“Suntans and white tank tops….Summertime and no flip flops…..A little country, a little rock, yeah, yeah.” Sounds like summer in Parmele, North Carolina, where four guys grew up and nurtured their musical roots. Matt and Scott Thomas are brothers who grew up in Parmele along with their cousin, Barry Knox, and friend, Josh McSwain. Barely a dot on the map with a population of just 278, the closest concert venue was 88 miles away in Raleigh. The Walnut Creek Amphitheatre opened in 1991 and has played host to over 20 years of live music, including many concerts these guys attended. Watching some of their favorite bands perform on the big stage fueled their dreams of becoming a band worthy of playing here some day. Ten years after the opening of this venue, in 2001, these brothers formed a band that was as much a product of their musical influences as it was their talent and home town. Once Parmele born and bred, now bound together as Parmalee.
“I’ll Bring the Music” – Feels Like Carolina
For those old enough to remember the tape deck and the audio cassettes it played, it was a tedious process to fast forward to the exact spot you were looking for in the music. Oftentimes you had to rewind when you overshot it and fast forward again to hit it just right. This is much like the process a band goes through in their formative years. I met with Parmalee on their tour bus outside the WVU Coliseum, where they were set to open for Brad Paisley on the winter leg of his Country Nation World Tour. They were comfortably confident on this day that they were prepared for the task. Their set list for the evening opened with “I’ll Bring the Music,” but to find out where that music came from, we’ll have to rewind to the music they were listening to “Back in the Day.”
“Back in the Day” – Feels Like Carolina
Watching the bands play live at Walnut Creek is how Parmalee learned to play like one. Pearl Jam, The Allman Brothers Band, and Foo Fighters were among their favorites, but it wasn’t just the music that influenced them. Bands such as these have longevity on their side and it shows in their live performances. Studying them is how these four guys honed their stage presence as a band. In the studio, there are a lot of things to play with that can affect the recorded sound. Live, it’s all about what you can make happen as a group in the moment, which means skill and interaction must balance to put on a high quality, entertaining show.
Fast forward to the stage they’ll be playing on with Brad Paisley. When selecting the songs for the set list, knowing your audience is key. Parmalee makes it their job to figure out what kind of crowd they’re playing to and uses the opportunities they have to play something they would like. Whether the fans prefer Bob Seger or Snoop Dog, they “Think You Oughta Know That.” Many of today’s headlining acts play to pre-recorded tracks. Parmalee doesn’t. Everything you hear, they’re actually playing. Their philosophy is if you’ve come to see a live show, you want it to sound live. Part of the fun for a band is keeping it fresh on stage and creating unique moments within each performance. Doing that means knowing your bandmates well enough to anticipate each other’s moves and react accordingly. Within their set, there is no down time for these four guys. Creating a live, organic performance means working through every minute on stage as if the band’s success depends on it. Unlike the headliner, whose set is likely in sync with lights, sounds, and videos, Parmalee has some leeway to change things up and still have their lighting engineer on target. Matt knows his limitations when the mood strikes to stray from the preset program and keeps it fresh, yet manageable.
“Think You Oughta Know That” – Feels Like Carolina
For Parmalee, being a band means their approach to the set list is creating an outline for an original performance. It is in no way a simple reproduction of their recorded album. Within several of their songs, it works well to add snippets of popular music covers that vary based on the audience. Call it creating a live mixtape on the fly. One of the advantages they have to playing songs not everyone is familiar with is vocal flexibility. Fans become attached to their favorite songs as they were recorded. How it was sung on the one day of its recording is pressed in our memories. When the singer strays from that version, audiences don’t always react favorably. As the lead vocalist, Matt tries to stay close to the recorded sound while changing it up as he sees fit. As for the music, Scott says he never plays the drums live the way he played on the record. His versatility pushes the rest of the guys to adjust and create in the moment. Today, Parmalee is an outstanding live band because they understand and embrace this concept and can adjust to suit any size venue or setting.
