In a world frequently plagued by a need for conformity, Provo-based indie-folk band The National Parks have broken through the cracks in the most freeing and spirited of ways with their latest album, “Wildflower,” which dropped June 19.
The fourth full-length album for the group, “Wildflower” comes as an unhindered, free and liberated glimpse into the inspiration that has blossomed and motivated the band since its founding in 2013.
“We’ve never felt more excited about anything we’ve ever created,” lead singer and guitarist Brady Parks said of the album.
The band shared an intimate look into the album with 40 select hometown fans on Thursday night at its “Campfire Tour” stop in Provo. The series of scaled-back acoustic shows, literally set around a campfire, are the band’s answer to bringing live performances back in some capacity while still maintaining social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The show’s laid-back vibe perfectly captures the sense of freedom band members embraced during the album’s creation.
According to Parks, the band — which also includes Sydney Macfarlane (keys, vocals), Cam Brannelly (drums) and his wife, Megan Parks (violin) — had experienced pressure through the years to conform to trends or update their style to satisfy what they felt the music industry expected, but all of that was let go during the process of creating “Wildflower.”
“This album was shedding that completely,” he said. “We were not worried about fitting into a mold or chasing trends, just trying to be authentically us and kind of blocking out all the noise. Writing this album was just such a breath of fresh air because we got to focus on making the music we wanted to make. … With ‘Wildflower,’ we completely found who we are as a band.”
That freedom and growth encapsulates the feel of the entire 15-song album, which starts with “Superbloom,” a nearly 60-second instrumental prelude and blazing beginning to what Parade.com dubbed as “the perfect album for your next summer road trip.”
Along with focusing on the band’s authentic sound, a key factor for creating “Wildflower” was allowing the creativity to flow.
“I think the biggest thing for us was behind the scenes we just decided that we were going to make the album that we wanted to make,” Parks said. “Usually when it comes to writing an album, I’ll write 10-11 songs and those 10-11 songs make it on the album. This time I just wanted to write, and ended up writing 40 songs. We took 18 to the studio with 15 on the record.”
According to Parks, the process took a lot of patience and time, but led to some unique sounds, from modern, electronic tones to classic banjo, violin and pedal steel.
“We have been completely blown away by the response to the album,” Parks said of the feedback the group has received so far. “I’ve never seen a response from our fanbase quite like this release, and the feedback has been humbling for us. It’s an album we’ve been sitting on for awhile, and when you’re really close to something, it can be really nerve-wracking to get it out there.”
Despite all the craziness in the world today, and possibly because of it, the band couldn’t have chosen a better time to let its album bloom.
“We couldn’t have foreseen what would be going on in the world when we were thinking of releasing our album,” Parks said, “and it’s a weird time to be releasing music, but we do feel this album can maybe bring some light to people’s lives and some hope for a better future.”
With the group’s deep Utah and Provo roots and unique folk sound, Zion National Park was initially scheduled to be the perfect backdrop to introduce “Wildflower” to the world, courtesy of the band’s carefully curated musical experience dubbed the Superbloom Music Festival. Unfortunately, with the rise in COVID-19 cases across the state and country, concerns for safety and restrictions on gathering sizes, plans for the multi-band, single-day event had to be canceled and the group’s tour postponed.
“Because of the festival being canceled and our big tours all canceled and postponed, we felt like we still had to be able to play this album somehow,” Parks said, and that’s how the “Campfire Tour” first sparked to life.
Set around a campfire with the stars twinkling overhead, The National Parks have been dotting the state with backyard acoustic concerts geared toward sharing stories, playing music and making memories.
“Playing ‘Campfire’ shows has been so amazing, and it’s the perfect way to release this album, stripping to the acoustic versions of songs, telling stories and sitting around a campfire,” Parks said.
With attendance capped at 40 per show, a majority of performances (which span Utah, Idaho, Arizona and Nevada) sold out within moments of being listed online, with Thursday’s show in Provo included. Though they provide an incredible and unique way to experience the album, gratefully the “Campfire Tour” isn’t the only way to experience The National Parks interacting with their audience live.
“Due to the pandemic we’ve had to kind of be creative I guess, with how we engage with our fans and how we release music,” Parks said. “It’s kind of forced us to think outside the box.”
That includes more livestreams and activities, as well as smaller live events.
“It really has become this kind of meaningful experience at the shows where it’s so intimate and personal, it feels like hanging out with a bunch of family and friends around the campfire, sharing stories about life and creating these memories with everyone,” Parks said.
As conditions change, Parks said the group hopes to add bigger, full-band shows to the tour schedule, but until then, they’ll be posting updates and livestream information via http://thenationalparksband.com and Instagram with the handle @thenationalparksband. Ultimately, the group hopes this album can also make a difference during this crazy time.
“We hope that people can be uplifted and inspired by this record,” Parks said. “Everyone goes through challenges and life can seem like a dark place sometimes. There’s a line in ‘Wildflower’ that’s the theme, ‘I know I must be planted for a reason.’ I hope people can get something out of it. You’re planted for a reason and even though things are hard, we can get through this together and there are better days ahead.”