“I wanted to make an album you could take anywhere,” says Tyler Farr of his Columbia Nashville debut, “and I can take this one to a barn party on a back road and have everybody rock out, and at the same time kids can enjoy it and dance to it.”
As someone who believes that sharing music is not about fences, Tyler recorded a stylistically rich debut album, true to his roots and influences, yet with a freshness and personality that allow it to stand alone in contemporary country music. Displaying a voice honed by years of classical training, the project ranges from power ballads to edgy tracks influenced by Tyler’s relationship with his good friends, country rapper Colt Ford and Lee Brice.
“The album is who I am,” he says, “and it is different. I spent two years listening to songs, picking those I thought represented me the best—not just great songs, but the right songs. There are things that will make you cry and some that are pure fun, like ‘Hot Mess,’ or one I did with Colt called ‘Chicks, Trucks, and Beer.’ ‘Hello Goodbye’ is a break-up song, a big ballad, and then there are songs like one I wrote with Craig Wiseman called ‘Makes You Wanna Drink’ and my current single, ‘Redneck Crazy.’
Bringing the project to fruition was part of a journey that has transformed the young singer’s outlook.
“My life has done a one-eighty in the past few years,” he says. “I went from having nothing to being able to make a solid living doing what I love to do—to be on the road and on a tour bus year-round.”
Part of that one-eighty included playing more than 200 dates with Ford.
“We met and just hit it off,” he says, “and I became his road vocalist and opened shows for him. I learned what my crowd is, what they like and what gets them going.”
While his abilities as a vocalist and showman were serving him well on the road, his knack for songwriting had earned him a publishing deal and helped lead to his recording contract. It was the culmination of a long road to national attention that began in Garden City, Missouri, a farm community a little over an hour from Kansas City.
“We had 800 people,” he says. “We didn’t even have a stop light!”
He grew up loving the outdoors—at one point he considered a career in wildlife management or as a game warden, but his love for entertainment sprouted early.
“I would always be running around the house impersonating people, how they talked or how they sang,” he says, “and that probably helped me more than anything because I learned how to make my voice do different things.”
Those skills were in evidence when he joined the middle school choir, then did a solo at a Christmas show.
“Everybody was talking about how much they liked it,” he says. “They told me, ‘You need to do this,’ and so my mom got me classical voice lessons.”
He took those lessons in Harrisonville, which was 20 miles away and “had a movie theater and an Applebee’s—all your basic necessities!” He kept up the lessons in high school, a choice that Tyler says “was the best thing I could have done. On this album, you’ll hear a lot of things that show how those lessons expanded my range and helped me learn to make my voice more expressive.”
Tyler received several vocal scholarship offers and accepted one at Missouri State University. In the meantime, his mother’s remarriage had another huge effect on his life.
“My mom married DeWayne Phillips, who played lead guitar for George Jones. I was 16, and my first thought was, ‘Who’s George Jones?’ But then I started going on the road with him, and I saw him on the bus and thought, ‘Man, what a cool voice. I’ve never heard anyone talk like this in my life.’
“I remember seeing him on stage, and if there’s a moment where I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it was when I was standing on the side of the stage while he sang ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,’ with pictures of Hank Sr. and Lefty
Frizzell and Elvis and Vern Gosdin up on the screen behind him. I got goose bumps. I started wearing out country gold from that point on.”
Phillips recognized Tyler’s singing ability and took him to Nashville to record some songs.
“I was still in high school,” he says, “and I sounded like a little Vince Gill. But nothing happened, and at that point you think, ‘What are the chances of me being able to do that for a living?’”
He sang regularly at small-town Oprys in several states, especially during the summer, as well as at occasional talent contests.
“I liked great music of all kinds,” he says. “Country, R&B, rock, hip-hop—everything, really. When I was younger, Garth Brooks was really hitting it, and Tim McGraw’s first albums were out, and I remember listening to that stuff on the way to school. But I was listening to MC Hammer, too. If it made me sing along, I liked it.”