With only four guys to create the sound of Parmalee, instrument choice and volume control matter. How much equipment they’re toting depends on the size of the room that sound has to fill. Looking back, the guys credit playing all those shows in small rooms when they were just starting out for giving them a full spectrum vantage point. Being able to “Move” seamlessly between different sized venues, and not compromise their sound, is something Parmalee has done for years. They may play an acoustic setting where no amps are required one night and switch to two electric guitars and a bass the next in an arena. More equipment is needed to produce the volume an arena demands and how loud the drums are will determine how high that volume needs to go. Making adjustments is what sound check is for.
“Move” – Feels Like Carolina
Parmalee has the middle slot on Brad Paisley’s tour, which means their sound check will come after his band has finished and before the opening act, The Swon Brothers, gets their turn. I asked them for their assessment of being in the middle relative to what they were used to. For most of the years they’ve been playing together, they’ve headlined their own shows, playing sets as long as 75+ minutes. They’ve had the opening slot at festivals but not on an organized tour, essentially skipping that step to where they are here. Being in the middle makes them less vulnerable to what happens during the day, which can lead to delays and a crunch for time. Opening acts take the fall for what may go awry on show days, sometimes missing a sound check entirely and having to “throw and go” when the lights go down. Parmalee’s set on this tour is 45 minutes long, “a breeze,” they called it, from what they’re used to as a headliner. Comparatively, they said an opening act may have two songs the audience is familiar with in a short set. Parmalee said they have three songs the fans may know and a longer time to entertain with songs they don’t. Their new single, “Already Callin’ You Mine,” was just released to radio, making it one more the fans will soon recognize off their debut album, Feels Like Carolina. There are no cover songs in Parmalee’s set, so the songs on the album get shuffled to make up the set list. It would be the launch of this first album that set the wheels of their tour bus in motion.
“Already Callin’ You Mine” – Feels Like Carolina
Download the new single through iTunes: HERE
The first thing I asked about, when I sat with the guys for this interview, was the bus we were sitting on. They’ve done a lot of traveling in their 14 years as a band, most of which was not on a comfortable tour bus. Van and trailer gigs are the norm for a band starting out, and Parmalee said that getting the bus is probably the biggest change for a band. When they started playing the big festivals, the bus became a necessity, making their time on the road a whole lot easier. A tour bus is considered a big perk for a band, but Josh said having a crew with them now is an even bigger perk. When I asked what the criteria was for hiring a crew, the guys laughed and said, “Getting paid enough to have one.” Fair enough. Last year, they were able to hire two guys to assist them. Now, they have six crew members and a driver along for the ride, making it a snug fit with 11 guys on the bus. They’re also hauling a trailer packed from top to bottom with equipment. Prior to having the crew, they would arrive for a show and have to set everything up themselves. They said it’s taken about a year to find the right guys that fit the bill and the budget, mostly going by word of mouth recommendations and choosing from what they called a small community of roadies in Nashville. The other big change for them this year is finding themselves on stage with someone they idolized, Brad Paisley. Brad is one of the most skilled guitar players in Nashville, and that fact is not lost on these guys. Sharing the stage with him has left Parmalee a little awed by where they are and cognizant of where they’ve been. Now that they have the bus, they can toast this with a little “Day Drinkin’” in style.
“Day Drinkin’” – Feels Like Carolina
Between show dates, the guys are back home in Nashville working on their upcoming new album. There is no scheduled release date for it yet, but we discussed the process of recording in Nashville, which is unlike any other place in the world. Taking advantage of present day technology and the resources they have available in Nashville makes them appreciate how far we’ve come in the evolution of music. The guys remember listening to things on the tape deck with their dads and said they came of age doing things on analog tape. They’ve gone through the process of making music in a lot of different ways, appreciating the experience for what it’s taught them. Only in Nashville can you potentially write a song, record the demo, have top musicians play on it, press it, and have it ready for sale in one day. Not that anyone does this, but Nashville has the resources to make it possible. Recognizing the advantages of digital music and the speed of the process, they still expressed a desire to have at least one of their albums pressed in vinyl. Having a record player, like Barry does, and a collection of vinyl albums is hip again. Perhaps if they get a vinyl copy of the new album, they can listen to it at Barry’s house, and talk about the days when vinyl was king. Just “Another Day Gone.”
