Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley have grown their Lexington, Kentucky twang-rock country duo, Sundy Best, organically, utilizing social media and word-of-mouth to spread their following across the South. With over 35,000 Facebook fans and nearly 17,000 Twitter followers, the duo has grown from a Lexington bar band to a national touring act in under five years. Their sound blurs the line that divides country from AAA, a feat proven by earning regular spins this year on Reg’s Coffee House on Birmingham Mountain Radio.
Jamerson spoke to Weld about the duo’s rise and its brand new release Bring Up the Sun as Sundy Best prepares to take the stage at Zydeco on Friday.
Weld: It’s been very grassroots — you sold thousands of copies of “Door Without a Screen” on your own before “Bring Up the Sun” was released this month. At what point did you start thinking this could be a living?
Nick Jamerson: About three years ago, we stopped our regular jobs — we were both selling cable for the cable company here in town, knocking on doors. We basically decided that on our own — that’s how we were gonna make a living. We were just playing bars; that was before we even had a record. We just decided that we were gonna get out and tour and basically not have anything else to fall back on. I think that’s kind of why we’ve stayed so hungry. Before we had a record, before we really even had songs to put on a CD, we were [saying], “This is our job.”
Obviously, once we had Door Without a Screen and people started buying it, it was a little better living we were making. But I think having that fear of not having anything else to fall back on — you work harder, and it keeps you hungry and you’re always trying to do something, you know, like the social media side, to stay in people’s faces and on people’s minds. So, probably, it was late 2010 — that’s when I quit and then Kris quit later around early 2011.
Weld: How hard have you been touring over those three years? How many shows a year do you play?
NJ: We played 200 shows last year, and the year before, I don’t really remember. But we had 200 last year and we have 200 set for this year. When we got on with APA [Agency] at the start of last year, that obviously amped up the amount of shows we were playing. Before then, we were just playing random shows; playing anywhere that would let us play. That was patios and restaurants. We played patios until October when people are normally inside, but we were just doing whatever we had to do to be heard and make a living and polish our product.
Weld: There’s a track on the new record called “Swarpin’” — what’s the story on that?
NJ: Growing up, my grandmother, my mom’s mom, she basically lived with the right hand of God. In church every time the doors were open, and she’d always talk about my two uncles, Bobby and Sammy, back when they were younger, always out “swarpin.’” They were “swarpin’” and fightin’ — and “swarpin’” is basically, it’s an Eastern Kentucky slang word for drinking and carrying on and raising hell, basically. So I just always thought that was really cool, “out swarpin.’” And it just fit into that song.
Weld: There’s a voice mail that plays at the beginning of the track from a guy that I believe is named Bart. What’s the story on the voice mail?
NJ: That’s our manager’s cousin; he lives in North Carolina. He’s a chicken farmer in North Carolina and he drinks about 15 Budweisers a day. When he got Door Without a Screen, after we first got with Van [Fletcher, manager], Van sent him a copy of Door Without a Screen and he loved it and that was his voice mail. Van never answers his phone calls, he always lets him leave voice mails, because, well, you see what kind of stuff he leaves him. It’s a little more entertaining to hear that and have that at your beck and call and then we were like, “Well, okay, that has to go on the record.”
And it was funny, too, because we had been talking to CMT and it was almost a premonition, I guess. [Laughs.]
Weld: Do you have a video in their rotation?
NJ: “Until I Met You,” which is the single that’s being played on Sirius XM’s The Highway, is in rotation on CMT now. But we’ve had four videos on CMT so far, and that’s really been in the last year. CMT has been really good to us; they’ve helped try to champion us, and tried to help us break out, break through.
Weld: Now, I first became familiar with your music when Scott Register began playing you here in Birmingham, and you’re kind of blurring a line of what folks consider country and what folks consider AAA. What do you think you are, or do you care?
NJ: We don’t really care. We’re not trying to be country, but we’re from Eastern Kentucky and you hear how we talk, so people are gonna say we’re country. Door Without a Screen was really Kentucky-centric and there were a lot of country topics, but we’re just trying to make the best with what we can. Perception is reality, and we are whatever people say we are, I guess, but we’re just being ourselves, and wherever we fall in line, that’s where we fall in line.
