National Park Radio takes their name in part from a favorite national locale in our area – the Buffalo National River. That section of picturesque Ozark bluffs and the namesake river that carved them was a frequent haunt of Harrison native Stefan Szabo.
Szabo and his band made a blend of music perfectly situated for the Ozarks, with a folk-leaning but pop-drenched sound. After recording a well-received EP a few years ago, Szabo and company returned on July 29 with the release of “The Great Divide,” their debut full-length album. Released via Edgewater Music Group and distributed by Sony Red, the album features 11 songs that will be featured during a concert on Friday night at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville.
Szabo took a moment to answer a few questions before their show on Friday night at George’s, and his answers appear below.
What: National Park Radio perform songs from the new album “The Great Divide”
When: 9:30 p.m. Aug. 19
Where: George’s Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville
Info: Visit http://nationalparkradio.com/
You’ve got a brand new album to bring with you for your show at George’s. What was the life cycle for these songs? Are they some of the first you wrote, or are they more recent creations?
I’d definitely say this album is a mixture of old and new songs, about half of which were written during the beginning of the band in 2013 and the other half coming over the past year or two. We chose to approach this album as if it were our debut into the music industry, and basically just threw all of our songs into the hat, and picked what we thought were the strongest and best fit for a debut record. I now see the EP (that I recorded in my garage back in 2013) as a demo of sorts, and those songs were reworked, and recorded more properly for this debut studio album.
When you listen to the band’s 2013 self-titled EP and this new album, what changes or growth do you hear?
It’s definitely become a more full, developed sound with a lot of layers. The EP, while many enjoyed it, was very simple, with not much in terms of dynamics or vocal harmonies. The new record has a lot of energy, which better represents our live sound, and we also made it a huge point to add the background vocals that were lacking on the EP.
You’ve mentioned previously you never really listened much to bands such as The Avett Brothers or Mumford & Sons, even though there are some similar elements in your respective sounds. What bands do you think made a more direct influence on you?
I’ve said that when I first started writing, I never heard of The Avett Brothers. But, after I heard them, they instantly became one of my favorites (and a big influence moving forward). Other bands that have had an influence on me over the past few years… Off the top of my head, I’d say the Fleet Foxes, The Head And The Heart, and Sufjan Stevens.
“The Great Divide” speaks to making major changes. Was that a theme you sought specifically, or is it one that came to you as the songs developed?
Well, I wrote the song “The Great Divide” several years ago, with a more literal meaning in mind – feeling the urge to leave the place I’d always lived and moving on to something bigger and better for my family. That idea behind the song has evolved over the past few years into something a little bigger, and more metaphorical in a sense. Now, when I think of “The Great Divide,” I think of those mountains in life (dreams, passions, etc.), that so many want to climb, but never actually do. So many concede and settle in the valley below. But a few want to see the other side so badly, that they endure the struggle, and finish the climb to the top, revealing a whole new world of opportunity. “The Great Divide” separates those who endure the climb with those who choose to be content with settling in the valley below. When this idea of “The Great Divide” revealed itself to me, I knew I had to name the album after it.
You’re from Arkansas (Harrison, to be exact). Many of those who will watch your show on Friday night at George’s will also be from Arkansas. Are there any inside jokes or Arkansas references this audience might pick up that other crowds might not?
I wouldn’t say there are any inside jokes or references to Arkansas in the particular songs on the new record, but living in the Bible Belt, there are a couple of songs on the record that reference the religious ideologies that influence so much in these parts.
This is a part of the world you perform in fairly frequently. Is it important for you to play a few gigs in Arkansas before you take this new album out on the road?
Yes. It’s very important to me to share the music here first, and make sure our people here always feel like they’re a part of our success. The folks in this area have been the most supportive, most amazing people I’ve ever seen. We wouldn’t be anywhere without their love and support, and we’ll never forget it.
What are the band’s plans for the next 12 months?
Tour! And, work on new music. I have a bunch of ideas and want to get started on the next project as soon as possible, but our priority at the moment is to get on the road in the right situation. We’ve been working with a big-name booking agent out of L.A., and we’re hoping to hop on tour with a larger touring act. In the meantime, we’ll continue to book local and regional gigs on our own.
You’ve recently picked up distribution and publicity deals. Can you explain how you started making National Park Radio more of a national entity?
Well, it all started with this new record. We were approached by a company out of Houston, (Edgewater Studios), who really wanted to work with us on a record. Long story short, we made the record with them and also signed a management deal with them. So, Edgewater Music Group is working as our management, and a major part of their duties was to help us release the record with as big of a “splash” as possible, the goal being to grow our fan base nationally. We were able to get the amazing publicity company All Eyes Media (Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show) on the project, which has really been a huge boost to our reach with the release of the record. Along with that, we secured national radio promotion through a company in L.A., and signed a distribution deal, which hands distribution over to SONY/RED. But the biggest piece to this whole puzzle will always be touring, and that’s where our focus is now.
Tell me a little about the show you assembled for Friday night and the bands who will also perform.
We have a great lineup Friday night at George’s! Starting it off will be up-and-coming Fayetteville singer-songwriter Willi Carlisle, who will perform a few short sets and kind of be the emcee for the night. Next, we’ll have local favorites Cutty Rye, who offer a little more traditional style bluegrass, and then the sweet and soulful voice of Opal Agafia and the Sweet Nothings from Eureka Springs, an amazingly talented group blending the best elements of bluegrass, gospel, blues, jazz, country, swing, and traditional mountain music. Finally, of course National Park Radio will play a fun, high-energy set of modern-folk/Americana.
What else do you want your Northwest Arkansas fans to know?
We want to thank all of you. We’re truly grateful for all the love and support that you’ve shown to us and we intend to make you proud by taking this music far beyond NWA, and spreading that positive message of joy, hope, and love that you’ve instilled in us. We hope to see you Friday!