The fast-rising country music band Parmalee will close out the main stage entertainment at the Washington Town and Country Fair with a concert Sunday night, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m.
The Missourian Currents Arts and Entertainment Editor Ethan Busse spoke with Parmalee about the band, their music and what fans can expect out of their show at the Fair.
The band consists of brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and longtime friend Josh McSwain.
Following are highlights of that conversation:
CURRENTS: I was reading your bio, and I think you guys are from a smaller town than us!
PARMALEE: Here where Scott and I grew up, Parmele, (N.C.), has a population of 264, ha ha.
CURRENTS: Hitting all these little American towns, you’re not surprised by much whenever you get to a small one?
PARMALEE: We understand it. We’re small-town guys, so we get the way people live.
We love it. We talk to people . . . It’s the same kind of communities that we came from, same kind of people, so it’s really cool.
CURRENTS: You guys have been playing music all your life, right?
PARMALEE (BARRY): Matt and Scott’s dad had a band, and when we got old enough to join his band, we all played with him for several years.
We played some old Southern rock, blues, R&B, country.
When we went to college, we met up with Josh. That’s when we kind of started Parmalee, after 2001.
CURRENTS: Yeah, you can definitely hear you guys were influenced a lot by Southern rock, from the way it sounds.
PARMALEE: That was big. We come from Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, and the Southern soul guys, Motown, Memphis soul, Travis Tritt, . . . that stuff was just kind of, I guess what they called new country back in the day, that was our first . . . was Travis Tritt and Garth Brooks.
Hearing those guys sing is what we were all about.
CURRENTS: So, the barn, or Studio B, tell me about that.
PARMALEE (JOSH): When I first met these guys, they drug me out to the middle of nowhere in Parmele, N.C., about 30 miles outside of the town I lived in.
It was like a 20- by 20-(foot) cinder block barn with nothing in it. Barely had electricity. I don’t even think we had an air conditioner in it yet . . . but it became a place where we pretty much lived at for the next several years, two or three nights a week.
It was far enough out that you could make all the noise you wanted and didn’t have to worry about the cops coming.
We named it Studio B and made a little plaque for the door. It was a far reach from a real studio, but it was ours.
CURRENTS: And apparently it did the trick. You guys were noticed. You had a local, or a regional following first before you . . . what made you decide to go to Nashville?
PARMALEE (MATT): We had been going to Nashville since we started the band for writing music. We knew Nashville was where you were going to write.Close enough to us, we had been going out . . . a couple of times a year.
We knew we wanted to be out there. We needed to be in Nashville. We just were waiting for a perfect opportunity to move out, and that was when we started working with our producers, getting some interest from the label, and so we had kind a been working on it all along.
But when you have a regional following. . . and local fans and homes and all that, it’s kind of hard to just jump ship with four guys and say, “Let’s go.”
But it was a proud moment. Worked out good for us.
Definitely the best move we ever made.
CURRENTS: So, Scott got hurt in a mugging or robbery outside of one of your shows?
PARMALEE: Yeah, he got shot three times, had a 5 percent chance of living . . . spent 40 days in the hospital and luckily he’s still here. We just had some guys who tried to rob us after a show one night, busted into our RV, had guns. Scott is concealed carry, so he protected me and the other guy who was with us.
Ended up sending the one guy to prison for 20 years, and the other guy, he didn’t make it.
So it was close, but thank God, (Scott’s) still here and we’re still getting it on.
I definitely think we’re here for a reason.
CURRENTS: So, who’ve you guys been touring with this year?
PARMALEE: Man, we’ve played with everybody. It’s been crazy.
Tonight we’re playing with Jason Aldean and Jake Owen and Colt Ford, Hunter Hayes, playing with Keith Urban in the next couple of weeks.
CURRENTS: So, you’ve been really busy, probably lots of running.
PARMALEE: Oh, yeah. I think we’ve spent one day at home last week. And that was it.
We’re literally back stage right now getting ready in Ohio.
We go home on Monday, and I thought we were going to have a couple of days off, but we just got word that we’re going to play the Grand Ole Opry . . . for the second time.
CURRENTS: That’s pretty exciting. That has to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, being on the Grand Ole Opry?
CURRENTS: So, how wild of a ride was it whenever you started getting picked up on the big country radio stations? Did things move pretty fast?