Once he’d learned to separate his classical techniques from the popular music he enjoyed, Tyler could bring the strength and control of his vocal training to bear on the music he wanted to make.
During his senior year in high school, music took on added meaning for Tyler following the death of his grandfather, who had given him his first guitar. “The last thing I remember him saying is, ‘Keep singing. I know that’s what you’re supposed to do.’
“I took his passing really hard, and that loss carried over into college,” Tyler recalls. It was during this time that he began playing guitar more often and skipping class to write songs. At one point he took part in a talent show called “Big Man on Campus,” singing the Rascal Flatts hit, “I Melt.”
“The whole school was there, and the girls all loved it, and afterwards I was getting phone numbers,” he says. “People were saying, ‘Man, you should move to Nashville,’ and I thought, ‘You know, this is alright. I could do this.’
“I remember calling my mom and saying, ‘I’m gonna move to Nashville.’ She wasn’t happy about it, but I said, ‘I’m sorry, but one day you’ll understand.’ I literally picked up
my stuff that I had in the fraternity house I was living in, threw it in the back of my car, and just took off to Nashville. I came down here with nothing. Mom thought I was crazy, but she and my father drove all the way down and helped me load my stuff and move in.”
Tyler took a job working the door at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a magnet for singers and musicians moving to Nashville. At one point, he got on stage to sing and immediately got encouragement from the band.
“I loved the whole feel of the honky-tonk,” he says. “I was like, ‘Man, I should’ve been born here. This is what I should have been doing since I was ten.’ I ate it up.”
He played guitar on and off the job, flipped burgers in the kitchen, worked the door and sang. He took a landscaping job in nearby Franklin, “doing whatever I could to make it. I was broke as all hell, but after I’d sung a few times at Tootsie’s, they said, ‘We need to get you your own show here. Two months later, I’m playing three or four nights a week, 10:00 ‘til close.”
Tyler and his family scraped together all the money they could, and he made a CD that showed off his vocal talents, but taking it to the next level wasn’t yet in the cards. “I didn’t know enough people,” he says. “I wasn’t in the loop.” Discouraged, Tyler
recalls waking up one morning and saying, “I’m moving back home.”
He worked at a children’s rehabilitation facility in the Ozarks, singing to the kids at
night and staying with an aunt and uncle.
“I was content, but something was missing,” he says, but then the CD he’d made
reached songwriter/artist Rhett Akins. “He asked if I was still writing, then said, ‘I really like your voice.’ He and his writing partners Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip said they wanted to work with me. It turned out they had also heard a song I had done for a GAC outdoor show. It was like God redirecting my life, saying, ‘This is what you need to do,’ and it happened a week after I decided I was going to go back to school.”
Tyler’s unique background, from avid small-town outdoorsman to classically trained vocalist, makes him one of the most compelling young singers in contemporary country. His life experiences and outlook have let him enjoy the ride.
“I’ve learned not to worry too much or to take life so seriously,” he says. “Just have fun because you never know. I was with Luke Bryan and Lee Brice on the bus, and I’m always like, ‘C’mon boys, let’s get a picture. I don’t know how long I’m going to be doin’ this.’” It’s a perspective that modestly allows Tyler to appreciate every step of his career, as he says, “I do not take one day I get to do this for granted.”
The combination makes him one of the most accessible artists out there.
“Every place I go,” he says, “I try to do something fun and meet somebody new. I am going to be one of those artists who’s in it for the fans. I’m the guy that’s gonna come out and drink a beer with you after the show. I don’t know how many times I’ve almost not gotten into my own show because I look like the people who are coming to watch! Which I think is fine. I’m just like my fans, and that’s the way I like it.”
In addition to recording and songwriting, Farr has toured extensively with Colt Ford, for whom Tyler wrote the song, “Hey Y’all,” as well as opening for Jerrod Niemann and Lee Brice in early 2011 on The Higher Education Tour. Tyler’s four-song digital album, Camouflage – EP, is available now.
