Q&A: National Park Radio

Q&A: National Park Radio
Courtesy Photo National Park Radio is Stefan Szabo (center), Heath Shatswell, Mike Womack, Jon Westover and Eli Barrett.

Courtesy Photo
National Park Radio is Stefan Szabo (center), Heath Shatswell, Mike Womack, Jon Westover and Eli Barrett.

There’s one helluva folk music show happening this weekend.

Friday, Aug. 19 at George’s Majestic Lounge, NWA’s best and brightest of the folk scene will be playing a show supporting National Park Radio before they hit it big on their national tour they’re building. On the bill is Opal Agafia and The Sweet Nothings, Cutty Rye and newcomer Willi Carlisle, all of which provide unique takes on the folk genre.

National Park Radio, based in Harrison, Ark., has been touring and playing shows in Fayetteville for the past three years now. The band consists of Stefan Szabo, Heath Shatswell, Mike Womack, Jon Westover and Eli Barrett.

The music of The Great Divide, their debut full-length album, captures what made the folk/bluegrass revival of the early 2010s great. The music is upbeat and dancy, and the production on the album is robust. Szabo sings tales of self-doubt and overcoming life’s obstacles. Despite claiming not to have heard of them before, the music shares a similarity to acts like The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons.

Check out our review with Szabo about the new album:

TFW: I saw in your bio that you’re 31. It’s normally people a decade younger than you who are just getting their start in the music industry. What inspired you to take the plunge?

SZABO: I usually say I’m 27, and I’ll always say I’m 27 [laughs]. What probably plays a major part in that I got married when I was 18 and had kids when I was 19. By time I was 21 I had two kids. Going to school and working. I’ve always wanted to do music. I got into it in my early teens and I played off and on on my own for a while through my 20s. I was getting close to 30 and I thought to myself, if I’m going to do it, I better start now. It was the realization I was getting older. I needed to give it a try. That’s kinda what sparked it. I kind of did things backwards, I had kids and a family and then go interested in touring music. Kinda weird. I recorded and released a five song EP in my garage on my own in April of 2013, and that’s when it all started.

TFW: When did you start writing The Great Divide?

SZABO: It’s kind of our debut studio album. A lot of those songs have been there since the beginning. Some of them are fairly new, within the past year. I still have songs I’ve written three or four years ago that I haven’t recorded yet that I’ll probably record on the next album. I’ve always got a reservoir of songs. I don’t really write an album. I focus on the songs, and when I go to record, I look at all the songs I’ve written that haven’t been recorded yet and I pull from those. The Great Divide has been in the works for the past three years or so. We started recording it two years ago, and it’s been a long process, but we’re looking at it as our first full length we’re pushing for. The EP I look at as a demo now.

Courtesy Photo National Park Radio’s debut full-length album, The Great Divide is available now on iTunes and streaming services.

Courtesy Photo
National Park Radio’s debut full-length album, The Great Divide is available now on iTunes and streaming services.

TFW: So with the name The Great Divide and the songs within it, what does it mean to you? What are you trying to say through the songs you’ve written?

SZABO: I went back and forth with the name. The first song on there is called the great divide. It’s sort of evolved for what it means to me. I wrote it about driving home from Colorado and that perspective and not really being happy with being stuck here in Arkansas. That’s the literal meaning of it and it evolved and became a deeper meaning of it to me. Y’know, the Great Divide being this mountain in life a lot of people choose to not climb and be settled with where they’re at. Others decide to climb the mountain and see what’s on the other side. That’s what it means to me now, that exploration of seeing what’s beyond the mountain and on what’s on the other side in life in general. A lot of these songs reflect some of the struggles I’ve gone through trying to climb the mountains and overcoming obstacles. “I Will Go On” and “Rise Above” reflect on that.

I didn’t consciously think that what I was writing, but that’s what it means to me now. The songs change their meaning to each person, and they can mean different things to different people. A lot of those songs refer to overcoming the struggles and ties into the whole theme of The Great Divide. I’ve turned it into a weird figurative metaphor for life.

TFW: I’m picking up a some Avett Brothers vibes on the album. Are they among your influences?

SZABO: When I first started writing, I had never heard of them. Shortly after I got serious into writing, my brother introduced me to their music and I became big fans of them. I was making music similar to them before I had heard of them and it was a perfect match for me. I really respect their songwriting and really love a lot of their older songs, especially. There’s a lot of random bands we listen to. I think everything has a little bit of influence here and there. In the past two years I went and saw the Avett Brothers a few times.

TFW: Okay, who would be a band we’d be surprised to hear you like?

SZABO: The most surprising would probably be, which could be a turn off for a lot of people, but I really like Die Antwoord, who are this crazy South African hip hop thing, and they’re extremely filthy. Normally I would think I wouldn’t like it, but it gets me. I wouldn’t say I listen to them all the time, I only really listen to them when I’ve been driving for a long time and I need to stay awake. One of my favorite bands of all time are Fleet Foxes and Sufjan Stevens, who are really big influences on what I want to do with music and songwriting. Die Antwoord is just a fun thing.

National Park Radio

—feat. Willi Carlisle, Cutty Rye, Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings—

When: Friday, Aug. 19 at 9 p.m.

Where: George’s Majestic Lounge, 519 W Dickson St. Fayetteville, Ark.

How Much: $10

The show is available to audiences 18+

Categories: Galleries