LAYTON — Recently returned from a rigorous tour across the United States and Canada, The National Parks are back in town for a set with LANY, Knox Fortune and Harry Hudson at The Great Saltair on April 18.
The indie band originally from Provo debuted in 2013 with their first studio album “Young” and promptly climbed to 13th on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart. Two years later, the band’s 2015 album “Until I Live” became a Billboard Regional Heatseeker. And in 2017 their third album “Places” was streamed more than 1 million times in its first month on Spotify — not bad for an indie band.
But The National Parks didn't stop there. Releasing “Places Deluxe” in 2018, the band added five singles to their 2017 pop-inspired namesake, two of which are acoustic versions of previous releases “Esperanca” and “Currents.”
The Deseret News talked with The National Parks’ vocalist and keyboardist Sydney Macfarlane about the band’s recent release, touring schedule and what it’s like being both a mom and a band member on the road. Here’s what the Layton resident had to say.
Oh, the places they’ve been
True to its name, The National Parks’ recent release of “Places” was inspired by the band’s latest experiences traveling to myriad cities on tour. Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Albuquerque, Vancouver — all have been stops that have naturally found their way into The National Parks’ music, Macfarlane said. But while “Places” is more pop-infused than previous albums with its synthesizer and dance-like beats, frontman and songwriter Brady Parks tries to stay true to the band’s original sound.
“Brady is still extremely inspired by nature or by the surroundings that are in that area. He still uses those types of metaphors, and I think that’s what … grabs people is they can relate to it in some way because the earth is all around us,” Macfarlane said. “That’s what he was trying to do is just the whole picture, but still staying true to our roots.”
Of the new releases, “Come Closer” is one of Macfarlane’s favorites. According to the keyboardist, the band had initially worked on the single while recording “Places” in the studio, but it hadn’t come together. The second time around, though, the band found what they were looking for.
“I vocally was able to let loose and there’s a part in the bridge where I’m singing like 15 different layers of oohs and aahs,” Macfarlane said. “It’s something that I’m really proud of.”
In addition to their two new singles “Come Closer” and “Penny,” The National Parks also brings a taste of acoustic into their their latest release.
“I think the deluxe version offers things that maybe the more folk fans would want to hear,” Macfarlane said. “It shows all sides of the band. … We really felt like there was more that we wanted to share.”
Let the tours begin
Back in 2011 when Macfarlane first joined the band, she hadn’t planned to accompany Brady Parks on vocals. More comfortable behind the piano — which she began learning as a 4-year-old — the Kaysville native typically let her vocals fly in the shower or when singing along to the car radio. In fact, it wasn’t until The National Parks landed their first gig that Macfarlane’s parents discovered their daughter could croon harmonies with the best of them.
“My mom was crying, and she’s like ‘I didn’t know you could sing!’ And I was just so nervous,” Macfarlane said. “But now, it’s seriously second nature.”
So, while playing to a crowd of potentially 4,600 at Saltair would have been nerve wracking in the past, all the band’s practice in backyards and bars did the trick for Macfarlane’s stage fright.
“It’s almost like therapy for me to play the show,” she said. “It’s like muscle memory. I could be playing and singing and my foot’s doing the pedal and I’m dancing, whatever, and I’m totally thinking about something else.”
But there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into The National Parks’ seemingly effortless performances. The band members — Macfarlane, Brady Parks, John Hancock, Cam Brannelly and Megan Parks — practice their setlist beforehand to ensure it fits the venue. The group also gathers for a little extra boost with a cheer and a prayer to make sure they get off on the right foot.
“It really helps make every moment count.”
Band and family life
Recording and touring is not without its challenges. Figuring out life on the road as a musician without being away from her husband and 3-year-old son for too long is something Macfarlane said she’s still learning how to balance.
“Every few months I have to recheck and be like, ‘Is this worth it?’ Cause it’s hard. But I’m really glad that I stuck to it,” said Macfarlane, who also wrote about the experience on her blog. “Even though we’re not a huge band, I feel like with my very small platform I’m trying really hard to be an example to other moms out there that you don’t just need to be a mom, and that even though that’s such a big part of me and brings me so much happiness, the band also makes me who I am.”
Now that her son’s old enough to grasp what it really means that his mom is in a band, Macfarlane says he's begun recognizing her songs. And during FaceTime calls, the band will also spend time talking to Macfarlane's 3-year-old — Brady Parks is even affectionately known as “Uncle Brady.” Plus, Macfarlane believes that the extra time she has to herself benefits her family in the long run.
“I feel like when I’m gone, I work on myself so much that when I’m back, it just makes me a better mom and a better wife,” said Macfarlane. “I just feel really blessed in that area.”
The reward of hearing how The National Parks has influenced their listeners also motivates the band, Macfarlane said. When they learn that fans have flown in from different states or driven through the night to get to one of their shows, The National Parks remembers how grateful they are to play together.
“All of us are just so comfortable with each other on stage. We’re like a family,” Macfarlane said. “It’s a miracle because there’s so many good musicians and bands and so much awesome music out there. We were really lucky — however it happened, we all of a sudden got this spark and it just boosted us.”
If you go ...
What: LANY, The National Parks, Knox Fortune and Harry Hudson
Where: The Great Saltair, 12408 W. Saltair Dr., Magna, UT 84044
When: April 18, 6 p.m.
How much: $35 in advance, $40 day of