PARMALEE: I feel like we’re just getting started, but it has been a year since “Musta Had a Good Time” came out and went No. 1 for a week.. . .
It’s been crazy, it’s been fun, it’s been cool, it’s been a lot of hard work, but . . . we try not to miss any available opportunity. We’re definitely working at full steam ahead, and it’s just awesome, man. It’s fun.
CURRENTS: “Carolina” is doing really good on the charts.
PARMALEE: Yeah, man, we’re knocking at Top 30s door . . . each Top 40’s a milestone for anybody, that’s great.
So we’re watching it connect, it’s heavily downloaded. . . People are singing it back to us. I think it’s really cool, my main thing is you can’t pay for connection, you can’t make that up. They tweet about it, that’s what it’s all about, it’s crazy, man!
CURRENTS: So, one of the questions from one of our readers is what is the favorite part about playing a smaller venue like a country fair for you guys?
PARMALEE: I think it’s definitely how up close and personal you get with the fans.
When you’re playing a big festival you’re still 30-40 feet from the people. So it’s good to be able to have everyone up close and personal.
CURRENTS: Do you cover a lot of those songs that were your favorites and your inspiration whenever you do a live show?
PARMALEE: Oh, absolutely. We do a medley of Allman Brothers, and Travis Tritt, Marshall Tucker. We do some Bob Seeger and Marvin Gaye. We do all that.
CURRENTS: Excellent. One last thing, any direct message to your fans out here so we can get them hyped up for the show?
PARMALEE: Yeah, check out the new “Carolina” on Vivo. Go to our Parmalee Twitter, @Parmalee, to kind of keep in touch. That’s where we’ll be updating day-to-day things.
But tell them to get ready because we’re coming to have a good time, and it’s going to be fun.
Parmalee’s country rock sound has its roots in the bluegrass, traditional country, Southern rock and blues, covers the guys grew up hearing their families play.
Matt and Scott Thomas grew up near Greenville, N.C., watching their father Jerry front a popular local Southern rock blues band. The boys watched and learned, picking up their own instruments and jamming along with their dad’s band.
From this they learned how to integrate their own style into the songs they were playing. Barry Knox, who played drums for the church choir, loved what his cousins were doing and soon joined them.
All that practice paid off one night when Matt and Scott, then teenagers, snuck into a club to watch their father perform.
“The guitar player got too drunk before the gig and didn’t show,” Matt explains. “I knew all the songs so my dad called me on stage. I was in the band from that point on.”
Scott replaced the drummer, and Barry learned bass in order to secure his spot in the band. The lineup became the newly minted The Thomas Brothers Band.
The Thomas Brothers Band cut their teeth on the local club circuit and would often share the same marquee with a cover band that starred their friend Josh McSwain on guitar and keys.
Josh’s upbringing paralleled Matt, Scott and Barry’s. Josh also traveled and played with his father who was in a bluegrass band called “Get Honked.” A fan of Josh’s musical prowess, Matt invited Josh to play with Barry, Scott and himself. The foursome clicked immediately on stage.
Their first gig was held at a local watering hole, Corrigans, near East Carolina University where the guys went to school. From that moment in 2001 Parmalee was born.
The band set up camp every Tuesday and Thursday evening in the Parmele, N.C., barn they named Studio B after its original builder Mark Bryant. They added an extra “e” to the band’s name to make it easier for those outside the area to pronounce it.
“Tuesdays and Thursdays were the only nights we could all get together and rehearse — the rest of the time we were each out working in order to fund Parmalee,” Matt says. “Every person in town could hear us practice in the barn, so we also had to stop at 11 p.m. to be considerate of the neighborhood.”
The residents of Parmele weren’t the only ones within earshot. The band developed a devout regional following based on the intensity of their live shows. But, the guys knew to turn their dreams into reality they would have to leave North Carolina. Their journey took them all over the country, including New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta as they tried to find their musical direction. All of the producers, managers, and label representatives said the same thing: “You guys need to be in Nashville.”
Matt, Barry and Josh parked their RV, which doubled as their studio, in the Comfort Inn parking lot on Nashville’s famed Demonbreun Street near Music Row. For the next month the parking lot was home and office. They began writing new material and networking. Their new connections led to a co-writing session with David Fanning, who is part of the celebrated production team New Voice with Kurt Allison, Tully Kennedy and Rich Redmond.
