Parmalee is four family members and friends who’ve been playing together for more than ten years. Their musical journey has taken then across the country and back, living in New York, L.A. and Nashville as well as their native North Carolina. They’ve scrambled through the underbrush where country, rock, soul and other musical styles meet and mingle. Now, though, with the release of their debut country album for new label Stoney Creek, those years of exploring and honing their sound have paid off handsomely.
Parmalee consists of brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, their cousin Barry Knox and their longtime friend Josh McSwain. The four of them started playing together in the early ’00s in a barn in the North Carolina town of Parmale (they modified the spelling slightly so it’s easier to pronounce).
While the band has flirted with rock styles here and there, they’ve always felt country was their home — a sentiment you can hear clearly in their current single “Carolina,” which just this week became the group’s first-ever No. 1.
“The song is about home,” lead singer Matt Thomas told Radio.com, “and how the people you love can make you feel at home,” whether you’re there in person or just talking to them on the phone. “They just put you back in that comfort zone.”
“We’re always gone, away from our families,” he continued, noting that in recent years they’ve spent a lot of time on the road. And so “coming home was always a big deal,” which is “how that song came about. We were out in California for a while, and we came back to North Carolina. And I just had this thought, and we parlayed it into a relationship song. It fit, and I think it’s a great embodiment of us as a band, me as a singer and our sound in general.”
Taken as a whole, though, Parmalee’s album Feels Like Carolina shows a wide range of styles and emotions, from the loneliness that permeates “Carolina” to the easygoing “Day Drinking,” the nostalgic “Back in the Day” and the good-natured party song “Musta Had a Good Time.”
The latter is one of their best-known songs, having been released as a single a couple years back. It was conceived, though, under unusual circumstances: They wrote it (and recorded a demo version of the song) while temporarily living in an R.V. in the parking lot of a Nashville motel during the city’s 2010 flood.
“We’re at a point in our lives where we just want everyone to have a good time,” said Matt Thomas. “We want to write happy, fun songs and I want to smile when I’m singing a song.”
“There’s a lot of good time stuff” on the album, Knox agreed, “but also, we’ve done this for a long time, so we’ve definitely gone through some crazy events. And when you’re writing songs, you can’t help but have that stuff come out.”
“When we started this band, we didn’t have a direction,” Knox continued. “We had a little barn in Parmale, we’d play music, drink beer and have fun.” Now, though, they’re in a whole new place both personally and professionally with a huge roster of experiences under their belts. “I think it took a few years for us to finally figure out what our sound was,” said Knox. “And once we figured that out, then we had a direction.”
Feels Like Carolina hits stores and digital outlets today.