Mat Hayward

This powerhouse group left their farming jobs and moved to Nashville in 2011

Country band Parmalee originated in, you guessed it, Parmele, North Carolina. The band is made up of brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, their cousin Barry Knox, and Josh McSwain, a close childhood friend. With hits like "Close Your Eyes" and "Carolina," which reached number two on the country charts, this powerhouse group came to Nashville in 2011 from their jobs as lumberjacks to pursue their dreams. We teamed up with Atlanta Journal Constitution on the CMA Awards' red carpet to talk to the group about their recent U.S.O. tour, the band's roots, their upcoming album, and where they see music going.

What do you love most about the South?
[unanimously] “The food!”
“The food, the hunting, the slow-talking, the hot women.” [laughs]
“The hospitality, the manners, all that stuff.”
“The outdoors! We just love outdoor activities. We grew up outside. We worked on a farm our whole lives. This was the first job that we’ve had that wasn’t an outside job. We used to be loggers.”

Well you’ve definitely upgraded your attire!
“When we were lumberjackin’, it was all about these greasy khaki pants and a t-shirt.”
“We donate all of our outfits now to younger lumberjackers so that they’ll have nice suits to wear to work every day.” [laughs]

Are you still based in North Carolina?
“Nope, we’ve been here in Nashville since 2011. We signed a record deal before we moved here because we own houses back home and had to uproot everything we had. But they told us that we had to be present to win, so that’s why we came out here. [laughs] It’s true in Nashville, though. If you want to win or be in the game, you have to be here. There are more opportunities that go on in one week down here than go on in somewhere like where we grew up in about ten years.”
“Or, forever.” [laughs]

You just finished a U.S.O. tour, right?
“Yes, it was for Navy entertainment. We went to Japan and Guam. It was awesome.”
“It was great.”
“It’s really cool to experience that. Like I said, knowing where we came from, we probably would never have had the opportunity to go do that had we not been in the music business.”
“But it was great playing for the troops. It’s our second year of doing it, and any time we can do it is a huge opportunity.

How did you get involved with the U.S.O.?
“They came to us and the management. Obviously it’s timing and scheduling and budgets and how it all pans out. They asked if we could do 10 days in October (this was in February) and we said yes.”
“We said, ‘We’ll make ourselves available!’”
“We had such a good time the first time we went over last year, so when they asked us to do it again, it was a no-brainer."

What do you guys have coming up?
“We have our ‘Feels Like Carolina’ flood benefit coming up on November 18 in Greenville for the flood victims. It’s going to have Thompson Square, Luke Combs, Runaway June, and Dee Jay Silver. And then, we’ve got a brand new album coming out at the top of next year. It’s all recorded, we’re just picking songs.”

Does it have a title yet?
“It doesn’t. I feel like we have to figure out how many songs we’re going to put on it, we have to pick the songs, and then we have to look at it and say, ‘Okay, how do we want to program the songs, and in what order?” We still have to do all of that stuff.”
“There’s enough of us out there that still find it a desirable thing to have a record [without just releasing online], and we want to have a CD. You want to be able to pop it in and listen to the experience without having to change it. And you know, you can figure that out on a playlist, but we’ve done CDs our whole lives, and that’s part of the fun.”
“This might actually be our last CD. You know, country’s the only genre really buying CDs. You look at someone like Chris Stapleton, who’s sold about 4.6 million copies (whether that’s iTunes downloads or physical copies, we don’t know). But look at his demo—those are the people that are buying CDs, because they grew up with them. It’s going away, it’s inevitable, but how long will that be? We don’t know.”
“It took three years for us to put out another album, so, three years from now, who knows?”
“Maybe it’ll just be ear buds that people will download the album on.” [laughs]
“I think you’ll always have people who will want a physical product. Some people are going back to vinyl. You got the album, you read the credits, and you got involved with it. Maybe that will be something that comes back.

When you’re working on your songwriting, is it a group effort?
“There are no rules.”
“No rules!”
“No rules, no nothin’. It may start from a guitar lick, it may start from a melody, or it may start from an idea.”
“It may start from something you heard someone say in a bar.”
“We all write separately, we write together, we write with other co-writers—no rules. The best song wins.”
[unanimously] “The best song wins!”
“That’s the only rule. You never know how a song is going to come about. Out here in Nashville, you walk into a room and meet people and throw out ideas. You never know.”

Does the whole band have to vote on the song? Are you ever torn?
“Strangely enough, we usually all like the same stuff.” [laughs]
“Well, that’s the criteria. We have to all 100% agree on something. You know, if we’re going to all have to play it every night, whether we wrote it or we didn’t, we’ve gotta like it.”

If you could do a dream duet with anyone, who would you pick?
“The Allman Brothers Band would be cool.”
“I’d love to do a duet with someone like Rihanna or Katy Perry. Yeah. I’d love to do that.” [laughs]