is when you're at the bottom, you don't have to please anybody and nobody is challenging your artistry. You just do whatever you want and you get to be creative with no consequences. At the top, you always have to worry about what everyone else thinks and likes and what will make you money and that's why a lot of that music just stays the same because it's based on that fear of not being successful.
So, as an authentic artist who gets to own your craft does that mean success in your careers is real success or success by definition? Meaning, if you never come back to this festival because you get too big for it and put out platinum records, is that success?
Jon: I can't speak for these guys, but I think about success in a way that I just wanna earn a good living because to me that would be a success. If I can go home and not worry about money and buy high-quality food, I'm successful.
Lyndsay: Be able to live your good life doing the thing you love to do.
Jon: Yeah, if I can have all of that making art whether it's big or not, it's enough.
Lyndsay: If we can get to the point to not have to live on the road and still be successful and able to live a good life, that's all we want. We love playing as much as we can, but playing those high-quality gigs and then being able to free up some of our time is definitely a goal too.
You are playing Strings & Sol and you mentioned it is a dream come true. Tell me about that and what the rest of your 2017 looks like?
Jon: For me personally with Strings & Sol, as much fun as it's going to be to go and play it, because it's going to be amazing, it's more to be on such a prestigious lineup with those bands that we love and respect so much. We are honored and I feel like we have achieved a major goal. Hopefully, it will have those sort of ripple effects to where these other festivals see we are playing and on that lineup and boost us to the top of mind for future opportunities to play at these other festivals like Telluride and festivals we've always wanted to play.
You get so many opportunities at festivals like this for really interesting and exciting collaborations. Do you have any coming up?
Patrick: Stickley will be sitting in with everyone.
Lyndsay: I think the one thing that's brought us to this point is how when we are at festivals with these bands we do the jams. Outside of our actual band, we love to play music with whoever is playing that we can.
Jon: Just to be associated with those groups of people and on that bill is a really extraordinary opportunity. I know for all of us, we love making music and we love that we are getting to do it for a living. I love going to festivals and jamming with people at the campsite and now you're telling me I get to do it a lot and for money? The sets are almost secondary to the experience. We will go out and do the band thing that we love to do, and then go back at night and jam out with our friends!
Photos by Ragan Dickson for Bullet Music.