From this tiny town that’s home to a gas station, two blinking yellow lights, and a small tin- roofed barn dubbed Studio B, country rockers Parmalee launched their long journey to Nashville. The near-fatal robbery Parmalee experienced after a show would have destroyed most bands. But brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and longtime friend Josh McSwain didn’t call it quits. Instead it reinforced their intense motivation and dedication to one another and to their determination to succeed.
Each obstacle that delayed Parmalee’s arrival to Nashville was an extra mile that allowed the groundbreaking sounds of artists like Jason Aldean and Eric Church to pave the way for the worlds of country radio and Parmalee’s brand of country music to meet at the perfect crossroad.
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, NC 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 line-up 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 local watering hole, Corrigans, near East Carolina University where the guys went to school. From this moment in 2001 Parmalee was born.
The band set up camp every Tuesday and Thursday evening in the Parmele, NC 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 September 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 five percent chance to live.”
Scott was hospitalized in Charlotte, NC 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,” #1 for 4 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 was named a “Bubbling Under Artist” by Billboard magazine (June 2013) and one of Clear Channel’s NEW! Artists to Watch in 2013. MTV Networks also hand picked Parmalee to perform as part of its 2013 O Music Awards.
Parmalee’s current single, “Carolina,” is a Top 10 hit and continues to soar up the Country radio charts. “Carolina” is also the band’s second consecutive single to be fan-voted #1 on SiriusXM’s The Highway “Hot 30 LIVE” countdown. Now, Parmalee is gearing up for the release of its debut album for Stoney Creek Records, Feels Like Carolina, on December 10, 2013.