WMRA: Is the progressive nature of your music deliberate or organic?
Stickley: Probably a little bit of both. One thing I do try to do is make the music unique. I come up with a lot of ideas and some are more derivative of my background and my roots – maybe a little more bluegrass. And then others are just kind of a hodgepodge of all the things going on in my head. I’ve been trying to experiment more with original and weird ideas.
WMRA: So your roots is in bluegrass?
Stickley: Yeah as far of music that I’ve really focused on and master the nuances of – bluegrass, newgrass, acoustic guitar, mandolin, that’s the music that really got me wanting to really focus and hone my technique.
WMRA: And I understand when you were a kid your dad showed you your first guitar chords when you were like 12, right?
Stickley: Oh yeah. I remember sitting in middle school just making the finger positions for A, D, and E – “Twist and Shout” – and I never really looked back as far as learning guitar.
WMRA: So what was the first bluegrass you heard that you went “This is awesome.”?
Stickley: It wasn’t traditional bluegrass. It was actually the music of the David Grisman Quintet.
WMRA: And I assume that probably lead you to Newgrass Revival and stuff like that?
Stickley: Yep. The next stop was Bela Fleck and the Flektones. And I was just captivated by the energy and the virtuosity of the music. But I had heard “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and the Beverley Hillbillies and I had heard a little bit of banjo music and it was never something that really grabbed me and it wasn’t until I heard that newgrass style of pickin’ – there was something that just grabbed my ear a little bit more and it wasn’t as country sounding which I wasn’t into things that sounded as country when I was growing up. But through that newgrass music and learning about David Grisman and Bela Fleck I learned who their influences were and I took that backwards journey that a lot of people take throughout their music endeavors.
WMRA: My wife and I saw the Jon Stickley Trio at Redwing and I remember telling her if these guys had a Mellotron they’d be a prog rock band. Do you mind that comparison?
Stickley: No, not at all. And a lot of people have said the same thing that we wound like acoustic prog. And I think it’s just a testament to the prog nature of what we’re doing. We’re blending everything that we like in a way that works for us. We aren’t copying other prog bands and I think the earliest prog bands were doing the same thing. They weren’t listening to prog, they were jazz musicians experimenting with rock. A lot of people have you sound like the Dixie Dregs or you remind us of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and that’s a really cool compliment and something that has kind of led us to new music because I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of music like that but through our band I’ve discovered more of it.
WMRA: So the trio is you on guitar and then it’s drums and fiddle. Lyndsay Pruett plays fiddle. What can you tell me about her?
Stickley: She grew up listening to her dad play and her dad was playing with Vassar Clements, the great bluegrass fiddler when Lyndsay was a little kid so Lyndsay met Vassar Clements as a baby. As she got older and kind of getting to know herself and making her own way in the world she kind of rebelled against the music of her father and went hardcore classical. And then as time goes on she kind of worked her way back. When I met her in Ashville we really clicked and she’s someone who when I started playing with instantly my musicality stepped up a couple notches for sure.
WMRA: What’s the writing process like?
Stickley: The way we’ve kind of settled into the writing process is I usually come up with a simple demo. I’ll basically write a song but the song that I write is a rhythm, some chords, and a melody. And then I record a simple demo, usually on my phone, and send that out to the band and say “Hey guys take a listen to this and if you think it’s something we should forward with get the melody in your head and get a feel for it and maybe think of some ideas on how we can treat the song.” After that, we’ll get together and start working through it. Together we come up with an arrangement that we can take out and play on the road and see how it works.
WMRA: When I saw you guys at Red Wing, one of the things I thought was really cool is that there were people in the audience who were dancing and rockin’ out and having a great time and then there were others who were sitting and listening and really paying attention to the music. You guys can do both,
Stickley: Yeah I’m pretty proud of our ability to do that. We aren’t getting by just on the high energy aspect of it and we aren’t getting by just on the musical virtuosity of it. So we like to be able to do all of that because we want to rock for sure but there’s a lot of situations and shows were it’s not really that type of gig. But we can still rage out the 2am set at Hulaween where people need the energy to stay up at that hour but hopefully it’s musically legit too.