Over the past decade, popular country band Parmalee has had a steady flow of hits. First breaking through with their number one hit “Carolina” in 2013, the group have since released three albums and been consistently on the charts. And currently, they’re riding high with a new hit “Take My Hand,” which is Top 5 and still moving up.
Parmalee is a quartet that is mostly a family band. Originally from the small town of Parmele, North Carolina, they are led by lead singer & main songwriter Matt Thomas. The band also features his brother Scott Thomas (who plays drums), cousin Barry Knox (bass) and their longtime friend Josh McSwain (guitar). The group started when they were teenagers, and they released a few albums (between 2002 & 2008) before they had breakout success in 2013 with their album, Feels Like Carolina (on Stoney Creek Records).
The success of Parmalee’s new hit “Take My Hand” follows up their previous #1 hit “Just The Way,” which was a duet between the band and singer/rapper, Blanco Brown (who had a hit with his song, “The Git Up”). “Take My Hand” and “Just The Way” are both included on the band’s latest album, For You (also on Stoney Creek Records), which was released in July 2021. This album is a strong collection of country/pop songs that includes highlights such as the leadoff track “Only You,” “Backroad Girl” and the title cut, “For You.” All of the songs were co-written by Matt Thomas.
For You also includes some notable guest collaborations. The band teamed up with hit pop artist Fitz (of Fitz and The Tantrums) for the fun, playful cut “Greatest Hits.” And the album features rising female artist Avery Anna on the song, “Forget You.” Anna is now moving up the charts with her own single, “Narcissist.”
Currently, Parmalee is in the midst of a national concert tour, playing headlining shows. Then later this year, they’ll be opening for country star Walker Hayes on a major tour.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Matt Thomas of Parmalee. He tells how the band got started and how they wrote their first #1 hit, “Carolina.” He also discusses their latest hits “Take My Hand” and “Just The Way,” and their album, For You.
DK: Parmalee is mostly a family band, with your brother Scott, your cousin Barry, and your friend, Josh McSwain. How did the band come together?
Here’s the video of Parmalee’s hit, “Take My Name.”
Matt Thomas: Me and my brother Scott and our first cousin, Barry, grew up around music, with my dad being in a band. We got the music bug when we were kids, and we wanted to play. So we started messin’ around and eventually ended up in the band with my dad, and he groomed us and got us going. And Josh grew up the same way. He was in a band with his dad growing up as a kid, and we met Josh and hit it off, and we wanted to start writing our own music. At that point, we were kind of tired of playing our dad’s old stuff. So that’s how it came about…it started as a family thing.
DK: In 2013, you had a hit with “Carolina,” which you and the band wrote together. How did you write this song?
Thomas: Yeah, that was a pretty crazy thing (for it to reach #1). We came up with an idea together—“she feels like Carolina, looks like California.” In 2007, we did a showcase and some dude from Atlantic Records named Kim Stephens showed up, but we knew he wasn’t going to sign us. Then at the end of the showcase, I asked him, “Hey, if you did sign us, what would you have us do?” And he said, “I’d have you go work with a guy named Rick Beato.” You might know Rick now because he’s famous for his YouTube music channel.
Anyway I said, “Cool, thank you for coming.” The next day, I found out who Rick was and called him up, and we went and visited him. We played him a bunch of songs that we wanted to record, and one of the songs that we had was a demo of “Carolina” that was half-done. And I said, “Do you wanna finish it with us?” So we finished that song in the studio with him, and recorded the first version, which was released in 2008. It was just a collaboration of things we had started and it’s crazy how things happen sometime. I always try to find a positive light in something, and not be disgruntled about a lot of things. We could have left that showcase and said, “Screw that guy…he’s not signing us.” But instead I picked his brain…I wanted to know what he would do. As it turns out, it was a good move (laughs).
DK: I like your new hit, “Take My Name.” Can you tell the story behind writing that song?
Here’s the video of Parmalee & Blanco Brown’s hit, “Just The Way.”
Thomas: I have to give credit to our co-writers Ben Johnson and Ashley Gorley. We had written with Ashley before, and we needed a follow-up to “Just The Way.” They had this idea…Take My Name. When they said it’s a “wedding song,” I ain’t gonna lie. I said, ”Ahhh…I don’t know (laughs). It’s not really our thing in our band.” But once we started working it through, I loved it because my brother just got married. And once we started laying it out, I was like, “We’ve gotta say it how a guy like me would say it.” And that’s how we came up with the way the melody in the verses go.
“Take My Hand” was a great idea that we tossed around the room, and one thing about being out here in Nashville for 10 plus years, I listened. I listened to what these guys, who’ve had several hits, were saying. You’ve got to listen through it first, because they’re here for a reason. I learned that, and that was a blessing with this song. And I’ll never forget when I started playing it for the guys in the band. They were like, “Whoa…there’s something there on that one” (laughs).
DK: Your latest album also includes your hit, “Just The Way,” which you did with Blanco Brown. How did you team up with Blanco for this song?