Our biggest influences are Tom Petty and The Eagles and Bob Seger and the classic rock stuff that we listened to our whole lives. We just want to make music that’s relevant, not only today, but 20 or 30 years from now, and it makes sense for us to sing it 20 or 30 years from now. I call it twang rock.
Weld: That’s exactly how I’ve been describing it.
NJ: Yeah, I heard that the other day and I thought it fit perfectly. We’re not rock and roll and we’re not right down the line country. I think there’s a lot of rock in this new record. We’re really solidifying our sound, and I think going forward, that’s the type of record we’ll be putting out. So I’m fine with “twang-rock,” but whatever people wanna call us, as long as they’re listening to us and calling us something, we don’t really care.
Weld: Are you still based in Lexington?
NJ: Yeah, Kris has been there since 2009 and I’ve been there since 2010.
Weld: Did you find it hard to fit in with the Nashville crowd while not moving into it?
NJ: No, I mean, everybody we’ve worked with down there, they were really accepting. It all kind of just fell into place; we met our manager, through a friend, it was a Shooter Jennings show in Lexington — we didn’t jump into anything, at the beginning, he was just kind of mentoring us, he’s been in Nashville for 15 years. And that was a big thing for us, him opening up doors that we may have otherwise never gotten a chance to open. Everybody we’ve worked with down there has been really cool. There is a stigma with bands that up and move to Nashville. “It’s just another band.”
We like kind of staying out of the loop and being a little mysterious to some industry folks. And Lexington’s a little bit slower. We like the laid-back tempo. Nashville’s grown on us. It’s not the big scary city that it used to be to us, but I think just getting around and becoming more comfortable with ourselves — you know, if people like us, they like us and if they don’t, they don’t. We always say, if you don’t like the music, we’ll at least be able to get along. And that’s all that Nashville’s about: relationships and getting to know everybody, because there’s a lot of people there. There’s a lot of people there trying to do the same thing we’re doing, so you’ve just got to network and meet folks and hopefully, they’re into what you’re doing. We’ve been blessed that people are responding to what we’re putting out there.
Weld: You mentioned how you guys have utilized social media — how important has that tool been for you in this day and age?
NJ: When we first started out, that was really the only way we could get anybody to know about us. Kris spearheaded that and still does; Kris still runs all of our social media. And, you know, it’s free [Laughs.] and that was the biggest thing at first. We didn’t have money to spend on anything, advertising or anything, and Twitter and Facebook were the two biggest tools that we used. I think it shows that we’re just like everybody else, and we don’t really shy away from who we are and I think our personalities show through that. It’s been huge. And that’s the one thing that people always talk about, our social media stuff. I don’t think Kris has ever looked at it as work — he’s enjoyed that and that was just part of it.
Weld: The Facebook page has one interest listed — it’s “moonlight cornhole.” Do you care to elaborate?
NJ: When I first moved to town, we were notorious for staying up all hours of the night outside. We had this big flood light out behind our house, in our backyard, and we’d just drink beer and play cornhole. That neighborhood was pretty cool with us doing that, but the second house we moved into in Lexington, the homeowner’s association wasn’t quite as understanding. We had to tone it down a little bit.
Weld: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
NJ: Well, I won’t say in order, but I think we’d agree: The Eagles, Bob Seger, Allman Brothers, Tom Petty and…man, we really love Kings of Leon.
Weld: Do you know those guys? That’s kind of your neck of the woods.
NJ: No, we don’t. But hopefully one day they’ll know us and we can all be friends. We always say, we want to find success in this so we can be friends with all of those guys.
Oh yeah! We did meet Jared Followill, the bass player for Kings of Leon. It’s a really funny story: we were at the CMT Awards last year and I peed next to him. Kris took a picture of it and put it online, and we ended up cornering him outside. We actually know a lot of the same people — we don’t know him well enough to call him a friend, but he was cool to us. We actually saw them in Louisville not long ago. We’re huge fans.