The Jon Stickley Trio had huge plans for its latest album, Scripting the Flip. The eclectic, Asheville-based instrumental band’s first record in three years was set to be feted with DJ Marley Carroll during an April 4 release show at Salvage Station, followed by a national tour featuring what its eponymous guitarist calls “a lot of new festivals we’ve always wanted to play.”
But as the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed music venues, delaying or canceling performance dates, the intended celebrations evaporated — and the album’s April 3 launch nearly did, too.
“We did go back and forth on [delaying the release] quite a bit. Our booking agent wanted to move it because it really is beneficial to tour behind a record, and he was concerned about not having that momentum when things pick back up,” Stickley says.
“However, our label [Organic Records] was of the opinion that, given the vacuum of live music, people’s attention will be drawn to the new album, and we’ll be able to get more streaming momentum. Ultimately, I’m glad we went ahead with the release so that our fans could have something to listen to in lieu of live shows.”
Over the course of the three years since Maybe Believe, Stickley and bandmate Lyndsay Pruett (violin) amicably parted ways with Patrick Armitage, a “killer drummer” who Stickley says “really brought a distinct groove to the band.” With Armitage focusing on his real estate career and other musical endeavors, including the Steely Dan tribute project Dirty Logic, Stickley sought a percussionist with broad musical style who could bring new rhythmic influences and improvisational elements to the trio’s music.
“My ears on the ground in Knoxville led me to Hunter [Deacon],” he says. “We found his personality to be the perfect fit, and he was just the musician we were looking for. His rhythmic creativity, killer chops and great energy have completely changed our sound, and we couldn’t be happier about it. His playing really shines on the new album.”
The addition of Deacon indeed helps propel Scripting the Flip’s experimental leanings, and Stickley feels that the 11-song collection pushed the ensemble to go “even further out rhythmically” than ever before while focusing on hitting an array of grooves.
“We play a lot of late-night dance sets, so a lot of the new music was made with that in mind,” Stickley says. “The compositions embrace a lot of the elements of electronic music, ska and bluegrass, but sonically we wanted to get back to our roots and capture the acoustic tone of our instruments more than we have on previous recordings.”
Along with their group’s new album, Stickley and Pruett also appear on the recent Jim Lauderdale record, When Carolina Comes Home Again, which was tracked at Echo Mountain Recording Studios. Stickley fondly recalls hanging out in Las Vegas after a music festival, feeling what he calls the “Sin City Swirl,” when he got an unexpected call from the legendary singer-songwriter.
“He’s such a hilarious guy, and listening to him talk so slowly while surrounded by all the slot machines and bustle really cracked me up,” Stickley says. “I became one of his Asheville point people who helped him find other musicians from the area to play on the album. The session was very different from most that I’ve been involved with. Jim was still writing [“I’m Here To Remind You”] even after we had started recording it. He kept making fake phone calls as a joke and just had us cracking up the whole time.”
While witnessing Scripting The Flip’s rollout from home, Stickley has embraced his inner Bob Vila, putting in new kitchen floors and tackling other projects that he admits he “always dread[s] getting into between tours.” Though he calls the change of plans “a completely surreal experience and a pretty difficult adjustment,” he’s also started to appreciate the time off after being on the road so much over the past few years and is thinking about some adjustments to make as the music industry recovers.
“This time away has given me a lot of clarity, as well as a real sense of gratefulness for what we have accomplished. I’ve picked up some online students, which have been as much of a social blessing as a financial one. I’m taking my time but hope to have another new album written by the time this is all over,” he says.
“I’ve also been able to spend a lot of time with my instrument, practicing new ideas and focusing with microscopic detail on my technique. It’s definitely a new type of stress to learn to deal with, and the news sure doesn’t help. Just taking it a day at a time and trying to see the bright side of things.” jonstickley.com