The National Parks Band Weaves Outdoor Places, Experiences, and Vibes Into Every Song

Brady Parks is the lead singer/songwriter behind The National Parks, an indie-folk band that’s as outdoorsy as you might imagine, given the name. Parks grew up just outside of Denver, Colorado, where his family camped and spent time on the lake in their boat. Being outdoors in nature was a core part of Parks’ childhood, and when his mom picked him up a guitar at a garage sale at age 13, making music became another defining factor in his young life.

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Fast forward 20 years and Parks, now 34, and his four-piece band just came off a big year. In 2023, The National Parks released their fifth album, 8th Wonder, as well as two EPs—Campfire, Vol. 1, a collection of acoustic versions of their songs, and Christmas Magic, a holiday EP. They also went on tour.

8th Wonder is packed full of songs and lyrics that reflect The National Parks’ connection to outdoor places and experiences. In fact, listening to songs like “Great Sky,” “Let’s Go Outside,” “Angels,” and “Summer of Memories” is enough to make you want to feel the earth under your feet. It makes you want to splash in a river, then sit under the stars and experience the stillness that one can only find in nature.

Parks says these outdoor themes and lyrics are not only a reflection of what’s important to him and his band mates but also an invitation to their listeners to go and do these things—to make memories in nature with the people they love. 

I sat down with Parks for a chat about how he got started, his nature-inspired lyrics, and how the great outdoors has come to define The National Parks, their songs, and their overall vibe. 

The National Parks
Image by Noah Tidmore

Who Are The National Parks?

After moving to Utah in 2008, Brady Parks met Sydney Macfarlane, and they started jamming together—Parks on vocals and guitar and Macfarlane on backup vocals and keyboard. In 2013, the two formed The National Parks, which also now includes Cam Brannelly on drums and Megan Taylor Parks on violin and backup vocals. 

The two Parks on the band’s roster aren’t a coincidence. Brady and Megan are married—and that’s thanks to the band. 

Describing how the two came together, Brady Parks says: “We actually had a different violinist that was playing with [the band], and then she was moving out of the state. We knew Megan through a bunch of mutual friends that were kind of involved with the band [. . . ] and we were able to meet Megan, and she came to the first rehearsal and I was like, boy, not only was she incredibly beautiful, but she was also an incredible violinist and had this amazing energy to her that just adds so much to the band and my life.”  

Behind the Name

Besides the obvious connection between Parks’ last name and the band name, he says the story behind The National Parks’ moniker depends on whom you ask. 

“It’s kind of controversial; there are two different stories,” Parks says. “I remember me and Sydney got together one night just specifically to talk band names, and she was throwing out tons of names. My side of the story is that she was throwing out tons of names [and] they were not good band names. And so I was like, let’s put this aside for now and come back to it later.”

“And then the next day, I had a class in Provo at BYU, and it’s just an incredibly beautiful campus and it was an evening class, and I walked out of my class and I looked up at the mountains that are right there, and the sun was setting, and it just hit me: The National Parks. My last name is Parks, and, thematically, we write a lot about nature, and it just seemed like a perfect fit, so I called up Sydney.” 

The second version of the story is Macfarlane’s, who would say that “The National Parks” was actually her idea first, that it was one of the ideas she threw out in the initial brainstorming session.

“But I don’t believe it,” Parks laughs.

The National Parks
Image by Clark Clifford

The Outdoors Connection

National parks and other outdoor places make cameos in the bands’ songs, from the Vantaa River near Helsinki, Finland to the Tetons of Wyoming

“So many [outdoor] places have left a mark and have found their way into our songs,” Parks says. “One that I can think of specifically is Zion National Park. I think if you asked us as a band what our favorite national park collectively is, it’s Zion. We love it, and we’ve been there a lot. Our song ‘Angels’ is actually about going to Zion and hiking Angel’s Landing with Megan and [what] an incredible experience it was, and then how moments like that make you want to live your life in a way that your kids would be stoked to hear stories about.” 

These are the types of moments that leave a lasting impression on Parks, and lasting impressions often turn into music.

“There have definitely been times when I’ll be doing something out in nature and feel like I know I’m gonna write about this,” he says. “I don’t know what the lyric is yet, but I know that this experience is going to be part of a lyric.”

‘We Were Just Sleeping Under the Stars’

Living in Utah, home to Mighty Five—Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park, has also fueled the band’s connection to the great outdoors.

“While I was living in Provo . . . I spent a lot of time just driving up the canyon, hiking, just being a part of it, and I think it definitely played a part in my music, especially early on,” Parks says.

Going back even farther, perhaps even before his mom brought home the second-hand guitar from a garage sale, Parks remembers a camping trip with his dad that ended up inspiring a song on the 8th Wonder album called “Great Sky.” 

“I remember I was on a father-son campout when I was young, and we were just sleeping out under the stars, and I remember talking to my dad at night about how it just goes on forever, and that specific moment in that forest shaped that song [‘Great Sky’] all these years later,” Parks says. 

Life Beyond Music

Parks’ favorite outdoor pastimes include not only camping, boating, and hiking but also skiing.

“When it’s winter, I’m in the mountains,” he says. “I love skiing. If I could, I’d ski every day. I love it so much.”

His band mates Sydney, Cam, and Megan are all Utah natives and avid outdoors-people themselves.  

“Everybody in the band is very outdoorsy,” Parks says. “Cam is really into snowboarding. It’s like his favorite pastime. Sydney—her family has kind of always been a Lake Powell family. So they go once or twice a year and go camp at Lake Powell, and that’s like their big thing as a family, which is amazing. And Megan, she loves hiking and trail running. Something she always says is when she’s going through a tough time, the one thing that gets her out of her head is being outside and going on a walk or going on a hike.”

‘You Feel Part of Something Bigger’

While listening to The National Parks, you can’t help but feel connected to nature too, as if the beautiful harmonies, the catchy beats, and the poignant lyrics are all calling you to get outside and explore.

“I think it’s a big part of who we are as a band to help people feel inspired by nature and to go make those memories,” Parks says. “One of our songs off of 8th Wonder is called ‘Let’s Go Outside,’ and it’s about those times in life when you’re stuck in your head and the one thing that makes you feel grounded and okay is being outside, and there’s just such a healing power with being in nature and connecting with nature, and I think you feel part of something bigger when you’re doing it.”

Life beyond the music for the band includes parenting. Brady and Megan Parks have a young son, Jagger, who is nearly three. In fact, all The National Parks band members are parents of young children, and their adventures as part of a band and outside of it are becoming cherished family memories for their own kids.

Perhaps one day, Parks will write another song about a father-son camping trip—except this time, he’ll be the dad staring up at the night sky with his son.

The National Parks
Image by Clark Clifford

What’s Next for The National Parks?

Parks says the band has been working on a new album, and he’s stoked about it.

“We think it’s our best work ever, and it’s an album about being lost in a forest and how there are moments that you go through that are hard and scary, and then there are breathtaking views and it’s exciting, and it’s definitely about how life can be like that,” he says. “We’re gonna start releasing songs pretty soon, and then the album will come out [at] some point down the road.”

There are also new tour dates for 2024, with more on the way later this summer and fall. 

The National Parks also put on a summer music festival called Superbloom. In the past, the event took place in southern Utah by Zion and up near Salt Lake City. The location of this year’s festival isn’t set yet, but Parks says the goal with Superbloom is similar to the band’s overall goal—to get people outdoors, surrounded by beautiful nature, experiencing music together.