Since they emerged in 2013 with their introductory album Young, The National Parks have quietly grown into an independent phenomenon with roots embedded in blissful pop, cinematic electronics, organic orchestration, and rock energy.
The male/female quartet of Brady Parks (guitar, vocals), Sydney Macfarlane (keys, vocals), Cam Brannelly (drums) and Megan Parks (violin) come together like never before on their fourth full-length, Wildflower. The 15-track album, produced and mixed by longtime collaborator Scott Wiley, features the band’s best songwriting to date and hosts a variety of sounds and styles, as well as a lot of heart, creating a sound that fully encapsulates the band.
From start to finish, the album provides the perfect escapism from the noise of the day. The pacing makes it a start-to-finish listen that allows the listener appropriate time to appreciate every aspect, giving the songwriting the space to shine while not suppressing the talents of the band.
The lead songwriter, Brady Parks, did a track-by-track of Wildflower (pre-order) in advance of its release for American Songwriter readers to enjoy.
This was originally a song that was a lot longer and bigger with huge drums and a lot of instrumentation. I remember showing everyone in the studio and I was surprised to hear that nobody really liked it when it got big. After some debate, we decided to cut it down and tweak it. They were right and it became the perfect instrumental intro song to the album.
I wanted to write a song that was a TNP version of a rock song with driven electric guitars and a lot of energy. I sat down with my guitar and looked for the crunchiest guitar tone I could find. The main guitar line came quickly and I was able to build around that. While writing it, I was thinking a lot about the imagery of a wildflower and how it blooms and grows under the vast open sky and how it can grow in unexpected places. I was thinking about how we all go through dark times in life and there can be a lot of noise and negativity. It’s a song about being authentically yourself and knowing that you’re planted for a reason.
This was one of the first songs I wrote for the album. A lot of times our dreams can seem out of reach, our goals can seem unattainable, and it’s easy to feel like we are falling short of the places we want to get to in life. Time is about patience and faith in those hard times and knowing that the best is yet to come. The main beat of the song came from recording Cam in the studio using a mallet to tap a glass window and a gear box. We cut it up and layered kick, snare and shaker and we are obsessed with how it came together.
Waiting for Lightning
Some of my favorite lyrics on the album come from this song. One of my favorite lines is: “my heart’s a key tied to a string up on a kite what will it bring, I’m waiting for lightning to strike.” (Shoutout to Ben Franklin) We didn’t intend to start the song with the “oohhs” until we were recording and heard them soloed out. They put us in a trance. We felt like it had Lord Huron vibes and we were all about it. This song turned out to have a sound unlike anything we had done before. When we were recording it, we would joke about making a western music video for it because of the whip crack lightning sound on some of the snare hits. In a way that inspired the western-like aesthetic and visuals we are going for with this album.
I had written a version of this song many years ago and put it on a shelf, but I had never fully forgotten about it. During the writing of this album, I was going through old demos and voice memos and stumbled across it again. I decided to re-write all of the lyrics and rearrange the structure. One night, Megan and I were messing with it and we had the idea to try a violin solo where you would typically hear a guitar solo. She came up with a part that takes you by surprise and it’s definitely one of my favorite moments on the album.
This was a song that poured out of me one night. I had a family member that was going through a tough time and I felt like I needed to write this song for them. I picked up the guitar around midnight and was completely finished writing it at about 2am. The next morning, I sat down and recorded a voice memo of the song to send to the band and that’s what we decided to use on the album. Instead of re-recording the song, we decided to add piano and violin and group vocals to the voice memo and keep it as raw and emotional as it was the day I wrote it.
One night I sat down at my computer, found a cool electronic drum beat and just looped it over and over again. I plugged in my electric guitar and started messing around with chord progressions. I actually wasn’t trying to write a song that night until it all started sticking out to me. This song is unique for us for a lot of reasons. It’s the only song we’ve ever had that features Sydney singing the whole song. It also uses a lot of electronic drums and electric guitar until this weird instrumental part, where it turns from a modern, electronic song into a world of harmonicas, banjo, violin, pedal steel and piano. We’re happy we were able to blend those worlds together.
I first started playing the main line on guitar but felt like guitar wasn’t quite right. I started messing around with other sounds and, in the studio with our producer, Scott Wiley, we landed on a synth/bell sound with 12 string guitar on top of that and added some other weird noises. The song is about wandering around in darkness and chasing a glimmer of hope on the horizon but has taken on a new meaning for all of us since we wrote and recorded it. We had the opportunity as a band to team up with Choice Humanitarian on an expedition to Kenya earlier this year. We got to spend a week living in a village and, during that trip, we taught the kids of Sakake, Kenya this song. It was magical to be able to sing it and dance and laugh with them. Every time we play or listen to it, we’ll remember them and that once in a lifetime experience.
This was a really cathartic song for me to write. I first started writing it on tour when we were snowed in at an Airbnb in Boston. I loved the feeling it was evoking in me and when we got home from tour, I dove into writing it more. It’s about feeling like you’ve hit rock bottom but somehow you keep falling further. You wonder when you’ll finally hit so you can start climbing up again.
One of my favorite songs to write on the album. I had just returned home from a trip to Las Vegas when the idea to write Chance was sparked. It’s about going all in on something even when you know that it could break your heart in the end. It’s a song about risking everything for something you love. “You’re a gamble and I’m all in.”
This was the last song I wrote for the album. We came home from the studio after a session one night and, for some reason, I knew I wanted to write an over-the-top western song. The next day, we started tracking it. I would be lying if I told you we didn’t do any line dancing while in the vocal booth. And the horse neigh at the end was put in as a joke but we had to keep it.
I Can Feel It
Years ago, I wrote the lines “A current, electric, a fire, magnetic, the city streets at night, an eruption, explosion, an earthquake, commotion, a gamma-ray burst of light.” When I started writing I Can Feel It, I knew that those lines would be a perfect fit for the energy of the song. We decided to try a marching band drum beat during the bridge and it worked really well. Definitely one of our biggest and most energetic songs that we have.
We were in Seattle on tour and staying with some family friends when I began writing this song. We had a day off and the house we were at had a piano in a room that no one was in. I started writing the piano part and a version of the lyrics. I ended up rewriting it all a few times over the period of a year and a half before finally finding the lyrics that I had been searching for.
For some reason on our last album, I tried to stay away from writing the raw, emotional, finger-picked songs. When I was writing this album, I wanted to embrace that style of writing again. That’s how I’ve always loved writing and for this record I didn’t want the pressure of following music trends to hold me back. This song came at a time when I was unsure of what the future held. I felt like the dream I had been chasing was turning its back on me and that I was crazy to be pursing something that I had felt so compelled to follow. Through all the pain and confusion I had been feeling, I couldn’t forget how far the road I chose to follow had taken me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that was telling me that I had to keep going.
This is the last song on the album, but it was actually the first song I had written for it. This song sparked the umbrella theme and was really the first domino that triggered all of the songs I would write after. This is another song about my pursuit of the dream of music. I wrote this song from the perspective of the dream talking to me: telling me how it’s always been there, reminding me of everything we had been through together, and telling me that it hasn’t gone away. I felt a lot of nostalgia while writing this song. I thought about how music had gotten me through breakups, loneliness, joy, pain and so many other emotions and experiences and nothing could take that away. It’s a part of who I am and it will always be there for me.
If you think this album is for you, pre-order it to support the band!