In December 2020, as COVID-19 continued to rage and people around the world struggled with fear and uncertainty, Tina Collins experienced a series of stunning losses unrelated to the pandemic.
Her marriage to her wife and musical partner, Quetzal Jordan, ended. Three days later, Collins’ grandmother died, then an important paternal figure in her life was murdered, and a close friend died, possibly by suicide.
Not wanting to risk the spread of COVID-19 among her friends and loved ones, she suffered alone. And along with working through her personal traumas, Collins also began to mourn the loss of Tina and Her Pony as her musical moniker.
“In my mind, it was so strongly branded as a duo. I figured I had to completely let it go, so I grieved it like it was dead — and in a sense, it was, at least in that form,” she says. “I was deeply sad, not only because I was parting ways with my musical partner and wife of 11 years, but also because I’d put over a decade of my blood, sweat and tears into creating and cultivating — for lack of a less soulful term — the ‘brand’ of Tina and Her Pony.”
Moving forward, she assumed that she’d simply play music under the name Tina Collins. (“Which, you have to admit, is not nearly as captivating a name,” she notes.) Eventually, good friends nudged her to consider that maybe she didn’t have to completely let it go.
“I am Tina, after all, and my pony can be whatever I want it to be,” she says. “I figured that even if it was difficult at first to keep the name, in the end, it would be worth it to not have to completely lose all the groundwork and traction I’d created over the last 12 years. And so, the dreaming of the new version of Tina and Her Pony began.”
Fortunately, Collins had already written most of what would become her excellent 2023 album, Marigolds. And while many of the songs are about grief, she notes she “was absolutely feeling them in a new way” and refined them with new lines here and there that spoke to her current pains. Four of the tracks, however, were written during the recording process and focus more on rebirth.
“Most of the healing that happened for myself around the making of this album was simply coming to a place where I believed in myself enough to even make the thing in the first place,” Collins says. “I was so used to being a part of a duo that it was hard for me to believe that anyone would want to hear what I had to say musically on my own.”
With help from her close friends, the husband-and-wife team of Ryan Furstenberg and Melissa Hyman (who perform as The Moon and You), Collins rediscovered herself and recalls feeling “absolutely on fire” during the recording process, despite the largely difficult subject matter at hand.
Collins and Furstenberg co-produced Marigolds, pushing her to experiment with more electric elements than on her previous albums, while Hyman contributed bass and cello. In turn, Collins crafted a collection that not only proved cathartic for her but has helped others heal, which she considers the most rewarding.
“Many people have told me that they will put on certain songs from the album if they know they need a good cry or that they shared one of my songs with their grief group,” Collins says. “In a world that can be very numbing and distracting, I want to help move people to authentic emotion. We go through so much in this life, and my hope is that these songs can, if nothing else, be a balm to weary souls. Life moves in spirals, and we are never truly alone. No matter how dark the times, we will always come back around to light.”
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Brothers in arms
Andrew Scotchie and Logan Fritz seemed destined to become friends and collaborators. Though Scotchie is based in Asheville and Fritz lives in Abingdon, Va., the guitarists and singer-songwriters were aware of each other’s music. Mutual fans also told them they had similar energies and should play together.
After meeting in 2018, the two continued to cross paths. But it wasn’t until Halloween 2021 that the duo — along with drummer Neal Reid — performed a full show together: a tribute to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York.
“We decided then that we had to keep on playing more music together,” Fritz says of that fateful gig.
The two have plenty in common. Along with shared influences such as Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones, the pair have a shared commitment to community. Throughout their individual careers, they’ve participated in benefit shows and used their music as a vehicle for change.
“The way we write is very heartfelt. It’s honest,” Scotchie says. “I remember when I saw Logan for the first time live, there was no facade. There was no difference between him onstage and offstage, and I’ve always had that at the core of what I do. And he treats his fans good, just like I do.”
With that foundation in place, the two began work on Scotchie’s new album, Love Is Enough, which was released on June 9. Before the experience, Fritz says he hadn’t co-written with many people. But within 20 minutes of their first session, they crafted the chorus for “January Blue.” From there their confidence grew.