From this tiny town that’s home to a gas station, two blinking yellow lights, and a small tin- roofed barn dubbed Studio B, country rockers Parmalee launched their long journey to Nashville. The near- fatal robbery Parmalee experienced after a show would have destroyed most bands. But brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, cousin Barry Knox and longtime friend Josh McSwain didn’t call it quits. Instead it reinforced their intense motivation and dedication to one another and to their determination to succeed.
Each obstacle that delayed Parmalee’s arrival to Nashville was an extra mile that allowed the groundbreaking sounds of artists like Jason Aldean and Eric Church to pave the way for the worlds of country radio and Parmalee’s brand of country music to meet at the perfect crossroad.
Parmalee’s country rock sound has its roots in the bluegrass, traditional country, southern rock and blues covers the guys grew up hearing their families play.
Matt and Scott Thomas grew up near Greenville, NC watching their father Jerry front a popular local southern rock blues band. The boys watched and learned, picking up their own instruments and jamming along with their dad’s band. From this they learned how to integrate their own style into the songs they were playing. Barry Knox, who played drums for the church choir, loved what his cousins were doing and soon joined them.
All that practice paid off one night when Matt and Scott, then teenagers, snuck into a club to watch their father perform. “The guitar player got too drunk before the gig and didn’t show,” Matt explains. “I knew all the songs so my dad called me on stage. I was in the band from that point on.” Scott replaced the drummer, and Barry learned bass in order to secure his spot in the band. The line-up became the newly minted The Thomas Brothers Band.
The Thomas Brothers Band cut their teeth on the local club circuit and would often share the same marquee with a cover band that starred their friend Josh McSwain on guitar and keys. Josh’s upbringing paralleled Matt, Scott and Barry’s. Josh also traveled and played with his father who was in a bluegrass band called “Get Honked.” A fan of Josh’s musical prowess, Matt invited Josh to play with Barry, Scott and himself. The foursome clicked immediately on stage. Their first gig was held at local watering hole, Corrigans, near East Carolina University where the guys went to school. From this moment in 2001 Parmalee was born.
The band set up camp every Tuesday and Thursday evening in the Parmele, NC barn they named Studio B after its original builder Mark Bryant. They added an extra “e” to the band’s name to make it easier for those outside the area to pronounce it. “Tuesdays and Thursdays were the only nights we could all get together and rehearse – the rest of the time we were each out working in order to fund Parmalee,” Matt says. “Every person in town could hear us practice in the barn, so we also had to stop at 11 p.m. to be considerate of the neighborhood.”
The residents of Parmele weren’t the only ones within earshot. The band developed a devout regional following based on the intensity of their live shows. But, the guys knew to turn their dreams into reality they would have to leave North Carolina. Their journey took them all over the country including New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta as they tried to find their musical direction. All of the producers, managers, and label representatives said the same thing: “you guys need to be in Nashville.”
Matt, Barry and Josh parked their RV, which doubled as their studio, in the Comfort Inn parking lot on Nashville’s famed Demonbreun Street near Music Row. For the next month the parking lot was home and office. They began writing new material and networking. Their new connections led to a co-writing session with David Fanning, who is part of the celebrated production team New Voice with Kurt Allison, Tully Kennedy and Rich
Redmond. “Going into these appointments, you never know who you’re going to meet or how it’s going to go,” Matt explains. “But when I wrote with David, we hit it off.”
During the same weekend as the infamous Nashville flood, Parmalee and Fanning wrote “Musta Had a Good Time” – even recording the demo in the RV’s recording “studio” – oblivious to the devastation that was happening to the city around them. After the “Flood Sessions,” Parmalee went into the studio with New Voice to record some sides, including “Carolina,” and “Musta Had a Good Time.” NV played the songs for BBR Music Group President/CEO Benny Brown who was impressed and asked to see a showcase as soon as the band returned to Nashville.
