UCR INTERVIEW: Sydney Macfarlane of The National Parks

On March 20th, The National Parks will be performing at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. The National Parks formed in Provo, Utah in 2013. They’ve continued to grow in popularity selling out shows across the country. The Vivint Arena show is significant not only for the Utah-based band headlining their first arena concert but for their fans as well. Hopefully this a sign that things will be getting back to normal in the live music world. As the band prepares for this monster event, I had the opportunity to visit with The National Parks Keyboardist and Vocalist, Sydney Mcfarlane. Enjoy!

Interviewed By Kevin Rolfe

 UCR: First off, thank you so much for taking the time. I imagine you probably have so much prep going on leading up to all this. So thank you very much.

Sydney:  Oh, yeah, no problem.  Yeah, it’s busy, but it’ll be good. We’re excited.

UCR: So tell me how this all came about. I mean, obviously, you’re really big here in Utah. When I heard this concert announced it really made sense that you’d be playing such a big venue, but how did it come to fruition?

Sydney: Man, I mean, I feel like we’ve always dreamed of, headlining an arena show. And so, I don’t know, it’s just, honestly, I feel like it’s a little bit of a miracle. We’ve had good ties with the Jazz organization over the past few years. We had our song “You are Gold”, which they used for their orange jerseys (City Edition). It was like a year or two ago.

Then they asked us to do the Christmas show. Because of the pandemic, they weren’t doing anything. And they’re like, we have to do something. They usually do a big thing in the arena. They’re like “Hey will you perform?” So we performed two Christmas songs for their Christmas special. And then we just built really good ties with their management team and Don Stirling (Jazz Executive Vice President). They’re awesome, the arena manager and everything.

We were really trying to do this virtual concert; we never really got like a full album release. So we were like, man, it’d be really cool if we could go all out do like a really great video quality of an album so that we could reach as many people as possible while we’re all chilling at home,  bored and, just a way to reach our audience that we haven’t before. So we asked them like “Hey would you be down to let us do this in the arena?” And they’re like, “Yes. And also, you should do a show.” They were kind of the ones that were like; you guys should do a show. And we’re just like, Are you kidding me? So it just kind of happened. I don’t know, it’s just, it’s honestly a dream come true. And that’s kind of how it came about. We’re just stoked about it. 

UCR: I would think any musician or artist imagines playing in front of a huge crowd, but this is your home arena! I’m sure you’ve been to Jazz games, and you’ve probably seen concerts there and envisioned yourself on that stage. And now here you are, that’s got to be nuts. 

Sydney: It really is nuts!  That’s why it almost doesn’t feel real. And we’re just so, excited. And we’ve honestly been working harder than we’ve ever worked before. Since the day we found out a few months ago.  It was even before Christmas, actually, we have just been practicing and planning and we’ve never worked harder than we’ve been working, you know, daily up until the show, and it’s going to be so good.

UCR: And that’s the other thing. I think when people think of, when I go to shows a Vivint, touring bands have this huge, massive crew. And by the time the band gets to the arena, things have all been set up besides the soundcheck but I would think, I don’t know that you’re building up the stage, I have no idea. But, so much of like, whether it’s merch or just the logistics of the place, you’re so much more involved than maybe like a touring show might be. Is that safe to say? 

Sydney: Oh, yeah that it’s for sure. We didn’t realize what went into it, and not that that’s a bad thing. But it’s kind of cool to see the team behind it too. For so long, we’ve just had us and our manager, and we go on tour all across the country, and we’re our own stage crew, and we’re our own designers, and we’re our own sometimes sound people. And it’s just been so crazy to think of how many people actually go into something like this. And it’s also been amazing to see like, people are just stepping up. I think after a year, like the last one, people are just dying for that human connection.

We’ve been amazed at how many people have offered their services and they’re just so excited. They’re giving really great ideas and you can just tell the excitement and people that, I don’t know, everyone’s just like stepping up into their role.  I know at least for me, I think I took for granted what this band meant to me. I knew I always loved and I was grateful for it. But I didn’t realize how grateful I really was when you could no longer do it. And I think that’s the same for you know, set designers or stage people or sound crews cameramen or whatever it is, and even the whole Jazz, Vivint arena people. Like they’ve all been so nice and, really great to work with. And I just think it just goes to show like, we’re all ready for something like this.

