Parmalee Guitarists Matt Thomas and Josh McSwain Talk Music, Gear and Overcoming Adversity
Comprised of brothers Matt and Scott Thomas (lead vocals/guitar and drums, respectively), cousin Barry Knox (bass) and lifelong best friend Josh McSwain (guitar), Parmalee has been riding the wave of country music with their catchy riffs and good-time attitude.
The band's current single, “Carolina,” is cresting the Top 30 of mainstream country radio.
Parmalee was handpicked by Southwest Airlines as the first act to perform on its "Travelin’ Taylor Tour Series" [sponsored by Taylor Guitars], where they performed at 35,000 feet for passengers on a direct flight from Nashville to Houston.
But the members of Parmalee also have had to face adversity on their road to success. In September 2010, after being involved in an attempted robbery and shootout outside a club where they had just played, drummer Scott Thomas was shot three times and was airlifted to a nearby hospital where he was given a 5 percent chance of survival. Miraculously, he survived the ordeal and spent the next 40 days recovering from his injuries in a hospital bed.
Parmalee are working on their debut album for Stoney Creek Records. I spoke with guitarists Matt Thomas and Josh McSwain about the band's music, gear and more.
GUITAR WORLD: Tell me how Parmalee came together.
Thomas: Me, Scott and Barry are all family and started playing with my Dad when we were kids. He’d let us play in his band, and as teenagers in high school we used to play with him in bars. Once we all got into college, we met Josh and asked him to be in our band. That's when we started doing our own thing.
Who were some of your influences?
Thomas: I'm a Southern rock, blues guy at heart, so some of my influences were guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dickey Betts and Duane Allman.
McSwain: I'm the same way. For me and Matt both it's Stevie Ray Vaughan. We were also lucky enough to grow up when all of the shredders and rippers were out there. That's why we fell in love with the guitar.
Let's talk about some of your music. What's the origin behind the song "Musta Had a Good Time"?
Thomas: We wrote that song sitting in our RV in a parking lot outside a Comfort Inn in Nashville. I had that lick in my head and told one of our co-writers that I had this really cool idea and asked him what he thought of it. We wound up writing and recording it in the RV in a little studio we had set up.
McSwain: It started out like it was going to be a serious writing day, but that was also the day it started raining [and Nashville subsequently flooded in 2010]. We were stuck there because it was pouring down rain. So we cracked open a beer and started writing a fun song about all the parties we've been to over the past few years.
Thomas: We used to have the craziest parties at our house. People we didn't even know would sometimes show up and would be waiting in line for us to finish our show just to get in the house [laughs].
How about "Carolina"?
Thomas: We're always away from our families for long periods of time and had just gotten back home from LA. I remember being in the studio one day and having this momentary lapse where it actually felt like I was back in California again. I walked outside and started thinking that even though it reminded me of California, it sure felt like Carolina. The smells. The heat. Everything just felt like home. We took that idea and turned it into a relationship song.
Tell me about the unique show you did for Taylor Guitars.
McSwain: It was called "Live at 35." Taylor gave us a few guitars to play, and we actually performed on a flight from Nashville to Texas. Afterwards, we gave away a guitar that we used to fans who had won a contest.
Thomas: We had one mic [the intercom] and no room to move, but it was a "sold out" show to a captive audience! [laughs].
What's your live setup like?
Thomas: We're Taylor acoustic artists and have a 710ce and an 810ce that we've been using. They just have such an amazing sound and great necks. My main ride is a modded out '72 Les Paul Deluxe that once belonged to my Dad. The only thing that works on it is the volume and treble [laughs]. I just love it. I've been trying to find something that sounds like it, but I can't.
McSwain: I use a Mesa Mark V, but I'm also running an Avid 11 Rack before that to the pre-amp section. My effects include a Line 6 M13 and a Voodoo labs switcher. For guitars, I use a PRS and Gibson Firebird.
Tell me about the attempted robbery the band was involved in.
Thomas: We had been working with producers and gotten label interest and were just getting ready to do a showcase. In the meantime, we were grinding it out; playing any show we could to try to make a little bit to eventually make the move to Nashville. I remember we had just finished playing a show in this small club and were out back in our RV packing up. I heard this banging on the door and at the time, thought it was Josh and Barry. But suddenly, two guys busted in with guns demanding cash and shooting.
Luckily, my brother Scott [a concealed carrier] was in the back and had his weapon. He ended up shooting one of the guys fatally and shot the other guy twice. In the crossfire, he was also shot three times and only given a 5 percent chance of survival. He spent the next 40 days in the hospital and the prayers of support from family and friends really helped him pull through.
I guess the man upstairs must have said, "I'm gonna keep you around to keep on playing music," and so here we are. It was a horrible event, but it made us all the more determined to keep pushing it forward.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.