“Going into these appointments, you never know who you’re going to meet or how it’s going to go,” Matt explains. “But when I wrote with David, we hit it off.”
During the same weekend as the infamous Nashville flood, Parmalee and Fanning wrote “Musta Had a Good Time” — even recording the demo in the RV’s recording “studio” — oblivious to the devastation that was happening to the city around them. After the “Flood Sessions,” Parmalee went into the studio with New Voice to record some sides, including “Carolina,” and “Musta Had a Good Time.” NV played the songs for BBR Music Group President/CEO Benny Brown who was impressed and asked to see a showcase as soon as the band returned to Nashville.
Parmalee put together a short tour in North Carolina to fund the trip back to Music City. But after the first show, plans changed.
After their Sept. 21, 2010, show, Josh and Barry were packing gear in the venue while Matt and Scott were outside loading their RV when two armed men knocked on the door. The men put a gun to Matt’s head and demanded money. Shots were fired. Scott, who possessed a concealed weapons license, fired back. One of the gunmen died and Scott was shot three times. One bullet hit Scott’s femoral artery causing him to nearly bleed to death. “He bled out on the air flight to Charlotte, and his heart stopped twice,” Matt recalls. “When we got to the hospital, the doctor gave him a 5 percent chance to live.”
Scott was hospitalized in Charlotte, N.C., for 35 days — 10 of which he spent in a coma. News of the shooting spread like wildfire and the local news stations carried weekly reports on Scott’s progress. Parmalee’s fans turned out in droves to show their support. Through Facebook campaigns and benefits they raised enough money to help cover Scott’s medical bills. The Nashville community also rallied behind Parmalee donating autographed items and VIP packages to help cover Scott’s medical expenses. “We knew we had a lot of friends and fans,” Josh says. “But we found out exactly how many we had.”
By February 2011, Scott was well enough to get behind a drum kit for the first time and the band finally performed their promised label showcase. “We wouldn’t tell everybody how bad off I was because there was no way I wasn’t going to play that show,” Scott says. “I was in a leg brace, but I only had to get through six songs. Parmalee had fought for so much for so long that we decided we hadn’t come this far to stop now.” Through sheer willpower, the band nailed the set and landed a deal with Stoney Creek Records, home to ACM Vocal Duo of the Year Thompson Square and chart-topper Randy Houser.
Looking back on their experiences, the members of Parmalee have no regrets about the path they chose. “All the obstacles and craziness we’ve been through allowed us to help find our home in Nashville,” Matt says. “It took us going through all that to mold us,” Barry continues. “In Hollywood and New York we were always pushed in opposite directions. But Nashville helped us capture our sound – a sound that’s authentic to who we are as both artists and as people.”
“Artists like Jason Aldean and Eric Church helped pave the way for our country rock sound. If you think of Jason Aldean as the rockin’ side of country then think of Parmalee as the country side of rock,” Matt explains.
All of Parmalee’s hard work, dedication and perseverance is paying off in a big way. Country fans voted the band’s debut single, “Musta Had A Good Time,” No. 1 for four consecutive weeks on SiriusXM’s The Highway “Hot 30 LIVE” countdown and the song became a Top 40 hit on mainstream country radio.
The fun-loving party anthem has been featured in national sporting event broadcasts from the PGA to MLB. Parmalee has been highlighted in USA Today, AOL’s The Boot, Country Aircheck, Country Weekly and on CNN as well as been named a “Bubbling Under Artist” by Billboard magazine.
Parmalee’s current single, “Carolina,” was the second most added song at Country Radio upon its debut, only behind superstar Kenny Chesney. “Carolina” is nearly cresting Top 30 on the Billboard Country Airplay and Mediabase charts. It is also the band’s second consecutive single to be fan-voted No. 1 on SiriusXM’s The Highway “Hot 30 LIVE” countdown. The signs are clear that after a long, tumultuous journey to Nashville, Parmalee is home at last.
Watch the official “Carolina” music video here: http://www.vevo.com/watch/parmalee/carolina/US58E1290352
The song pays homage to the band’s home state of North Carolina as well as to life on the road — something to which fans from many walks of life can relate.