UCR:  Oh I bet. And just, from my own point of view, I can see and feel that excitement and anticipation.  It’s not contrived in any way. It’s totally exciting. And, like for us, here in Utah that much more, because when you see a band, work their way up into a touring band that now has their own national audience, and they’re coming back here, you just want the best for a band that you really enjoy and like.  So I could just feel the excitement from you guys, which makes it that much more exciting for the fans.

Sydney: We have the best fans in the world. I feel like we’ve all grown up together. Like me and Brady, when we met, I was 19, we were going to college.  I think back to college, and I think of the band. And, that’s a big part of our fan base too. Just the people in Utah, I feel like they’ve grown up with us too. And it really is more than just a band or a business, we really are family.  We have some of the best fans in the world. They are so supportive. And we wouldn’t be doing this without them. Like they are the ones that are making it possible when they’re sharing, when they’re supporting, when they’re coming and listening to our music and you know, buying the albums and buying the merch, and buying the tickets, all the things, it really is such a group effort.  It’s an amazing thing to be a part of and just to witness something like that.

UCR: I wanted to ask you a little bit about this last year. It’s been pretty crazy for everybody, and everybody has their story of how they got through it all. But I know for you guys, you were able, in a much different way, I know you had bigger things planned, like the Super Bloom Festival and probably a bigger tour, but you’re able to still get out there and do some shows. How did that work out? And how were you able to pull that off despite all of the regulations and the chaos of this last year?

Sydney:  Last year was going to be our biggest year yet. We had some of our biggest festivals that we have ever been able to book, and we had our own music festival down at Zion that was going to be our album release. And then, one of our best albums that we feel like we’ve ever written and recorded, we were going to release that. There were so many plans and then, of course, they couldn’t happen. But we thrive off of that human connection. We thrive off of the live setting.  We’re not just this band that just is home alone in our basement, on our computers, which I mean, props to those people too. There’s just a time and place for both. But, for us, we need our fans, like we need that connection.

So we were just thinking, what could we do and it’s kind of like a joint idea just kind of snowballed, and we just came up with this campfire show idea because the limits back then were like 50 people. It ended up being one of our, I don’t know if we like saw as many people live in person, but it was one of our craziest most profitable years where we just grew not only as a business but as a band.  We grew together with our fans. I feel like, it wasn’t so much the quantity, it was the quality. Not that our live big shows aren’t great quality either. But we were able to do that in an intimate setting with, 40 to 50 people in backyards, we’re stripping down the songs to their true meaning, and just, playing them. Even the songs took on more meaning.

We were able to connect with the audience and see their actual faces, like, up close, the detail was like, literally, we were hanging out in the backyard and I just don’t think we would have been able to do something like that, if not for a pandemic. It is just something that I’m sure we’ll still do, a few times maybe, but I don’t think we ever would have done that if not for that. And so it was it was such a cool experience to have and it was some of my favorite shows.

UCR: That’s awesome. And the thing that’s so funny is you guys,  you’re about to do an arena show, but for some of your fans, they’ll always remember that as their best time experiencing you guys live because it’s so unique, so intimate, so personal. I think it’s so cool that you guys were able to do that because I think as awesome things are on the horizon, that small, unique thing is something that fans usually keep in their memory for their lifetime, you know, and it’s just so cool that you guys did that and that you had an enjoyable time doing it.

Sydney: Yeah for sure! I do think for those that were able to come I think it made a big difference. There are a lot of people that were like “This is the best thing of 2020.” You know, and all of us, we think of 2020 it’s almost like, a triggering, like, oh my gosh so stressful. But it was so nice to be part of something that was a highlight in their lives. And we just felt so lucky that we were able to do it, first of all, and then able to do it, we went all across the country and went all the way, to Florida even. So it was really, really awesome. We feel lucky that we could do it.

UCR: It’s funny because when I see a band grow from a local band to a proper touring professional band as you have, it’s hard not to feel like I know you guys.  But the truth is, I don’t know you at all!  So I’d love to know, how did you come into music? And then how did you get to the point of being a local band, just having fun, playing shows, playing Velour to becoming like, “This is not only something I want to do but something that we actually could do.”? How does that path happen?

