Parmalee overcomes hardship to forge powerhouse music career

SHARE Parmalee overcomes hardship to forge powerhouse music career
SHARE Parmalee overcomes hardship to forge powerhouse music career

BY TRICIA DESPRES | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

As an up-and-coming band from North Carolina that spent many a night playing back porches and scarcely mowed backyards, the four members of Parmalee have seen their share of blown fuses and power outages.

So when all the lights went out at an Ohio tour stop a few weeks back, and the four were left in the dark with just the glow of the crowd’s cell phones staring back at them, lead singer Matt Thomas admits to holding his breath for a moment, wondering just what was going to happen next.

PARMALEE When: 9:15 p.m., April 18 Where: Joe’s Bar, 940 W. Weed Tickets: Sold Out Info: www.joesbar.com

And what happened next amazed him.

“They all started singing,” says Thomas of the impromptu sing-along that accompanied the country group’s new single “Already Callin’ You Mine.” “It’s long been one of the songs in our set list that we have just been powering through because only the diehards really knew the words. But I mean, that whole place was singing that song back to us and to be honest, it was awesome.”

And while the lights came on at the very moment that the song concluded, it perhaps symbolized the highs and lows that the band has experienced firsthand in their relatively young career, including a moment when the trajectory of the band’s budding country career could have come to a dead stop.

“I try not to think about it,” Thomas says of the September 2010 incident in which the band was involved in an attempted robbery and shootout which left Matt’s brother and Parmalee drummer Scott Thomas fighting for their lives. “It’s not as present in your mind as time goes by, but you do go back and damn sure appreciate where we are today, because it could have definitely gone the other way.”

Thomas pauses, clearing his throat before the next sentence falls out of his mouth.

“You think about [the shooting] coupled with all the struggles that people haven’t heard about,” he continues. “I mean, we were about to get signed to a record deal and at the last-minute it didn’t happen. [Pauses] Thinking about all those times collectively freaks me out. But it does make the success that much sweeter.”

A brotherhood born in a small town and grown on a strong friendship and a stronger backbone, the country rockers that make up Parmalee — Matt and Scott Thomas (lead vocals/ guitar & drums, respectively), cousin Barry Knox (bass) and lifelong best friend Josh McSwain (guitar) — are indeed relishing in the success from their debut album “Feels Like Carolina,” including the multi-week No. 1 chart topper “Carolina” and the Top 3 hit “Close Your Eyes”.

Matt Thomas (left) and Josh McSwain (right) of Parmalee perform at Covelli Centre on February 6, 2015 in Youngstown, Ohio. |Photo by Duane Prokop/Getty Images

Matt Thomas (left) and Josh McSwain (right) of Parmalee perform at Covelli Centre on February 6, 2015 in Youngstown, Ohio. |Photo by Duane Prokop/Getty Images

A recent tour alongside country music megastar Brad Paisley didn’t hurt, either.

Now preparing to head to Chicago for just the third time, Thomas says that the idea of playing in a market such as The Windy City is still hard for the band to believe.

“We rarely went west of North Carolina to play when we were first starting out,” says Thomas, who grew up on an eclectic mix of musical idols such as Allman Brothers, Travis Tritt and Bob Seger. “We would pretty much stay in the southeast because we couldn’t afford to go any further. [Laughs] I think the first time we played at Joe’s was one of the first times we had a ‘oh s—’ moment, where we couldn’t even believe that the crowd actually showed up, much less knew us and our music.”

Come April 18 (for their sold-out gig at Joe’s), Parmalee will play the hits mixed with the songs they have been playing for the last few years. But soon, they hope to roll the dice again.

“We have been in the studio working on new music,” Thomas says. “We have a bunch of songs written and they are going to be a lot different. It’s cool to go forward now knowing what people like, but also with the freedom to try different things here and there. ‘Ya just never know what’s right around the corner.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelanc writer.

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