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Cuts The Deepest: Parmalee

By Carena Liptak

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It’s been a long road for Parmalee, particularly in learning who they are and what their sound is. Forming in the late 90s / early 2000s, they came of age during a time when true “country bands” were few and far between; so many were inspired by blues and rock groups like Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and the Allman Brothers.

“We’ve always been a rock-based band that had country elements, so we couldn’t necessarily do the rock thing everybody else was doing,” says lead vocalist Matt Thomas. “People were trying to push us in those directions [toward being a rock band] and they couldn’t ever really get it out of us. We always had to carve our own lane”.

Together with his brother and bandmate Scott Thomas, the singer grew up with early influences from their musical dad, who got his band back together around the time his two sons were starting to learn to play instruments themselves. As teenagers, they joined their dad’s band, performing classic covers as well as a few original songs. Eventually, with the addition of their cousin Barry Knox and childhood friend Josh McSwain, the musicians became Parmalee.

They moved to Nashville and began honing their sound but struggled to strike that balance between their country roots, rock edge and love for pop-inspired, hooky melodies. Finally, they found the nexus of all three with their first-ever No. 1 hit, 2013’s ‘Carolina’ - a song that took years and multiple iterations to get just right.

As they slowly worked toward finding that sound, Parmalee took inspiration and songwriting influence from a wide range of songs and artists. “I go back and listen to some of our demos now and think, ‘Ah, this sounds like this or that song that I was listening to at the time'”, Thomas remembers. “We were just trying and couldn’t figure it out until we wrote ‘Carolina’”.

“We stumbled around until we finally found that song,” Thomas acknowledges. “We wrote ‘Carolina’ in 2007, and at the end of 2013, almost seven years later, it went to No. 1”.

Now, eight years later, Thomas shares some of those mile marker songs and albums with Holler for Cuts The Deepest. Here, he traces Parmalee’s influences - from their early days as 12-year-old guitar hopefuls all the way to the inspirations for their new album, For You, and genre-bending hit collaboration with Blanco Brown, ‘Just the Way’.

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Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East

Our dad was our biggest influence - he turned us on to a lot of this stuff that he was digging. When I first started playing guitar, my dad got his band back together at about the same time. So, I was trying to learn all these licks off the Allman Brothers album - ‘Statesboro Blues’ was probably number one. If you’re a guitar player and you’re learning how to play slide, that’s the holy grail right there.

I know [fellow Parmalee guitarist] Josh [McSwain] would say Pearl Jam, Ten. That was his big album. I always stuck with the old-school Allman Brothers. But we just love guitar-driven music, especially me and Josh. Growing up being in a jam band with your dad, playing blues and stuff, that kind of thing was really our number-one go-to.

Jason Aldean – ‘She’s Country’

When I heard ‘She’s Country’ by Jason Aldean, and I saw the guys that were in his band, I thought “Wait a minute! These are tatted-up rock ‘n’ roll dudes playing a rock ‘n’ roll song, but they’ve got a country singer!”

When Eric Church and Jason Aldean came out, they gave country a little rock edge. That gave us a little lane to slip into, a little crossroads where we could insert our sound. We ended up working with Jason’s band on the production of Feels Like Carolina, our first album, so that all really tied together.

Travis Tritt – ‘Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)’

‘Here’s a Quarter’ by Travis Tritt was a major influence. To me, that was country music. That’s how we envisioned singing when we first came up. We were playing a lot of old stuff with [my dad] - a lot of Southern soul and a lot of blues-based stuff, Southern rock, that kind of thing. Country music was more like Travis Tritt – it was this Southeastern kind of sound.

Justin Bieber – ‘Peaches’

Mom would always listen to pop. I grew up riding around in her car and she had the radio on all the time - it was always the pop station. The Top 40 was always on in the background. I love pop because I love melodies. I’ll always be a melody guy. I think there’s so many great melodies out there in pop-land. I go through a lot of pop and country playlists - that’s how I find new songs I really love. I did that a lot working on this album.

Justin Bieber’s killing it. He’s coming out with song after song, melody after melody, and I’m like, “This is killer”. That song ‘Peaches’ was great, and that’s just recent stuff. Those songs come out so fast, they blow up charts and they’re gone, then another one comes out. As I said, I just like to surf in there and find things I like. I listen to a lot of Pop Rising on Spotify.

Marvin Gaye – ‘Let’s Get it On’

Marvin's definitely one of my favorite singers. Marvin’s voice is just so amazing, and I’ve always loved that song. It’s one of those songs where I never turn it off when it comes on the radio. I can’t turn it! I mean, I can’t count the thousands of times we’ve played it, whether that’s onstage or some late-night, drinking party. If you break out ‘Let’s Get it On’, it’s gonna be a good time.

Parmalee's new album, For You, is out now via This Is Hit / Stoney Creek Records. Watch the video for 'Just The Way' below.