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Parmalee ‘Keep on Plugging’: Singer Matt Thomas Talks Hot New Single, ‘Close Your Eyes’

Parmalee
Photo by Ed Rode

Parmalee are a prime example of a 10-year “overnight” success story.

It’s actually been longer than that — the group formed in 2001. Consisting of brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and lifelong friend Josh McSwain, the group have been recording and performing steadily since the 2002 release of their first EP, ‘Daylight.’ The group’s forward momentum was threatened in 2010, when Scott was shot during an attempted robbery. He eventually made a full recovery.

It wasn’t until the 2013 release of their first album for Stoney Creek, titled ‘Feels Like Carolina,’ that the group came to widespread national notice. Its lead single, ‘Musta Had a Good Time,’ brought them to fans’ attention, but it was the next single, ‘Carolina,’ that proved their commercial breakthrough, landing at No. 1 on the US Country Airplay chart.

Parmalee’s latest single, ‘Close Your Eyes,’ has just reached the Top 30 and is steadily climbing. The group have been touring both in headlining slots and as a special guest on Jake Owen‘s current tour, spreading their infectious energy across the country the best way they know, one show at a time.

They are also nominated for Choice Country Group in the 2014 Teen Choice Awards, which are set to air on Fox on Aug. 10. Fans can vote here for their favorites in a wide variety of categories.

The Boot caught up with singer-guitarist Matt Thomas to talk about the new single, the group’s long struggle for success, how they’ve overcome hard times and more in a very entertaining and honest interview.

Congratulations for all the success you’re having. It’s amazing to see it all come together.

Well, I appreciate it. You know, we’re thankful for every bit we get and everything that happens. It’s really cool to have people connect with what we’re doing, and go out there across the country. It’s pretty awesome.

Your latest single is ‘Close Your Eyes.’ How did that song come to the band?

Right before we finished recording, I got a copy of this from a friend of mine. I listened to the song three times in a row, and usually that tells you that there’s something in that song right there. And when I heard the lyrics and the melody line, I was like, ‘Man, this is perfect.’ The feel of it was what we needed on the record. It’s just one of those songs that I just had to listen to over and over again, and those are the ones you grab up, if you get the opportunity to do it.

Our good friend Shane Minor and Adam Craig and Trent Tomlinson wrote it, and once we got in the studio and we played it and I sang on it, then everybody said, “Okay, this is it.” This song was one of those dark horses, I guess you’d call it, that made the record in the last minute.

What made you decide that it would be one of the singles from the album?

Well, we were going back and forth about it. It was tough, because ‘Carolina’ was such a big hit. People know the name of the band, and they know the name of that song, and we didn’t want to throw any more curve balls. Because ‘Musta Had a Good Time’ was just, right out of the box, it was just way out of left field, and thankfully it connected. But ‘Carolina’ was so different from ‘Musta Had a Good Time,’ we wanted to send something right down the pipeline that was familiar, that people would identify with us, and we feel like they can with that song. And also, once we put the record out, that was one that was getting a lot of hits and downloads online.

But I think the main thing was to come out with something that had the singing, the kind of harmonies going on that people would recognize that that’s Parmalee’s sound.

How is your version of the song different from the demo you originally heard?

It’s definitely more rockin’. Adam sang it on the demo, and he’s got a lot more country voice than I do. So we did a little more, there’s a little hiccup thing in the beat that we did, that we added to it, and there’s a little more movement. Their version was a little more piano-based. It’s just us doing our thing with it; when we go in and play, it just comes out like a Parmalee thing.

You’ve been out on the road with Jake Owen, in addition to your own headlining shows. Do you pace your show differently when you’re on a show with someone else, as opposed to your own shows?

We have to, because usually when we’re opening we do from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. We definitely have to change it up, which is cool, because headlining, we’re learning to entertain, because most people only know a song and a half, you know, until ‘Close Your Eyes’ gets bigger. So you’re entertaining people for 90 minutes on what you can do, and the good thing about going out and opening is that you really get to nail down, whether it’s your top five or top 10 songs, you just nail them down.

It’s all about entertaining everybody with whatever time you have, but you definitely have to have different set lists for different time slots.

You’ve been performing together for a long time. What’s the adjustment like, going into these gigantic places now?

Well, I think we’ve always looked at it from the stadium backward. Someone told us that a long time ago. We always thought big, and it’s really cool to be able to get onstage now and see the amount of people, and be able to have that energy.

You’ve had a long, hard road to success. Was there any point in there where you just thought, ‘Wow, this is not what we bargained for . . . maybe it’s time to pack this in’?

I’ll be honest with you, I never, ever thought that. I was hell-bent on getting this done, and determined to make this my life. Even after Scott got shot, the thing we always did was, we always tried to find the positive next move. What’s the next move?