“It’s rare to find someone that I feel comfortable co-writing with, just because you’ve really got to open up,” Fritz says. “[Scotchie] and I know each other so well and get each other, so that made it so much easier.”
Lyrically mature and featuring a range of styles, traditions and tempos over its expansive seven tracks, Love Is Enough finds Scotchie operating on an impressive new level while still rooted in the pure rock sound that’s made him one of the most exciting forces in music these past 11 years.
Being away from Asheville for a week also helped bring the best out in Scotchie. Removed from the trivialities of daily life, he says he was able to be “100% involved” in the recording process — a “life-changing” experience that makes him want to take that approach with each future project.
“The Bristol community and the history there is so rich,” Scotchie says. “I absolutely think that there’s some energy within those studio walls and from the city that seeped its way into this album. Like, without us trying too hard, it found its way into the album.”
He also hopes that Love Is Enough winds up being the first “of 20 or 25 albums” that he and Fritz make together, which begs the question, “What about the River Rats?” Have no fear: Scotchie’s power trio with bassist Keith Harry and drummer Clark Eden continues to tour and create together but will be doing so simply under Scotchie’s name.
“It’s definitely not because I don’t want a band name attached. It’s just because I want to do what I want to do under the umbrella of my name, and I don’t want it to be tied to any certain perception of, ‘rock ’n roll: period,’ because I’m more than that,” Scotchie says.
“I put different genres of music on [Love Is Enough] for a reason: to show myself and to show the fans that I’m capable of so much more. And I think that contributes to part of the energy on the album.”
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Rolling with the punches
Released in late April, Meantime’s Up marks the second Jon Stickley Trio album with its current lineup. In the three years since the group’s previous release, Scripting the Flip, Stickley (guitar), Lyndsay Pruett (violin) and Hunter Deacon (percussion) have come into their own as a unit.
“In the past, I’ve presented them with fully formed demo recordings. But this time around, I purposefully left blanks for them to fill in rhythmically and melodically,” Stickley says. “I’ve learned to trust that they will probably come up with something cooler for themselves to play than I would. In that sense, the record ended up sounding very fresh and more personal to the three of us as individuals.”
The Asheville-based frontman points to a pair of solo drum explorations and a solo violin piece on Meantime’s Up as moments when his talented bandmates’ musicality especially shines. He refers to epic album opener “Riders of the Night Sky” as “a complete departure.” The sound is a result of experimentation with different effects and electronics over the years that have worked their way into some of the band’s compositions.
“‘Riders’ was composed around a specific setting on the delay pedal that creates alternate melodies from the line I play on the guitar,” Stickley says. “We’re always reaching for new sounds, textures and ideas to add to the mix.”
The trio has also evolved quite a bit on a personal level. In mid-March 2021, following one of her first gigs back since the onset of the pandemic, Pruett noticed an ache in her wrist. It wound up being De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, a particular type of tendonitis in which the tendon that powers a person’s thumb become inflamed. Painful corticosteroid injections followed, and though surgery was recommended if Pruett’s condition didn’t improve, she was hesitant to have the procedure lest it interfere with the band’s busy tour and festival schedule.
“That was a pretty stressful period of time when she was dealing with that. I felt especially guilty about it because the condition was aggravated by a specific thumb motion that she uses to play the bass parts, specifically for the trio,” Stickley says. “After months of physical therapy and rest, the situation didn’t improve. A couple of weeks before we were to start playing again, she had a last-minute surgical procedure to correct it. Thankfully, it was a success, and she’s been playing for almost two years now with no issues.”
Then this past Christmas night, Stickley’s wife, Julianne, had a stroke while they were visiting family in Eastern North Carolina. Thus began a four-month stay in Durham at Duke University Hospital for intervention, followed by inpatient and outpatient rehab. Stickley says the Duke staff was incredible, and both sets of grandparents also stepped up, becoming full-time caretakers for their two grandchildren. Julianne’s condition has improved, but the subsequent months have proved transformational in numerous ways.
“The whole experience put things in perspective for us and made us so incredibly grateful for what we have and how precious life is,” Stickley says. “Leaving home to play shows has a whole new level of complexity to it, and I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about the future. But right now, when we make it to the show and get to perform for folks, it means more to me than it ever has before. I get the sense that the crowds pick up on that as well.”
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