Sydney: Oh, I don’t even know. I feel like I always had dreamed of being in a band ever since I was a little girl.  I could hear harmonies. I’d sing to the radio. Never really had formal training. But my grandparents, my grandpa, and my grandma on both sides, are both really great musicians too. So I don’t know if it’s just like, genetic or something. But I just always wanted to be in a band, but I didn’t necessarily think it could happen, you know?

Then I went to college and I met Brady, he was a mutual friend of mine. He was playing a show at my friend’s apartment complex. And I was like, “that would be so fun”. My husband right now had just left on a two-year mission. I was like “What the crap am I going to do if I’m going to try and wait for him?” We dated all through high school. And I was like “What am I supposed to do?” So that was a way to, you know, do something for me.

The National Parks
Photo Credit: Kenna Chatterley

I actually really grew in a lot of ways. I used to be totally, totally shy and super nervous, super self-conscious. Just, you think of that, junior high school kid that’s, like, really shy, that was me. And so I was like, me being in a band that will never happen. But I just put myself out there because I had that feeling in my heart. I had the dream of it, I had that little feeling like, “what if?”.  I always believe that if you have a feeling in your heart, or if you have a dream of something, it’s for a reason.  It just doesn’t come out of nowhere. And you know, my friends my family, they weren’t having the dream of a band, So for me, it was my dream for a reason. And so I just kind of trusted in that. 

One thing led to another and I asked Brady, “Hey do you need a piano player?” He was like “Yes!” Then he would send me songs. I felt like our voices fit so well together. And I was like, “I know you from somewhere.” It’s just one of those things, and kind of what you were just saying to me like, you feel like you know us, honestly, that’s what we try to do as a band. We’re just, humans.  We’re looking for that human connection. And I don’t know, just following our hearts and we’re trying to help others do the same. And so just one thing led to another and I think what changed it for me actually is we had our first album release show.

We just recorded an album. We were doing like “Battle of the Bands” stuff. Playing little smaller venues, restaurants, and then we’re like, “Hey, let’s record an album.” We recorded the album and it was our first album show first time getting the music out. And our first show playing our music live. And we started the song and everyone in the crowd sang it back to us. We both like, I have chills right now even thinking about it, and that was in 2013, we just backed away from the mic. We were just like, “Is this really happening?” It was just so crazy that you can have something that you believe in, and you put it out in the world, and then to have that big of a response, where it’s just so unifying. You’re all in a room together, and you’re all doing the same thing together. And you’re all experiencing the same thing it is just, it’s amazing.

And I was like, okay, we, and I think Brady too were like, “We’ve got to do this. Like, we got to have that connection with as many people as we can.” And that’s kind of what’s fueled us, throughout our whole journey as a band is just connecting, and like giving that energy and getting their energy back with as many people as possible.

UCR: I wish you could see me right now because when you were telling that story and you mentioned, you got chills, I had this huge smile on my face at that same time! That has to be the coolest feeling. So thank you for sharing that. 

Sydney:  Oh, yeah, it really was I’ll never forget it.

UCR: Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?

Sydney: Yes, it was Boys Like Girls. And it was at Weber State University. I don’t even remember when it was? Probably like 2008.

UCR: And was that experience the time where you thought “Oh, I want to do this”? Or was it before you ever really considered that?

Sydney: It was definitely back when I would love to do it. And maybe another one I’d say was Ingrid Michelson. No, that was after but just being in a concert for sure. I think back to that, and I know exactly what I was wearing, I know where we were in the arena, I know who was there. I remember the feeling we had. It’s like the goosebumps adrenaline feeling that music just changes you. Like, it can be good and bad in different ways. But I just remember that feeling. And I don’t know, it was just such it’s that connection. It’s the memories that you make and the in the human connection. There’s just something different about music for sure.

UCR: Do you remember your first time performing live in front of a crowd?

Sydney: Yes, I do. It was ‘Battle of the Bands” 2011. It was December 2011 “Battle of the Bands” at Velour in Provo. And that was our first show that we’ve ever done. I don’t even think we were like for sure a band yet. It was Brady; he was doing his solo thing. And Corey Fox (Owner of Velour Live Music Gallery) down there was like, “You should get a band. And you should do this thing”. Because I think he saw the potential in Brady and his really great songwriting abilities and all that.

