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Parmalee's new album an ode to home

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By Holly West
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Despite six years in Nashville, earning a platinum-certified No. 1 hit and going on a tour across the U.S., the members of the band Parmalee still love coming back to their 278-person hometown. In fact, they named their new album after its zip code. 

The album, “27861,” came out July 21, and is the second on Stoney Creek Records by the band, whose name is an homage to their roots in Parmele. Three of the band members grew up in the Martin County municipality just north of Greenville. A fourth is a Greenville native.

Bassist Barry Knox said the name of the album is an ode to the people in eastern North Carolina who supported the band for more than a decade before their song “Carolina” became a breakout hit in 2013. 

“It all started out there in that little barn in Parmele,” Knox said. “We just thought it was time to give back to the community that gave so much to us.”

Knox’s bandmates include his cousins Scott and Matt Thomas and their best friend Josh McSwain. 

The quartet found success with the album, “Feels Like Carolina,” which reached Billboard’s top 10 lists for country and independent music.

Their most popular single, “Carolina,” reached No. 1 on the country charts and No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two more singles, “Close Your Eyes” and “Already Callin’ You Mine” reached No. 4 and No. 10 on the country charts, respectively.

The guys have been nominated for Academy of Country Music and Teen Choice Awards and “pretty much stay on tour.” 

“It’s a dream come true,” said Matt Thomas, lead vocalist and guitarist.  

Matt and Scott Thomas grew watching their father, Jerry, front a popular local southern rock blues band, according to their website bio. The boys picked up their own instruments and jammed along with their dad’s band. Knox loved what his cousins were doing and joined them.

The Thomas Brothers Band worked the local club circuit and often shared the marquee with a cover band that starred McSwain on guitar and keys. The foursome held its first gig at Corrigans on Fifth Street in 2001, and Parmalee was born.

The band set up camp every Tuesday and Thursday evening in a Parmele barn they named Studio B to rehearse. They held down day jobs and worked on their music, ending rehearsals at 11 p.m. to be considerate of the neighborhood, the bio said.

The band developed a regional fan base in the years that followed and eventually headed to Nashville in their RV, which doubled as a studio, recording a number of songs including early versions of Carolina.

It was in September of 2010, when they put together a short tour in the Carolinas to fund their work in Music City, that they made a stop in Rock Hill, S.C., that made headlines in The Daily Reflector and news outlets nationally.

After the Sept. 21 show, Matt and Scott were in the RV when two men knocked on the door. Matt answered, one of the men put a gun to his head and demanded money. Scott emerged with his gun and a shootout followed. The man with the gun was killed, and Scott was shot three times and nearly died.

The shooting delayed the band’s work for months as Scott recovered. By February 2011, he was well enough to get behind a drum kit for the first time. The band finally performed a label showcase and landed a deal with Stoney Creek, which released Carolina.

Matt Thomas co-wrote nine of the new album’s 12 tracks with a variety of Nashville hit-makers. He said the album has a different sound from the first, not just because of the superstar talent, but as a result of the lessons he and his fellow band members have learned while on tour.

“Being out there touring with a hit single, seeing what it takes to sell the seats out, seeing what we need to step the game up as live shows go, it all comes together,” he said.  

They’ll soon be bringing their act back to eastern North Carolina. On Aug. 19, the band will perform at East Carolina University’s Carolina Kickoff alongside country greats Blake Shelton and Big & Rich. The event celebrates the beginning of the college football season. Artists Tucker Beathard, David Ray and Adley Stump also will perform. 

One song Parmalee will almost certainly play in their performance is “Hotdamalama,” McSwain’s favorite tune from the new album.

“Back when we were in school, you would be walking around and see all these beautiful women and you’d say ‘hotdamalama!’” said McSwain, a Greenville native. “That’s got ECU written all over it.”

The August visit will be special for the band members, who only get to come home a couple times a year despite their love for the place. 

“We’ve been so busy,” Scott Thomas said. “Holidays are about it for us now. Any chance we get, we go back fishing and hunting and just to relax.”

While they’ll continue traveling the world to chase their dreams, Knox said there’s just one place they’ll always consider home.

“There’s just something about that place,” he said. “We had a great life growing up there. We just love it.” 

Contact Holly West at hwest@reflector.com or 252-329-9585.