“Another Day Gone” – Feels Like Carolina
In some ways, Parmalee has embraced the old school way of recording and settled into the process with their second album. They’ve found things easier this time around because they’ve gotten to know the songwriters better and have been able to write with some of the best in Nashville. They’re writing as much as they can, and with the luxury of not being pushed to finish the record, if a great song comes their way, they can opt to record it. They’ve recorded four songs so far, but the process is ongoing. It’s not as simple as going into the studio and in one day having a finished product. Parmalee works with New Voice Entertainment on the production process, a group comprised of Rich Redmond, Tully Kennedy, Kurt Allison, and David Fanning. Getting the four of them and the four guys from Parmalee in one room at the same time is a balancing act that requires finding small blocks of time over the course of a year to complete the process. They may cut 20 songs for the record and have to whittle it down to 12 or so, but that’s a positive problem. While writing is a big part of the new project, so is playing on the album. On most of the records recorded in Nashville, studio musicians are used instead of the guys who play on tour with the artist. These professionals can knock out a recording in one day. Parmalee, as a band, plays on their own records. They spend most of their time playing as a live band and that’s the sound they want to capture on the recordings. This requires time and patience to get it to sound the way they want it to, but they see it as part of being a band, and they love it. Like the lyrics of “My Montgomery” state, “trading these Chicago lights for fireflies,” there’s something to be said for finding brilliance in what comes naturally.
“My Montgomery” – Feels Like Carolina
From the studio to the venue, if there’s one thing Parmalee‘s music makes you want to do, it’s “Dance,” and in 2014, those dance floors got bigger. On select dates, Parmalee opened for Jake Owen on the Days of Gold Tour. If you saw one of these shows, you “Musta Had a Good Time.” This took them to small arenas and amphitheatres across the country. In addition to those dates, they played large festivals that sometimes had them performing for 60,000 people. They opened a show in Ohio for Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean and played Faster Horses in Michigan. Aside from the festivals though, the sold out crowd at the WVU Coliseum was the biggest they’d played for. As it so happened, I was witnessing Parmalee history, and this is just the start of a big year for them. They have three months on tour with Brad Paisley, after which they will go back to headlining their own shows again. Their first USO Tour is coming up in a couple of weeks. It’s a ten day trip and a chance to support the troops they’re looking forward to. In late April, they’ll be playing Stagecoach for the first time, and when the summer season arrives, they will once again be performing for multitudes at outdoor festivals.
“Dance” – Feels Like Carolina
When most people talk about their dreams, you picture it as something that exists only when you “Close Your Eyes.” When I asked Parmalee what their dream venues were, their eyes were wide open and looking towards the future. The three places that came out first were Madison Square Garden, The Hollywood Bowl, and Red Rocks. Then, almost in unison, they declared the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh their ultimate choice. “Carolina” became Parmalee’s first #1 single with lyrics that may have foreshadowed these dream choices. “…she feels like Carolina, looks like California, Shining like those New York lights on Broadway.” They’ve played the side stage at Walnut Creek but haven’t had the chance to play the main stage yet. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Having met these guys, one thing is certain, Carolina will always have their back as much as this band of brothers will always have each other’s. In their music, on the stage, and in life, these four guys exude a bond that is palpable. The music and the talent they play it with is entirely a product of who they are and where they came from. They take nothing for granted and appreciate the journey they’ve been on and the places it’s taken them so far. No matter what stage they play on, in any city in the world, as long as they can play music together the only way they know how, it Feels Like Carolina.
“Carolina” – Feels Like Carolina
From WAY North of Nashville…..Bev Miskus
All of the LIVE photos of Parmalee are courtesy of Bill McClintic at 90 East Photography. Visit his website to see additional photos and for booking information: http://www.90eastphotography.com/home.html
Feels Like Carolina is available through iTunes NOW for just $5.99! HERE
Read my review of Feels Like Carolina: http://waynorthofnashville.com/parmalee-ready-to-make-their-move/
Visit Parmalee’s website: http://parmalee.com/
Follow Parmalee on Twitter @parmalee
Follow Parmalee on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/parmaleemusic
For information on how you can join the Parmalee Famalee and all the amazing things they do, read my interview with Shari: http://waynorthofnashville.com/stand-by-me-superfans/
Become a member of the Parmalee Famalee on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/parmaleefamalee/
Follow Parmalee Famalee on Twitter @ParmaleeFamalee