For about as long as country music has been around, artist from within the country realm have recorded songs plucked from other genres, just as rock, pop and soul artists have made a decades-long habit of giving country songs a new sound and style for their own audiences. Who can ever forget Whitney Houston’s majestic, chart-topping smash hit, 1992 remake of the Dolly Parton classic “I Will Always Love You”?
Perhaps many of us will never be able to forget the time that Mark Chesnutt gave it a cross-genre go with his take on the schmaltzy Aerosmith movie ballad, “Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” no matter how hard we try. The list goes on and on of course. In this discussion somewhere is perhaps the debatable notion that a great song is a great song, regardless of who is singing it or which radio channel it’s played on.
For North Carolina modern country outfit Parmalee, when it came to choosing to record a cover of “Be Alright,” the 2018 multi-platinum-selling single from Australian artist Dean Lewis it was more or less that idealistically straightforward. Active since 2001, Parmalee has experience in hearing great songs and then making them their own, as evidenced by an already-impressive run featuring a handful of Top 40 Country radio hits.
Before the group could really make the popular tune about the pain of betrayed love their own, lead singer Matt Thomas admits he “had to get past some of the Australian stuff” the lyrical content of the tune holds. With the help of a trusted producer, the band did just that. We recently chatted with Thomas about what makes the song adaptable for country music and other rock songs covered by country artists.
How familiar with the Dean Lewis version of “Be Alright” were you before you recorded it?
Not really that familiar. Somebody from our record label played it for us, and I was like, ‘yeah, that’s a cool song right there.’ After hearing it from that first time I felt it was a song we could do. It hit us all pretty hard. We all related to it and we’ve all had the feelings the song talks about. I’ve been in those shoes before. I could tell immediately how we would record it the first time I heard it.”
Even though its a pop song, it certainly tells a story, which is something the greatest country songs do.
Absolutely this is a story song. I don’t call myself a songwriter as much as I’m a guy that sometimes writes songs. I always want a lyric guy in the room with me because I love melody and I love lyrics and when those two things work well together its magic. The fact that it tell a story that’s so relatable on so many levels is really something.
The song goes into a great details and is very specific about how everything is going down in the relationship, but it doesn’t overshare or get corny.
It’s like when we write songs out here in Nashville, we can sometimes overdo it and you got to be careful that you’re not just rhyming every other word while you’re just saying the same thing over and over. We never felt burned out by what this song is saying.
Wanting someone that’s bad for you is a great theme for country music isn’t it?
It is, and even more than that, the song talks about the friends we all need to keep us from that person who is bad news. You got to have those friends who tell you to ‘cool out.’ I’ve been that guy who needed those friends to tell me to back off, and I’ve been that friends who was there to tell someone else to stay away from her, too.
Because of the more hard-charing modern arrangement, “Be Alright” reminds me of Jack Ingram’s “Lips of an Angel” cover from a few years ago. Did you think about other covers like that when you recorded yours?
“I thought a lot about when Gary Allan did Vertical Horizon’s “Best I Ever Had.” We we got David Fanning, who produced “Carolina” for us and knows us better musically than anyone, on board, we were able to do our own thing with the song like Gary Allen or Jack Ingram did. It can be tough to find songs that fit a band’s specific style here in Nashville, so its cool to find a song like this, even if it started out as a pop song.”
You acted in the lead role for the song’s video. Is it easy for you to switch from lead singer to actor when the time calls for it?
I didn’t have any lines to remember, so that definitely helped. If I had had some lines maybe that would be different, but I really loved it. And I have known Haley, who was in our “Close Your Eyes” video for a while now, so having a buddy there made it easier too. I’d love to do it again and see how it comes out.