Parmalee put together a short tour in North Carolina to fund the trip back to Music City. But after the first show, plans changed.
After their September 21, 2010 show, Josh and Barry were packing gear in the venue while Matt and Scott were outside loading their RV when two armed men knocked on the door. The men put a gun to Matt’s head and demanded money. Shots were fired. Scott, who possessed a concealed weapons license, fired back. One of the gunmen died and Scott was shot three times. One bullet hit Scott’s femoral artery causing him to nearly bleed to death. “He bled out on the air flight to Charlotte, and his heart stopped twice,” Matt recalls. “When we got to the hospital, the doctor gave him a five percent chance to live.”
Scott was hospitalized in Charlotte, NC for 35 days – 10 of which he spent in a coma. News of the shooting spread like wildfire and the local news stations carried weekly reports on Scott’s progress. Parmalee’s fans turned out in droves to show their support. Through Facebook campaigns and benefits they raised enough money to help cover Scott’s medical bills. The Nashville community also rallied behind Parmalee donating autographed items and VIP packages to help cover Scott’s medical expenses. “We knew we had a lot of friends and fans,” Josh says. “But we found out exactly how many we had.”
By February 2011, Scott was well enough to get behind a drum kit for the first time and the band finally performed their promised label showcase. “We wouldn’t tell everybody how bad off I was because there was no way I wasn’t going to play that show,” Scott says. “I was in a leg brace, but I only had to get through six songs. Parmalee had fought for so much for so long that we decided we hadn’t come this far to stop now.” Through sheer willpower, the band nailed the set and landed a deal with Stoney Creek Records, home to ACM Vocal Duo of the Year Thompson Square and chart-topper Randy Houser.
Looking back on their experiences, the members of Parmalee have no regrets about the path they chose. “All the obstacles and craziness we’ve been through allowed us to help find our home in Nashville,” Matt says. “It took us going through all that to mold us,” Barry continues. “In Hollywood and New York we were always pushed in opposite directions. But Nashville helped us capture our sound – a sound that’s authentic to who we are as both artists and as people.”
“Artists like Jason Aldean and Eric Church helped pave the way for our country rock sound. If you think of Jason Aldean as the rockin’ side of country then think of Parmalee as the country side of rock,” Matt explains.
All of Parmalee’s hard work, dedication and perseverance is paying off in a big way. Country fans voted the band’s debut single, “Musta Had A Good Time,” #1 for 4 consecutive weeks on SiriusXM’s The Highway “Hot 30 LIVE” countdown and the song became a Top 40 hit on mainstream country radio. The fun-loving party anthem has been featured in national sporting event broadcasts from the PGA to MLB. Parmalee has been highlighted in USA Today, AOL’s The Boot, Country Aircheck, Country Weekly and on CNN as well as been named a “Bubbling Under Artist” by Billboard magazine.
Parmalee’s current single, “Carolina,” was the 2nd most added song at Country Radio upon its debut, only behind superstar Kenny Chesney. “Carolina” is cresting Top 30 on the Billboard Country Airplay and Mediabase charts. It is also the band’s second consecutive single to be fan-voted #1 on SiriusXM’s The Highway “Hot 30 LIVE” countdown. The signs are clear that after a long, tumultuous journey to Nashville, Parmalee is home at last.
Tickets for reserved track seats at the 8 p.m. Monday, July 21 Elkhart County 4-H Fair concert performance by Tyler Farr with special guests Parmalee will go on sale May 31 at 4hfair.org, by phone or at the fair office. Tickets will be $30. As always, grandstand seating will be free on a first-come, first-served basis.
The other shows in the 2014 concert series are:
• 3 Doors Down, Saturday, July 19.
• Francesca Battistelli, Sunday, July 20.
• Danielle Bradbery with special guests The Swon Brothers, Tuesday, July 22.
• Justin Moore with special guest Joey Hyde, Wednesday, July 23.