photo by Kristin Barlowe
Kris Bentley and Nick Jamerson, better known as the musical duo Sundy Best
When kids grow up with something to prove, they can become stubborn and a bit hardheaded. But when those kids grow up to be adults who want to make a living as musicians … well, they just might become superstars.
So goes the story of Sundy Best.
Blending an eclectic mix of acoustic guitar with the beat of the cajón drum and the compelling vocals of Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley, Sundy Best looks as if they are about to embark on a career many others are often left to dream about. Just last year, the Kentucky-based duo released a deluxe version of their album Door Without a Screen and watched as it landed in the Top 10 on iTunes. The video for their single “Home (I Wanna Go)” reached the top of CMT Pure’s fan-voted poll for multiple weeks. A brand-new album in 2014 is sure to help the duo prove to the rest of the world that, sometimes, the underdogs win.
“Growing up, I always seemed to have a chip on my shoulder,” says Jamerson. “As a kid who loved playing sports, I was smaller than anyone else so I always had something to prove in everything that I did. It was the attitude I would ultimately have with everything in my life. I was just always super competitive.”
It was an attitude Jamerson seemed to inherit from his close-knit family. “Three of my grandparents had a college degree, which, coming from a small mining town in Kentucky, was not at all common,” he recalls. “I mean, my grandmother could build anything. Being around those kinds of people all my life and seeing how driven and successful they were … it definitely made an impression on me.”
As a 5-foot-10 kid basketball player from Prestonsburg, Bentley also was up against his share of obstacles, none of which he hadn’t learned to conquer during his childhood years growing up within the sacred walls of the church, hence the name Sundy Best. “I would play drums every Sunday with my dad and brother,” recalls Bentley, describing himself as a good kid who “put Mom through the wringer … Church really was the only outlet to get out there and do music, especially in eastern Kentucky.”
Besides sports and a childhood spent within the church, the two also shared a musical foundation formed within their homes, often spending countless hours listening to a diverse mix of rock, pop and bluegrass. “Everyone would get together at my grandparents’ house and play the old bluegrass standards,” recalls Jamerson. “The doctor up the road would come over and play the fiddle, Grandpa played the banjo, Grandma played guitar and my great-aunt played the mandolin.”
First meeting in elementary school, Jamerson and Bentley would go on to form a firm foundation of friendship through their teenage years, which continues to benefit them to this day. “When you know someone as long as we have, you know each other’s dynamics,” says Jamerson. “He is like a brother to me. It’s gratifying to do this whole music thing alongside someone you have known for so long.”
After high school, the pair’s goal to play sports often competed with the draw they shared to ultimately pursue a music career. “Music was the one passion that I always had, but looking back, I am glad my parents talked me into getting a college degree,” says Jamerson, who was on the Pikeville College football team. “The people I met and the experiences I had in college made me the person I am now. That’s where songs come from. You need perspective and life lessons as a writer.”
The end of college (Bentley attended and played basketball for Centre) brought the beginning of the duo’s quick, yet organic, ascent to musical success. After their joint move to Lexington and a brief stint working at the local cable company, the two began performing at patio parties, restaurants and clubs, often playing four-hour sets each night. A regular gig at Lexington’s Redmon’s helped the two establish a growing fan base eager to find out more about the band.
“Thank goodness for social media,” says Bentley, who cut his musical teeth trying to emulate the songs of artists such as Bob Seger and Tom Petty. “Good ol’ Facebook was the only way to connect to our fans and tell them where we were going to be every night. We would always have 20 or 30 people from eastern Kentucky who knew us from when we played sports drive up on a weeknight to see us perform. Seeing that kind of support when we were just out there playing cover songs was a huge boost to our confidence.”
Then, Sundy Best recorded the song that would change their career: “Home (I Wanna Go).” “That song took off right around the same time when the winter had set in and the patio gigs had shut down,” recalls Bentley. “Once people heard that song, the whole thing just grew. People knew we were serious about doing music.”
In 2012, the duo recorded some of their songs that they self-produced with friend and filmmaker Coleman Saunders, and independently released Door Without a Screen.
Last year, they were asked to play the jewel of all venues: the Grand Ole Opry. “As a musician and performer, I don’t think I will ever be the same,” says Jamerson. “I cried when I found out we were playing there. It was like being at church and feeling something on your heart and you don’t know what it is. We had been touring all year, so sharing it with our families was an unbelievable feeling. I mean, what else could top that? I was watching Netflix the other night and they were doing a two-day concert special on Neil Young and were showing this concert he did at the Ryman Auditorium, and I mean, he was walking through the same doors we did when we were playing there for the Grand Ole Opry. Every time we get the chance to play there, it ends up being quite the spiritual experience.”
The year 2014 brings Sundy Best fans the much-anticipated new album Bring Up the Sun, a collection of songs that just might take their longtime fans a bit by surprise. “Our first album was quite Kentucky-centric,” says Jamerson, who spends any spare time he has at home in Lexington with his two dogs and cat. “The music just feels good in our bones. It’s a really broad album, which everyone we work with has a hard time explaining. But everyone will find something different in it. It’s good music, but it’s coming from a bit of a different angle now, so I suppose people are going to be surprised. Some people want every record to sound the same, but once your fans think they know you, you are done. You won’t grow as musicians if they think they have you figured out.”
“We definitely have a vision of where we want to be,” says Bentley, who with Jamerson played more than 190 dates out on the road in 2013. “I would never have expected to be where we are today just one year ago. I think 2014 is going to be another growth year for us. A lot of people still don’t know who we are, so we want to definitely continue to play new markets. We are excited to see what happens with this new record and then determine what happens next.”
No matter where their musical journey might still yet lead them, one thing is for sure: These two will continue to give credit where credit is due.
“You hear people all the time talking about how they are Texas proud or Georgia proud or even Tennessee proud,” says Bentley. “When you are from eastern Kentucky, you are automatically proud. You can be anywhere in the world, and if you meet someone from eastern Kentucky, you are immediately friends. Plus, they are the craziest fans ever. We love Nashville and all, but we would just rather stay right here in Kentucky. The people here have been the biggest driving factor in our career, and we can never be too thankful.”
“Before I moved to Lexington, my whole life had been spent living in eastern Kentucky. I had never had a chance to miss living in the country. And as we have begun touring more, I now know it was something I myself took for granted,” says Jamerson. “We love Kentucky and will always want to carry that flag … but we can’t wait to spread the word to everyone else, too.