The band The National Parks is one of the big music success stories of Provo in the last few years, performing in over 50 cities alongside other big names like Andy Grammar, LeAnn Rimes and The Moth and The Flame.
The band’s first album, “Young,” released in 2013, made its way to No. 13 on the iTunes singer/songwriter charts, and their hit single “As We Ran” and second album “Until I Live” quickly followed suit, climbing the iTunes Pop Chart and Billboard’s Heartseekers Chart in 2015.
Band members Brady Parks and Megan Taylor and band manager Jacob Cutler spoke to The Universe about the band’s journey from BYU students to national pop stars and gave their advice for other local artists.
On the band’s beginnings
Brady Parks: BP&I (Brady Parks and the IndiAnns) was a project that started about five years ago with me and Syd (Sydney Macfarlane) and some other great friends. Sydney and I met through a mutual friend and began making music together and since then, it has grown into something neither of us fully expected. Early on, we were lucky to meet amazing musicians through the music scene, and it has evolved into what it is today. I feel really lucky to be surrounded by such great people with insane musical talent.
On the manager’s start with the band
Jacob Cutler: I really loved the music. That’s the biggest thing. The song “Ghosts” had a specific impact on me. Another big part of it was that Brady and I formed a really good collaborative relationship pretty quickly. That’s still one of my favorite parts about working with The National Parks. Whether it’s a video concept, or album artwork, or a release campaign, there isn’t much time wasted worrying about who’s idea is being used and who is going to get the credit for it. That’s really freeing creatively. Brady is also a dreamer. He’s always thinking big, so it forces me to get pretty innovative.
On the balance of starting a band as students
Brady Parks: We were going to BYU, and it was quite the juggle between band life and school/work. When we weren’t in classes or working, music was our life. We were always writing, playing local shows, living in the studio and trying to get our music out there as much as possible. We would do the bulk of our touring in the summer when we didn’t have school so that we could further our reach as a band.
On the band’s transition into a full-time career
Brady Parks: Music has always been a passion of mine. After we recorded our first album, I think that’s when I realized I was completely all in. After graduation, we reached a point where we decided that if this was going to happen, we really had to go for it. And that’s what we did. It became a full-time job, months of touring and a lot of ups and downs. But we are still pushing to make this something really special.
On the everyday lifestyle of a musician
Brady Parks: It has changed my life completely. Every day is music for me. All day I focus on writing, demoing, recording, designing, touring and brainstorming ideas. Usually I’m on the phone a couple hours a day with our manager talking about everything related to the band and collaborating about music videos or anything else the band needs. It’s become very busy, but that’s a good thing.
On giving advice to musicians pursuing a career
Brady Parks: I think I would say it’s going to be harder than you would ever imagine but will be one of the things that will bring you so much joy at the same time. The highest highs and lowest lows I have ever experienced have come during the journey of being in a band trying to make it.
Megan Taylor: Be positive even when it’s hard and seems impossible. That’s something that Brady helps me with a lot. Going after what you want doesn’t come easy. It’s a lot of hard work, being patient and pushing through the tough times. I’ve learned that things always seem to work out in the end. All the negativity only causes more stress.
Jacob Cutler: Don’t expect it to happen quickly. You hear stories about bands catching a big break that launches their whole career, but almost all of those stories are misleading. Even bands that seem to catch fire suddenly have worked really hard to position themselves for those opportunities. One thing that has surprised me most is how hard it is to keep a band together, even for people that are passionate about music. Life has its demands and music can’t meet a lot of them, not for a long while at least. Get a good sense of what your priorities are because pursuing a career in music will test you on them.
On when The National Parks felt they had arrived as a band
Brady Parks: I’m not sure if we have felt that yet. I think for us, there have been moments along the way that have lifted us and made us feel that we were heading in the right direction. Every time we play for a sold-out crowd that is singing every word of every song, I get that feeling. It’s those moments that make everything feel a little bit bigger each time.
On Provo’s music opportunities
Jacob Cutler: I think there has never been a better time to start a band in Provo than right now. Goal number one for any band is to build a fan base, and you have two major universities in the area that are full of students that come from all over the country (and world). If your music is good, then these people will share it, and they’ll be sharing it with people that extend far beyond Provo. I know the previous success stories have been really motivating for The National Parks. The higher the bar, the more inspiring.
Brady Parks: I think Provo is a music scene that is thriving. There are so many opportunities to play and grow and network. It’s a music community unlike any other that I’ve seen. I think the bar is high, but that’s how it should be because it creates a great atmosphere for bands to push themselves and find creative ways to work hard and get their music out there.
On the songwriting process
Brady Parks: My process changes depending on the song or idea. Most of the time, I’ll sit with my guitar or at the piano and start writing about an idea. Usually it’s pretty jumbled until a word or phrase stands out and the song starts to have a theme. It’s a lot like putting together a puzzle, you have to figure out what pieces go where to make it all fit together. During the writing process, I start recording a demo version of it and try to produce it as best as I can. After that, I send it to the band, and they write and perfect their individual parts. Then we go to the studio and with the help of our producer we’re able to take our song to a whole new level.
On the shift from indie folk to more indie pop
Jacob Cutler: Brady will tell you that playing live shows impacted his songwriting in a big way, and I think he’s right. We were able to get them out on the road quite a bit for a new band, and I think it shifted his whole perception of “audience.” The idea of playing to a crowd of actual people became a real thing.
Another element that really pushed him to grow as a songwriter was actually a major problem early on. When they recorded the first album, there were six people in the band, but by the time we were ready to release it and play live shows, half of those had dropped out. The remaining three were forced to find ways to make their live performance sound as full as the recordings. Brady’s whole writing process changed after that. His ideas for new songs became much more comprehensive — he considers the full composition of a piece and not just his instrument and vocal part, I think.
As to flexibility for young bands, I think it takes artists of any kind a little while to find their own voice. I wouldn’t recommend rushing that process. The time it takes can be useful.
On the band’s life experiences
Megan Taylor: I think a big thing I’ve learned from the band is to take opportunities when they come at you! When I first started playing with the band, it was like I had finally found what I love to do. I couldn’t ever figure out what I wanted to pursue, and it’s like The National Parks helped me find it. Since I’ve been in the band, I feel a gratitude towards it that keeps growing and also a gratitude for those who support us in doing this!
On the future of the band
Brady Parks: We’re looking to reach as many people as we possibly can! We have a lot of goals and a lot of exciting things on the horizon and we are looking forward to what the future holds.
Jacob Cutler: I think The National Parks is just getting started. I expect 2017 to be the most exciting year yet for the band.