They may have lost out to Lady Antebellum at the 2014 Teen Choice Awards August 10, but the guys in Parmalee aren’t complaining at all. In fact, the North Carolina-based band, which has taken a long journey to its current infecious country groove, was simply stoked to be nominated.
And, not a little surprised as well. “We’re blown away by it,” smiles frontman Matt Thomas of the nod for Choice Country Band 2014. “That thing came out of left field, we didn’t expect that! It’s our first big nomination… It’s really cool.”
It’s actually not too much of a shock that Parmalee is appealing in a big way to the teens, given that their latest video, “Close Your Eyes,” has a sweetly romantic vibe that’s hard to resist, featuring a homemade water slide and a summertime party that culminates in a tingle-inducing kiss. Both the song and the clip uniquely capture the feeling of being young, carefree, and crushing hard on that special someone…all along knowing there’s no school the next day.
“That’s how we grew up,” explains Matt. “Everybody’d meet, you’d go to a field, you had your girlfriend over here, and you had your couples split off…”
That is one childhood memory that I think everybody remembers,” adds bassist Barry Knox. “Everybody remembers their first kiss – you might not remember your second or third one, but everyone remembers the first one!”
As special as their first (respective) kisses is the fact that Parmalee has finally found the sweet spot in a musical path that they’ve been working on honing for some time. Thomas’s brother Scott, cousin Knox, and longtime buddy Josh McSwain all hail 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.
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 rock to rap. While this resulted in a musical repertoire considerably more colorful than your average country band, Parmalee discovered that initially it made fitting in a little more difficult.
“We’re the country side of a rock band, so you know, we were always kind of pushed in that direction, so we worked with a lot of different people,” Matt explains. “Nobody could figure out what to do with us because we were just a little bit different than everybody, we didn’t fit.”
However, as country fans well know, the landscape of country music gradually became more diverse over the years, resulting in Parmalee’s flexibility becoming an advantage in standing out from the crowd.
“When Jason Aldean and Eric Church and all those guys came out, they brought a lot of the rock edge. They were more like the rockin’ side of country guys. So they kind of opened the doors up, and we kept chugging and doing what we did,” Matt notes. “Luckily we kind of came to a good intersection where country radio was and where the country audience was — we had like a seat at the table, if you would. So, I think it’s a timing thing and a perseverance thing.”
Perseverance has served the band in more ways than simply putting their noses to the grindstone. 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 career. In 2013, Parmalee released the full-length Feels Like Carolina, with Scott back to health and full musical capacity.
Fans have responded to the band’s inspirational story in droves, something that the guys do not take for granted. “We’ve had countless people come up to us and say how we’ve inspired them to do this, do that, which just blows our mind, because we’re just a bunch of country guys that like to play music,” says Matt. “But yeah it happens. And I don’t even know what to say about it. Speechless.”
But, aside from the gratitude they feel for their devoted fanbase, Parmalee also is just plain feeling good about where they have arrived after a long journey. As Matt notes, Feels Like Carolina feels just right to them at this point in their journey.
“I think it’s a good representation of us right now, we’re always writing music and things are changing,” he says. “It’s always evolving, but it’s a good home base for our sound and I think all the songs on the record pretty much nail down who we are and what we’re all about.”