I think that’s kinda what got us through everything, is that we always found one positive thing, and we went after it. Thank God, when Scott got shot, the positive thing was we had a production deal out here in Nashville with New Voice, and we’d already recorded ‘Carolina’ and ‘Musta Had a Good Time,’ and we were talking to the label. We kinda had that on the hook.

"I think we’ve always looked at it from the stadium backward. We always thought big, and it’s really cool to be able to get onstage now and see the amount of people, and be able to have that energy."

But generally, we’d just always find anything to go after, and we’d go after it, and that was our goal.

Hell, with ‘Carolina,’ the only reason we wrote ‘Carolina’ was because we did a showcase, and a record label executive showed up, and we cornered him and talked. He hung out, and I asked him, “If you did sign us, what would be your next move?” And he said, “I’d have you go down to Atlanta and work with Rick Beato.” And I said, “Who the hell is that?” And he said, “He’s a producer-songwriter.” I said, “Well, that’s cool. Thank you.”

Monday morning I got on the phone, and I called up Rick, and I said, “I want to come see you.” [Laughs.] I took him the demo of ‘Carolina’ that we had started on, and we all finished it in the studio. But that’s kind of the mindset that we’ve always had. Always looking for the next move.

Well, you’ve got to keep plugging if you’re going to do anything in the music business, that’s for sure.

That’s our motto! “Keep on plugging.” And that’s all anybody ever told us, too. It’s like, “Well, what do we need to do?” And they’d say, “Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.” That ain’t a damn answer! [Laughs.] But my dad always told us, ‘Ya’ll just keep on plugging, boys, and you’ll be all right.” So we always say that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody except us say keep on plugging, so it’s interesting that you did. That’s cool.

This is a band of brothers, literally and figuratively. That makes it easier to pull together, but does it make it more difficult to separate the personal from the professional?

Hell, we’ve all been together for so long — when we separate, we separate. Today, we’re just now getting home, and we have today off, and we’ll meet back up tonight and hang out for a video shoot, but I’m not gonna call those guys. I’m not gonna say one word to them or bother them all day if something comes up. I’ll wait until we get back together, and we’ll discuss it then.

I think it’s a matter of knowing when to get out of the way, when to give everybody their time. It’s real hard to be together all the time, but we know how to get out of each others’ way. It’s just like being married, man — I’m pretty much married to these guys. [Laughs.] You’ve got to know what not to say, and when not to say it. That’s the deal.

What else is coming down the pipeline? Are you already thinking about another record, or any idea about what the other singles from this record might be?

I hope we can get more off this album. I feel like we still have a lot of people who haven’t heard the record. And of course we are always thinking about the next move; we’ve been writing and writing, some great music. That’s already been in motion. We took a month off — well, I did, mentally — I took a month off and said I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore after the record came out. But we continue writing, and I’m looking forward to putting more singles out off this album. I feel like there’s some great songs I’d like to get out, and we’re hoping ‘Close Your Eyes’ does good. It’s starting to connect.

So all that’s on the burner. I’ve got my schedule completely full of people coming on the bus to write with me, so it’s really cool.

"I think it’s a matter of knowing when to get out of the way, when to give everybody their time. You’ve got to know what NOT to say, and when not to say it. That’s the deal."

If you had to release another single tomorrow, which one would you choose?

Tomorrow? I would choose ‘Dance.’ Just because we need a tempo out next. It could be ‘Dance’ or ‘Already Calling You Mine.’ Those would be my choices, mostly because it’s tempo, and secondly because I see what’s going on at shows, and that song is just, girls going crazy over it. You can’t deny that, when you sing it every night and see them shaking it. [Laughs.] And it’s a fun song, it’s got a fun vibe to it.

You’re in the position of getting to test market songs in front of people. Does seeing what works in your live show and not influence what you’re going to write for another album?

It does. It really does, especially when you see how big songs can be, and that’s kinda — those big songs are special, and you want to try to write a big song, and try to connect with people. But it can be tricky, too, because what goes over live is not necessarily what’s gonna work for radio, and what works for radio isn’t necessarily gonna work great live. You can never tell. You just can tell what people like to see you do. What people like in our band, you can see it out there, and that’s what you go for. That’s why they’re here — they’re here to see us play songs like this because they like what we do.

Is there anything else you want to say about what you’ve got coming up?

Just, people have been voting [for the Teen Choice Awards]. We appreciate all the votes, and keep ‘em coming! Check us out — we’re always on Twitter, and Instagram and Facebook and all that stuff. We’re playing everywhere, all across the country.

We have a lot people ask us, “When are you coming here again?” I’m like, “Go to Parmalee.com and look at the tour dates.” [Laughs.] I don’t know where I’m playing two days from now! But at least they’re asking.

Next: Read All About Parmalee's 'Feels Like Carolina'

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