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Ten Years in With Stoney Creek, Parmalee Renewed By Fresh Sound and Look

"We've kind of proven to the people that had doubts about us that we're not going anywhere," says Parmalee bassist Barry Knox.

Ten years ago, Parmalee was a newly signed Stoney Creek act, publicly recognized as a band of survivors after drummer Scott Thomas nearly died when he was shot by a robber in South Carolina in 2010.

Now the group has a completely new sheen, though it’s still a band of survivors, having navigated a difficult four-year run between hits and a harrowing change in label ownership to reimagine itself. The act has a brighter, pop-tinged sound that has brought back-to-back No. 1 singles to Country Airplay, accomplished just as COVID-19 forced it off the road and away from its fans.


“Bring on the next pandemic,” guitarist Josh McSwain deadpans during a Zoom call the same day that Parmalee’s career-changing single, the Blanco Brown collaboration “Just the Way,” earned a double-platinum award from the RIAA.

It’s a stark turn-around for the band, given the emotional, jagged path that preceded it. Parmalee earned three top 10 singles from its first Stoney Creek album, Feels Like Carolina, with the track “Carolina” climbing all the way to No. 1 on Country Airplay. But the first two singles from the group’s follow-up — titled after the ZIP code for its hometown, Parmele, N.C. — barely scraped the top 40, and a third single failed to chart at all. It was an inauspicious way to meet the new owners when BMG purchased Stoney Creek parent BBR Music Group in the midst of that deflating period.

“We had solid songs on the 27861 thing,” lead singer Matt Thomas reflects. “We were pumped up about it. Here we had half the industry telling us that ‘Roots’ was going to be a career song and going to be Grammy-nominated, blah, blah, blah. You spend a year on it; it dies. That was kind of tough. I don’t think we realized how far everybody else had us out the door.”

They weren’t entirely certain how the label felt, either.

“We just kept working, but we didn’t really know if we were in or out,” says Scott.

But then-BMG U.S. president Zach Katz (now FaZe Clan president/CEO) thought Parmalee could rediscover its mojo, and he suggested it cover an international hit. That also didn’t pan out, but in the process, the band rekindled its working relationship with producer David Fanning (Thompson Square, Avery Anna), who pushed it to shift from a club-grown country/rock sound to a pop-informed version that mixes programmed drums with Scott’s manual beats and blends more keyboards into upbeat love songs. “Just the Way,” accompanied by a video that celebrated relationships across a diverse swath of humanity, set the tone.

“In the lockdown, people were in their house depressed,” McSwain recalls. “They can’t get out and do anything, and to have a positive song — I think that was perfect timing for that song to come out.”

Romantic pledge “Take My Name” doubled down on the attitude. New single “Girl in Mine,” released to radio via PlayMPE on Aug. 12, continues in that intimate vein as Parmalee revels in its revitalization.

“It wasn’t like we didn’t know what we were doing,” says bassist Barry Knox. “We just hadn’t found that lane that fit us perfectly. Once ‘Just the Way’ came out, we could really see how the fans were reacting to it, and not [just] them, but the label and the industry as a whole were really excited. It seemed like we found that piece of the puzzle that fit perfectly.”

Once Parmalee hit the road again in 2021 after its COVID-19 layoff, the audience — responding to the newly textured hits — was noticeably younger and tilted a little more toward couples. And making a setlist has a different feel.

“We have building blocks now,” Scott says. “This is our sixth top 10. When you have six songs to build [on], it’s just a lot easier.”

In conjunction with the new sound, Parmalee revised its visual elements, too. The group beefed up its video presence at concerts, and Matt — following a suggestion by Fanning — adopted a more mobile role onstage.

“I got off the guitar, and I went just to the microphone,” says Matt. “I wish I’d have done that 10 years ago. Being a guitar guy my whole life, it was definitely a change for me, but that just took everything and completely flipped the whole show. I’m out there, you know, high-fiving and singing right to the girls and stuff. And it just makes the aura of the whole show completely different.”

In tandem with the brighter sound and more optimistic outlook, the group’s packaging got a touch more polished, too. Where before it had typically sported darker threads or black leather, its current PR shot is a mix of white and gold clothing, coordinated by a female stylist, Krista Roser, who was suggested by Scott’s wife.

“This girl is badass,” Matt says.

Not only does she bring a female perspective at a time when their songs are geared more obviously toward women, she also offers some coordination to the process. The gold-and-white PR shot was taken at the end of the “Girl in Mine” video shoot, snapped in just a few minutes with no clothing changes required.

“That’s the easiest shoot we’ve ever done,” observes Knox. “It was about three minutes. We were at the video shoot, and they said, ‘Come on, walk outside. We’re going to take a picture or two.’ We stood beside a bar, and [Joseph Llanes] snapped a couple of pictures and we were done.”

Done with the photos, perhaps, but breathing much easier now that the band has a new lease on its career.

“We have been in Nashville, and been signed, for 10 years,” Knox says. “And I think with the last two singles and this one now, we’ve kind of proven to the people that had doubts about us that we’re not going anywhere.”

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