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How Parmalee Found Itself Back on Top After Eight Long Years

Parmalee
Joseph Llanes

Parmalee

Matt Thomas doesn’t care if you call Parmalee’s resurgent success a comeback.

“You never want to think about it like that, because we’ve been working and working -- but I guess it is,” says Thomas, the group’s frontman. “People believed in us, but they were just waiting for us to get that next song. Everybody loves a comeback. It’s the staying there that you want, though, right?”

Staying on top is exactly what Thomas and his bandmates -- his brother Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and childhood friend Josh McSwain -- plan to do with the release of their new Stoney Creek/BBR Music album, For You, out Friday (July 30).

Led by the smash single “Just The Way,” which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in March, For You marks the first album for the North Carolina natives in four years since 27861, which peaked at No. 22 on Top Country Albums. The genre-blurring collaboration with Blanco Brown, written by Matt Thomas, Nolan Sipe and Kevin Bard, is Parmalee’s first No. 1 in eight years -- since their song “Carolina” topped the Country Airplay chart in 2013.

“I’m ready to go -- I’m ready to elevate it,” Thomas says. “I want to see more of these singles on this album do well. I’m ready to take it to the next level that we felt like we were about to reach back in 2016-17.”

During that eight-year gap between No. 1s, Parmalee never stopped working, but Thomas could feel a shift as some around the group wrote them off. Still, in his mind, the right song was always the next song. That’s what makes the success of “Just The Way” so special for Thomas.

“You can see the climate around you and the opportunities you weren’t getting that maybe you had before,” Thomas says. “That’s just the music business. Either you’re the bear or you get eaten by the bear, right? So, it’s great to see that this song has connected with so many people.”

Thomas acknowledges that the mental and emotional grind of getting excited about song after song that don't connect can “beat you down... If you get caught up in trying to write for radio all the time, it can be a double-edged sword,” he says. “But it’s frustrating when you put a song out and it doesn’t do as well as the song before it did. You spend a whole year working it, promoting it, doing shows and getting hype. We’ve had songs where we were told it was going to be our career song and that it would change everything. You shoot a video, and everyone is excited. Then it barely creeps into the top 40. So, you just have to be prepared for that.”

But “Just the Way” has seemingly changed the group’s fortunes. That break, says Jon Loba, president of BMG Nashville (which owns BBR), has paved the way for the new set. Previously hesitant partners are “really giving us shots and opportunities” much earlier than they have before, Loba says.

And the song isn’t stopping there. “Just The Way” is also soaring up Billboard’s Adult Pop Airplay chart, climbing to No. 20 on the chart dated July 31. The decision to push the song at adult pop came after some country programmers stressed that the record was a crossover hit, Loba says. Plus, the band had the desire to push the record in different genres as well. “I always thought from listen one that this song was bigger than one genre,” Loba says. “Especially with the acceptance of country records right now, it absolutely felt like at least a Hot AC and country record.”

Stoney Creek is working with Warner Records’ Los Angeles promotion team on the pop push, which will also include a run at top 40 with a remix of “Just the Way” featuring Sire/Warner Records rapper-singer Bryce Vine. "When Bryce Vine did a feature on it, I think it absolutely has a chance to be top ten at top 40," Loba says. "The streams are obviously there, and all the research we’re getting in from top 40 stations are saying it’s a big song there.”

Back at country radio, Stoney Creek is waiting to pick a new single until For You drops. “We haven’t completely decided on that, because we want to see what the metrics on each song look like when we release the album,” Loba says. “But ‘Take My Name’ does seem to be raising its hand with TikTok and various other platforms, so it feels like we’re heading in that direction.”

Thomas agrees. “Right now, it’s looking good for ‘Take My Name,’” he says. “It’s one of those things you put on TikTok to build the energy and see what happens. Now that the excitement around live shows is back, that’s our main focus: building these singles and just playing as many shows as possible.” The WME-booked band is on tour, playing a variety of fairs, festivals and other shows, through October.

Given the time that had elapsed since 27861, Parmalee had a surfeit of material when it came time to record For You. So, the veteran group asked Loba if they could cut more songs than the label-approved budget called for -- as long as they stayed within the same financial boundary, a fiscally responsible decision Loba couldn’t help but respect.

“Initially, quite honestly, I was skeptical thinking, ‘You don’t have that many great songs’ without hearing the material -- because everyone thinks they have a lot and it gets whittled down,” Loba says. “But I have such trust in them and [producer] David Fanning that I stayed out of that process… and was pleasantly surprised with just how many great songs they had. When the staff started listening to it and had the same reaction, I realized it wasn’t just me.”

In all, Parmalee cut double the number of tracks that the budget called for, ending up with 20-plus fully produced masters. “A lot of our new stuff came from looking at our other songs that connected with people and thinking about ways we can speak directly to the person listening,” Thomas says, “and whether or not these songs would make you want to come to the show.”

While other acts may have had to worry about keeping their label home during a hit drought, Loba says Parmalee’s future was never in doubt. “The fact that they always make compelling music, the fact that they are such great partners, and the fact that they just work their asses off all the time and do whatever we or our partners ask is why I’m so confident in them,” Loba says. “I can’t imagine a day where we would say, ‘You don’t have a place to release your music.’

“Even when there were struggles getting music played or completed, they never pointed fingers,” Loba continues. “They always were a team and a family. When you have a partnership like that, you know no matter what obstacle is in front of you, you can work through it.”

Now, with the success of “Just The Way,” Parmalee finds itself in the enviable position of being able to tap into multiple audiences, and the For You tune “Greatest Hits” addresses their cross-genre appeal and roots. Presented as a love song, the start of the hook can also be viewed as Parmalee directly addressing any of the early confusion about their sound. “Got your country from your hometown / Hip-hop from your college crowd / And rock and roll from your daddy’s old 45s / Got your Motown from you mama’s soul.”

As Loba recalls, when the label first signed Parmalee, rock and pop partners thought they were country, while country partners assumed they were a rock or pop band. "Greatest Hits," which Loba believes could also be a single, is a microcosm of who Parmalee is, making it one of Loba’s favorite songs on the album.

“‘Greatest Hits’ really represents those competing influences; those competing sounds that they have melded together,” Loba says. “They really are those things; they are rock, they are pop, they are country. They’ve been shaped by many forms of music. That’s what I love about ‘Greatest Hits’ -- because it truly represents them.”