When the two members of Sundy Best were growing up in their Eastern Kentucky home of Prestonsburg, it was taken for granted that everyone in the community could play an instrument.
The only place to do it in public was church, however, which led to the name referring to “Sunday best” clothing.
“’Sundy’ is how people say it back home,” drawled Kris Bentley over a white-tablecloth lunch in a Nashville restaurant. “Sundy, Mondy, Tuesdy, so we spelt it how we talk. We go places and people are like, ‘Where are you from? Louisiana?’ I tell ‘em South America.”
Bentley and his childhood pal Nick Jamerson’s first single, “Home,” is a love letter to their mountain town featuring a catchy chorus and what has become their trademark sound — acoustic guitar and vocals paired with just a Cajon (a box-like portable drum). It’s also one of the first songs the duo ever wrote.
Despite their short history — little more than three years — Sundy Best have used “Home” to build a dedicated foundation of fans, especially in their college-town base of Lexington, Ky. The “Home” video made a splash on CMT Pure and so has the follow-up video for “Lily.” A deluxe edition of the duo’s first album, Door Without a Screen, arrives Tuesday (Aug. 27).
CMT: You grew up in Kentucky, a state with a rich history that’s also in-between the North and the South. When did it dawn on you that everyone’s background is unique?
Bentley: When I went to college, that was my eye-opening experience. I thought everyone was like me. To us, we thought “Well, [Lexington] is the city.” And it is a big town, but our background and where we grew up is different. We grew up in a holler where there’s a Wal-Mart and it’s not even a Super Wal-Mart.
Jamerson: For me, it was the first time in my life not being in a familiar place, so my experiences from home seemed more amplified, like more important. We thought we didn’t like Lexington and we thought we hated it, but it was just our jobs. When we started focusing on music, I loved Lexington.
When did that switchover happen?
Bentley: Right as we were graduating college we decided to get together and were like, “This is fun, let’s play some gigs.” Played some patios, played Hooters, and that went well. [Nick] had been writing some and “Home” is the first song we played out. We didn’t tell nobody, and we got a lot of responses like, “I like that song y’all play. Who is that by?” So we thought, “OK, we might be on to something here.”
What was it like growing up together? Was there a music scene in Prestonsburg?
Bentley: Music is really the only thing in that town. Everyone plays and it’s very rich in talent. We tell people all the time we’re some of the less-talented people in that area. If you go there, six or seven people out of 10 can probably pick up an instrument and play. It’s just part of the culture — family get-togethers and church, something fun to do. Then we got to Lexington and we were like, “Not everyone plays music?”
Jamerson: When I was very small, I would go to Thanksgiving and Christmas as a family. and my dad would be playing mandolin, grandma guitar and a doctor from down the street would be playing the fiddle. All these bluegrass standards.
Bentley: Someone the other day was like, “Did people always tell you guys you were really good?” And we were like, “No, it was expected.” My dad plays guitar and sings, so it was expected and we just did it to keep up with them.
How did you arrive at the combination of acoustic guitar and Cajon?
Bentley: When we first got together, I was playing a drum set and one night I was drunk. We were like, “Man, this is awesome,” but it sounded … terrible. Also, I got lazy hauling my drum set. Then I saw a video of a guy with a Cajon and was like, “That’s cool. I need to go get me one of those.” We messed around with it that weekend and it was cool. I play it really hard, though, and I’ve been through like 30 drums or so. Never watched an instructional video!
Is songwriting something that also comes naturally to you?
Jamerson: It was very hard for both of us to open up. It’s a very revealing thing to write songs and give your ideas to the other person.
Bentley: We live together, so I’d hear him jamming something in his room and go up and be like, “What was that?” Now we co-write more and more, but it started out awkward like pulling teeth.
What was going on in your lives when “Home” was written?
Bentley: We were both struggling. We were both working at a cable company, but Nick was depressed. He was ready to move back home and give up.
Jamerson: We were playing patios. No bars wanted to give us a chance because we didn’t have a demo, and we didn’t have money for a demo. So we built this small following from patio to patio, but we were frustrated.
Bentley: Part of us just wanted to get out of the city, go back to childhood and where it’s simpler and not work a job that I hate.
Jamerson: Music and writing have always been therapeutic for us. I had to deal with the death of one of my friends. It broke my heart and I grieved for a while, but I wrote a song and recorded it and I was like, “OK, I think I can move on now.” That’s how “Home” was. We wanted to leave, but after that song, we decided to stay.