"We get to sing like we talk in this record," explains Parmalee frontman Matt Thomas of his band's new release, Feels Like Carolina, which was released this week straight on the heels of its debut single, "Carolina," hitting No. 1 on the country charts."These lyrics are country."
"We’re all country guys, we talk country, we use country terms," he adds, offering up a few examples with a grin. "Fine as frog hair? Hangin' in there like a hair in a cheese biscuit?"
That's no joke: The guys in Parmalee are authentic through-and-through. Although the band (which is labelmates with one of country's most shape-shifting artists, Jason Aldean) does manage to mix an admirable blend of different musical genres into its core sound, Nashville is definitely where it's at for these guys.
In addition to a country pedigree, the Parmalee crew is sewn together with some pretty tight bonds: Thomas's brother Scott, cousin Barry Knox, and longtime buddy Josh McSwain, all from the same town in North Carolina (Parmele, which inspired their their name). This closeness has served the quartet well over a history that's included stops in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and eventually Music City in a quest to find the perfect home for their sound, which has gone through considerable evolution over the years.
The brothers Thomas grew up with a musician dad, who played southern rock and passed on that influence to his sons. Meanwhile, when not listening to the Allman Brothers or Bob Seger, the boys drank up all the other musical jams going on--everything from pop radio to Nirvana to Snoop Dogg to Bon Jovi. Appropriately, the first recording the band ever made (ca. 2002) was a serious blend: "There’s a pop song, there’s a rock song, there’s a country song, there’s a reggae song, and there’s a techno song."
Not knowing exactly which direction to take -- "Where we grew up, there was no music industry, nobody to tell us ‘this is what you should do'" -- Parmalee eventually found a manager who had ties to NYC and sent the band there to start exploring its path. "It was just a place to go. Nobody knew what to tell us, really, so wherever it was big we were going to go."
From there, they found themselves hopping around the country working with different producers and professionals. "it took us quite a few years to find our home," the guys all admit. "The whole thing was, nobody could label our music. But one day out in L.A. this guy said, “Guys, this stuff is Nashville stuff. You need to be in Nashville.” I think it took us a few years to evolve into what we really it wanted to be."
Having made that decision, Parmalee began to make increasingly frequent visits to Music City. Before the band made its permanent move to Nashville, however, tragedy struck. Those who have followed the band over the past few years are no doubt familiar with their fateful run-in with a robber in 2010, which resulted in drummer Scott almost losing his life to gunshot wounds. He was given only a 5 percent chance of survival at the time, but managed to miraculously pull through and return to his musical career.
"We almost lost this guy, but getting him better, getting him healthy, all brought us even tighter," the band agrees. "It was at that point, we were like, if this guy gets better--full steam ahead, screw everybody, we’re going to do this."
"When that happened we were so close to moving to Nashville. When he got hurt, it put the brakes on everything. But, it helped Scott in his rehabilitation because it gave him something to work towards. It wasn’t just getting better—it was getting good enough to play the drums. We’re still going after this record deal. Nashville’s waiting!"
Scott himself agrees this was a key factor in his recovery. "The record label did wait—we didn’t really tell them how bad it was," he says with a smile. "But they were supportive. In my head I was just like get well, get well, we’re going, we’re gonna push forward. So it did help.”
It helped in a roundabout way with the band's new album as well, setting a bright intention for the set overall. "When we were writing this record and picking songs, we’re just at a better point in our musical career." Matt notes. "I wanna make people smile at our shows. We’ve been through so much negative stuff —the thing now is that we want all positive stuff. And that’s how we went at these songs. It’s just fun and I think it’ll be fun for fans to listen to."
A decade since Parmalee started, the guys feel settled and satisfied with where their sometimes confusing journey has taken them and how their music has evolved. "It just took that amount of time to get out there for our roads to cross with what Nashville was doing," they agree. "Country kind of changed and met us where we were."
You might even say they've hung in there like a hair in a cheese biscuit, right? The guys laugh. "We've just had a lot of opportunities," Matt smiles. "And we're the guys who took the opportunities."
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