The moment that set Parmalee apart from its competition early into its career is also one that the band wished had never happened.
On Sept. 21, 2010, two robbers held up the group on its bus in the early morning following a show in Rock Hill, S.C. Drummer Scott Thomas shot and killed one of the assailants, but he was also hit by three bullets and went into a coma that lasted two weeks. For many acts, it would have literally been the end of the road. But Parmalee rallied together like a band of brothers — appropriate since Scott and lead singer Matt Thomas are indeed siblings and bassist Barry Knox is a cousin — and the group returned to its touring routine barely three months later, beginning with a New Year’s Eve show in Greenville, N.C.
After signing with Stoney Creek in 2011, the band released its debut single, the banging party song “Musta Had a Good Time.” But instead of playing off the tragedy to raise its profile, Parmalee — which includes guitarist Josh McSwain — did its best to avoid the topic. The guys wanted to be known first and foremost for their music, and the post-show shootout was tough to discuss.
“We kind of steered away from it,” Scott says. “If somebody asked us, we would talk about it, but we didn’t make it a point. [It was] probably just [our] healing process.”
While the band had some hits with a sound that evolved into mainstream country-rock, Parmalee found its commercial groove in 2020 after teaming with Blanco Brown on the lighter pop tune “Just the Way.” It became the group’s second No. 1 single, which the act followed with the Country Airplay chart-topping wedding song “Take My Name” and the hypnotically sweet No. 3 single “Girl in Mine.” But when Matt went into a writing session on June 6, 2022, the goal was to morph their sound once more — leaning into the timbre of his voice.
“He can sing so high, and he can sing these crazy melodies, and we’ve never gotten to fully show that,” says producer David Fanning (Thompson Square, Avery Anna), who also manages the band and serves as a frequent co-writer. “That day, to me, was one of the beginning times of ‘Hey, let’s start showing what you can do. Let’s start shining a light on that.’ ”
Teaming with songwriters Abram Dean and Andy Sheridan, Fanning and Matt took that goal to an anthemic level, aiming for a song that could work as a film’s end theme à la “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” in Armageddon.
“We wanted a grand melody, we wanted a grand idea, we wanted classic-sounding chord changes,” Matt recalls. “Something big and universal was really the thinking.”
The chord changes fit that movie-theme ideal. A simple, descending pattern (A-minor-7, G, F) delivered a rock texture — a dark sound that, coupled with a hopeful story, had epic potential.
“It is full of tension,” says Matt, “but it’s a positive message.”
The opening verse promises delivers two promises: “You’re never gonna be alone” and “I’ll never be far away” — both pledges that seem particularly large coming from a band of traveling musicians whose life requires them to be away from home. Delivered over a pulsing piano that harkens to 1980s Chicago, the song ultimately lands at a heavier-sounding chorus that contemplates the couple in question as action heroes battling the world. In that stanza, the singer’s feelings become clear as he takes his last breath, announcing, “I’m gonna love you.” It was only when that melody arrived that the “Gonna Love You” title emerged.
The four writers worked diligently to craft a universal text of unending commitment, but while the sentiment was significant, evaluating their progress was difficult. The typical country song references specific, visual images — furniture, in Nashville songwriter parlance — but a song like “Gonna Love You” employs more ethereal, less defined, aesthetics.
“Writing a song that lives in the emotional world, personally, I feel like it’s harder, especially if you second-guess yourself,” Fanning says. “But also, I think it’s a chance for you to just say what you want. Hopefully, people realize, ‘Hey, they’re coming from a real spot, and we feel that way, too.’”
At the end of the day, it needed a bridge, but the writers weren’t sure where it needed to go. So they let it sit, and Matt and Fanning worked at it for months, periodically texting each other ideas for that last section or working through it in the lounge on the bus. Eventually, they used that bridge to refocus on long-term commitment, contemplating “our last day” and “the last words off of my lips.”
The demo pointed quite obviously to where the song needed to go, and the recorded version — cut at Nashville’s Soundstage — blended the Chicago vibe with other compelling elements: 3 Doors Down-like power-ballad guitar chords, old-school-pop electric piano, breezy finger snaps and hard-country steel guitar.
“We came from all that stuff,” says Matt. “That’s the music and the style that really impacts me as a writer and singer, and us as a band.”
As they lived with the song, Fanning and the Thomas brothers all separately began associating the epic nature of the production with Parmalee’s dramatic backstory. They had never embraced it publicly, but pairing the shooting with the emotional message in “Gonna Love You” — hanging together under duress, the threat that Scott could breathe his final breath at any moment — would easily explain the depth of the band’s bond.
On Oct. 3, Stoney Creek released “Gonna Love You” to country radio via PlayMPE. One week later, on Oct. 10, Parmalee filmed the video with the blood and violence from the robbery limited to short, crucial moments, while a replay of the workman-like club show and the traumatic hospital scenes propel the narrative. The video challenged the band internally as the musicians relived their precarious past. They processed some of the grief and fear that had lingered for 13 years, and they anticipate that recounting of their most tenuous evening will help fans better understand the band. It might also help some of those fans process their own pain. Just don’t expect Parmalee to make that incident central to its public marketing beyond this particular video.
“We’re always going to be uncomfortable talking about it,” Scott says. “I don’t think that’ll ever change, but [the video] worked out great.”
That video is expected to arrive Nov. 25. Meanwhile, “Gonna Love You” debuted at No. 60 on the Country Airplay chart dated Nov. 18, beginning a run that Parmalee hopes will vault it back to the top rungs of the list.
“It’s easy for me to sing, and every time I hear the song, I’m in the mood,” says Matt. “This is a special song.”