Thomas: I had written the song around August 2018. I was out in California and we were on a tour, and I had the day off. So I reached out to my publisher at Sony, and I said, “I want to write while I’m out here.” So they hooked us up, and one dude that I’d written with, Kevin Bard, brought in his buddy, (writer/producer) Nolan Sipe. We wrote the song and we had two or three different versions of it. We all loved it, and we felt there was something good about the song, but it wasn’t quite right yet.
When we got back together with our manager & producer David Fanning, he was like, “Yes, it just not right yet. Why don’t you let me produce it and let’s go get Blanco Brown on it.” Strangely, we had been friends with Blanco for a couple years, even before he had a hit with “The Git Up.” At an awards show, we noticed that Blanco was talking to some label heads. We were curious, so we introduced ourselves and we exchanged numbers. Then about six months later, he came to Nashville and we hung out and became friends. About six months after that, he put out “The Git Up” and that thing took off viral. And when we were working on “Just The Way,” our producer had the idea to get Blanco on it, so thank goodness we were friends and we’d already worked together.
Here’s the video of Parmalee’s song, “Only You.”
DK: “Just The Way” has a positive lyric theme about loving people just the way they are, and the video is good, too. What inspired you to write this song?
Thomas: We wrote it at a time when I felt that everybody needed something positive, and later when the pandemic hit, you couldn’t have a better timing for our theme for this song. You know, anytime a positive message comes up in a song, I’m always down for it. We’re always like…“Positive uptempo.” If it’s a love song and it’s positive and uptempo, it’s probably going to be the one that [the label will choose]. They have these motivational signs in some writing rooms in Nashville—“Positive plus uptempo equals cash” (laughs).
DK: On your latest album, I also like your song “Greatest Hits” which has a fun title and lyrics. How did you team up with Fitz (of Fitz & The Tantrums) and write this song?
Thomas: I’m a fan of Fitz, and he’s friends with two of the writers—Kevin Bard and Nolan Sipe—who I wrote “Just The Way” with. So when we were working on “Greatest Hits,” they asked me, “Why don’t we get Fitz on this song?” I said, “Hell yeah, I’m in.” We had the song, and what’s he came in, it took on a whole different life. So it was great to have him jump on one of our songs.
DK: I like your ballad, “Forget You,” that features new artist Avery Anna. How did you connect with Avery on this song?
Thomas: Well, I was actually the one who discovered her on TikTok and turned her on to our manager & producer, David Fanning. I was writing in the fall of the pandemic, and David had been talking about wanting to find a girl to manage in country music. And I was like, “Alright, let’s see what we can do.” So we were scrolling through and I came across this girl Avery on TikTok. She was singing in a bathtub, and her voice just blew me away. I loved it…this girl’s got a great voice, great range. And I told David, “Hit her up. Let’s see what’s up with her.” He immediately got in touch with her, and next thing you know, she’s on board with our management team and we started working with her. Then we wrote “Forget You” and we were thinking, “We need a girl for this song, and the coolest voice I know is Avery. Let’s get her on it. It would be awesome.” So she sang on it, and it was really cool to have that happen the way it did.
Here’s the video of Parmalee’s song, “Backroad Girl.”
DK: And now Avery has her own hit on the charts with her song, “Narcissist.”
Thomas: Right on! It’s a win-win. I’m happy for her and I’m happy to be a part of it. She’s just so talented. She opened up for us the other day and it’s awesome with everything going on and how well she’s doing.
DK: With your songwriting, you often write with top writers in Nashville, and you also write with your band. Can you talk about your songwriting process, working with outside writers, and writing with your band?
Thomas: Writing with the band happens on the road, when we’re all together. When we’re off the road, we’ve been together so long, it’s hard to get back together unless we have a media day or something like that. So a lot of the ideas we have with the band will start on the road, and maybe I’ll take it home and finish it, or take it to somebody else.
The great thing about Nashville is you have all these amazing songwriters right here in town, and there are hit songs being written every day. If you’re lucky enough to be in the room with one of those people, it’s awesome. The general rule out here is you need to be here to win. And I feel there’s so many opportunities out here, so many things that might happen that would never happen anywhere else on Earth, that could happen in this little area code. Somebody might call me this afternoon and say “Hey man, somebody fell out of this write. Do you want to jump in?” And I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” And it ends up being a hit. It’s not going to happen like that often (laughs), but it could happen.
DK: Currently, you and the band are on tour, and you have shows lined up for the rest of this year. How does it feel to be back on the road and playing to fans again?
Thomas: Oh it’s great, man. And the great thing is a lot of these fans are seeing us for the first time. Obviously, we have our core fanbase, but a lot of people are coming because of “Just The Way” and “Take My Name” and the new album, which is really exciting. And we’re adding more concert dates. Then later this year, we’re going out on tour with Walker Hayes.
DK: Thank you Matt for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet, that you’d like to mention for this article?
Thomas: We’ve just started working on a book that we’re hashing out right now. It will be about all the stuff we’ve been through, the ups and downs. We’ll be doing a four-way perspective, with each of us telling from our own perspectives. It will be our story told from four points of view. The book will be more inspirational; it will focus on the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives.