Before the sold-out shows and the top 10 singles, the men of country group Parmalee spent most of their time in a 1987 F-350 truck.
"That was our whole childhood growing up," Parmalee's Matt Thomas tells PEOPLE of the truck once owned by his late father, the same truck that now has 750,000 miles on it and the same truck that Thomas is now working towards getting restored. "It symbolizes a lot because it was the truck that we took to the first gig we ever went to. We put our gear in the back of that truck and played, I think, a humane society benefit concert. It was our first time ever on stage."
Those teenagers with the stars in their eyes now find themselves as one of country music's most solid hitmakers, pulling from their Carolina roots to create a sound that is not only authentic, but one that continues to carve out what will ultimately become their legacy.
Adding to that legacy is their new album For You, a 13-track stunner of a project produced by David Fanning, created over quarantine, and serving as a somewhat pivotal point on the timeline of the band.
"We hadn't had a weekend off in forever," explains Thomas of last years' time off spent creating For You, with Thomas serving as a co-writer on every single song featured. "It made us think and made us reflect on everything we had done and what we still want to do, and it gave us the opportunity to work on the things we really needed to work on."
Joseph Llanes Parmalee
Of course, the time off was certainly easier considering the fact that the 2016 ACM new vocal duo/group of the year nominee found themselves grinding back towards the top of the charts in 2020 via their collaboration with Blanco Brown on "Just the Way," which would ultimately become their first platinum-certified No. 1 single in March of 2021.
"We had a hit song on the charts during that whole time," Thomas remembers of the chart-topper which has now garnered over 300 million on-demand streams. "If that hadn't been the case, all of that time off? Well, it would've been a different story. That song gave us a lot of direction and a lot of focus and a lot of positive energy to look towards."
Indeed, a shot of positive energy certainly helped heal the soul of the band, who found themselves still coming off the high that was their debut album Feels Like Carolina. Because while the ground-breaking album allowed them to become one of only four groups since 2001 to earn three consecutive Top 10 singles from their debut country album via songs such as "Carolina," "Close Your Eyes" and "Already Callin' You Mine," they admit they began to struggle with song selection moving forward.
"We put some singles out at country radio that were probably not right, not the right single the right time," remembers Thomas, who is joined in the band by brother Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and life-long friend Josh McSwain. "We would put a song out and work it for a year and then you put something else out and you work it for another year. It's like Quincy Jones once said, the music business has peaks and valleys. The peaks will take care of themselves. It's the valleys. You got to learn how to get through them."
Joseph Llanes Parmalee
It was at this time that Thomas also found himself thinking back to the advice his late father once told him in that beat-up truck of his.
"He always said, 'life is like a clock,'" Thomas says quietly. "You start out at noon and everything's good. Everything's going really good. And all of a sudden you get her down to 12:30, and something hits you and it kind of sets you back. And just when you think you can't take it anymore, things start coming back around. I just have thought about all of this in that way."
So as quarantine wore on, but "Just the Way" kept cleaning up on the charts, Parmalee found themselves not so much writing for the next album but writing the next song that would connect with their ever-evolving fan base.
"We had a chance to not only reflect, but also look back at our catalog of songs, and which ones really connected with people," Thomas remembers. "When we did that, we realized that in every single one, we were speaking directly to the people listening."
And so, within the entirety of For You, they returned to what has always worked.
"From now on, that's going to be the nucleus of everything we do."