And so literally, just a few weeks, we made a band, and he wrote a song just for me to sing, like, just my own part. And I was so scared, because that was me, like, “What are people gonna think? I have never done this before. I’m not a singer.” I was only supposed to play piano in the band, but I can hear the harmonies. But it’s my own stupid negative thoughts are like, “No, you can’t do this, who do you think you are? What are you doing? What are people going to think?” My parents came to that show. I didn’t tell anybody that  I had all these solos. And then I did it. I was so scared. And then my mom came up to me after and she’s like, “I didn’t even know you could sing!” And I was like, “I didn’t either!”

So it was crazy. And I’ll just never forget that. I’m just so glad that, even though I was scared out of my mind, I still did it. And I just was brave enough to do it because I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.

UCR: Right! That’s such a tribute to Brady or really any frontman with that kind of generosity.  So many times a frontman will be like, “I’m the singer. I’m doing the featured vocals all the time.” But the fact that he saw something in you and wanted to give you that opportunity is so cool. And you know what? You deserve it. You have a great voice. It’s always a cool part of the show when your voice is featured. So the fact that he saw that so early on is pretty great.

Sydney: I know he’s amazing. And I give him credit. I think it makes it a little more unique because it isn’t all the time. It’s just a different dynamic that we have in the band. But that’s why it works because I’m not the songwriter.  I’m more of you know, the supporter.  I don’t know we just go with the flow. It just works.

UCR: It definitely works. What would you say is the best concert you’ve ever been to?

Sydney: Really that Ingrid Michelson one. I feel like that one where she did the looped pedal. I just remember the looping. That was so incredible. It was a bigger concert, of course, but it wasn’t like a huge arena concert. So she could still do that intimate stuff. She was joking on stage and they came out like there was a song that they all came out and like black cloaks on and then they were like, “OK, this is our last song wink, wink. We’re going to off like “offstage”.  They just hid behind their instruments. And then they came back out, you know, that kind of really humanizing stuff for that human connection was so fun, because it’s like, she’s amazing. And she’s my friend. That’s what I felt like after.

UCR: That’s a great point. Because I always think “I bet I would totally be good friends with her.”  And I can almost guarantee everybody in that venue feels the same way whether that’s true or not. She’s a little self-deprecating, she’s really funny, tells stories and you just think like, yeah, I could totally hang out with this person and be buddies.  I think that’s a great lesson in a lot of ways. I don’t know, maybe you pulled it from her, but just what you guys do.  Because I think people feel that way with you guys. There’s just a certain demeanor and personality, which I like. Because there are some artists you’ll see and you’ll be like, “Oh that’s them, I could never!”

Sydney:  Yeah, “I’m scared of them but they’re amazing!”

UCR:  Yeah! OK, last question. What would you say was your favorite or your best concert you’ve ever performed? Or tour? I know it’s probably hard to break it down to a single show. 

Sydney: I love the live setting, and I really liked the campfire shows for sure. But I would probably say my favorite live show was the New Year’s Eve right before the pandemic hit. We did the New Year’s Eve show at the Gateway.

UCR: That’s right!

Sydney: I don’t know, we just there’s this energy in the air and we had no idea what was going to happen, but also just the energy of having a new year. Like, endless possibilities. Except little did we know what would happen. It was our biggest show we’ve ever played. I think it was over 15,000 people.  There was something there, we’re sitting on, this is our year, this is our year. And it doesn’t go to say like, we don’t know what, what you can say like God is working behind the scenes. All of this over the past year that maybe it was our year in different ways that we don’t know. 

Like the campfire shows. Because that wouldn’t have happened and this arena show.  I don’t think that necessarily would have happened, if not for COVID. There’s all these little things about that show.  The fans that were there, the energy. I feel like that was the best we’d ever played as musicians. We were playing our song “Wildflower” for the first time before it was released. Yeah, it was a really, great show.

UCR: That’s so cool. By all accounts, that was an incredible show. I’m so excited for you guys. And I cannot wait for this weekend.  

Sydney:  It was really good to talk to you. This weekend will be good! Thanks for talking to me.

Tickets are still available to The National Parks Vivint Arena concert. To purchase tickets or for an update on availability click here!

To stay up to date on The National Parks or to follow them on social media head over to their website thenationalparksband.com

You can listen to The National Parks wherever you purchase or stream music.

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