Best Of The West 2013: The Band Perry
The three hit-making siblings chat about the making of their new album, 'Pioneer,' as well as their nonmusical hobbies.
Neil, Kimberly, and Reid Perry.
Photography: Big Machine Label Group
Before attending last summer’s CMA Music Festival in Nashville, I knew The Band Perry only from radio hits — the poetic slice of Southern Goth “If I Die Young” and the lovelorn pop morsels “All Your Life” and “Postcard from Paris.” After the fest, I found myself telling friends all about this trio of 20-something siblings and how they brought a stadium of fans to their feet, overshadowing every other headlining act in the process.
Kimberly Perry and her younger brothers, Reid and Neil, gave everything they could to that main-stage performance — not just in the originals, but also in a knockout cover of Queen’s raucous classic “Fat Bottomed Girls.” “We raised the bar with that CMA performance,” Kimberly says. “And ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ is actually becoming a bit of a live staple.”
The Perrys now have more original material to draw from with their recently released sophomore album, Pioneer. Making the record took the trio on a family road trip from Nashville to California and back. Intensive West Coast writing sessions with Rick Rubin (who famously helmed Johnny Cash’s American series) preceded studio time with producer Dann Huff in Music City.
If Pioneer’s first single, the bluegrass barn burner “Better Dig Two,” is any indication, the siblings have entered darker thematic territory, with bigger arrangements and harmonies to boot. Reid confirms as much: “The beats are more aggressive, there are more electric guitars, and a lot of people say that we have more teeth.”
“We’re also as vulnerable as we’ve ever been on the ballads,” says his big sister. “We’re telling real-life stories and sharing secrets. Like Reid said, sometimes that meant having more teeth, and other times it meant wearing our hearts on our sleeves.”
Here’s more from my chat with the siblings Perry.
Cowboys & Indians: So tell me a little more about the new album.
Kimberly Perry: Pioneer for us was all about movement from point A to point B. Coming off of the success of a song like “If I Die Young” and the others from our first album, we found ourselves asking a lot of questions before we sat down to begin writing and recording. Where the heck are we going, and what do we want to say next? All the songs on the album tell the story of the last two years of our lives, how that affected us personally, how that affected our relationships, how we grew from that and the things we discovered. It’s about not only ourselves but the world around us.
C&I: What were the writing sessions with Rick Rubin like for you guys?
Kimberly: We really had him vet our songs. We probably had about 15 songs ready. We sat in his studio. I think that’s really what he does best. Neil actually calls him …
Neil Perry: We call him the song doctor, with all his wisdom. All the secrets are in his beard.
Kimberly: Rick helped us vet songs and challenged certain things about those songs, all the way down to rhyme scheme and perspective. It was important to us to look at that stuff. We spent two weeks with him, and then made the decision to pack up our songs and move back to Nashville with Dann Huff, who is a dear friend and fantastic producer. We brought them to life in the studio.
Reid Perry: Whenever we write in general, we have these images in our mind. The first album, we were thinking of county fairs and ferris wheels and a very romanticized view of life. For the second album we had images of marching bands and a militaristic march forward — kind of a forward motion. I feel that comes through in the music.
C&I: What are some of the songs that really speak to the evolution of ideas and inspiration?
Kimberly: I will say that “Better Dig Two” is the darkest thing on the album. And one of my favorite songs that will be on the album is called “End of Time.” It does talk about what the end of time would look like in the South. My favorite line on the record is, “The Alabama moon fell from the sky, and the sweet tea well ran dry/Somewhere out there you’re finding yourself, but back home it’s the end of time.” I think we grew a lot as lyricists. It was a challenge to write as honestly as we could but also carry a lot imagery, which we love. We found that balance more, though, on the second album.
Reid: Every single song on Pioneer, we wrote, rewrote, and wrote again, just to make sure that we were as honest as possible. We’d sit in the room, somebody would throw out a line, and we’d like it, but we’d ask if it was 100 percent honest in where we were.
Kimberly: It was like, “Do we really believe that?” Even mechanical things like rhymes. Hey, we grew up in the South, and I’ve always been able to rhyme just about anything. But apparently some things don’t necessarily rhyme. [Laughs.] So we tightened up the mechanics.
C&I: In the rare moments that you guys aren’t writing, recording, or performing, what are your other passions and hobbies? Reid, I’m told you love riding horses …
Reid: I haven’t been able to ride much recently, but whenever we do get back home, I will head out and ride. He’s an appendix quarter horse. His name is Romeo. I did not name him that; it’s what he came with. But he’s a good guy.
Kimberly: Now Reid lovingly refers to him as Horse.
Neil: I love photography, which is a hobby that’s taken a big part of my free time. We get to travel all these cool places, so I get to take photos everywhere.
Kimberly: You can see some of his work inside the album packaging. A lot of the inside of it will come from Neil’s photography work. … I’m into decompressing, whatever that means. I like to get out and drive. We have a lot of beautiful land around our little town of Greeneville [Tennessee]. For me to be creative, I like to have time to think. So I like to be alone and think, and I like to read. And at the end of the day, I like to hook up with friends and family that we don’t get to see a lot.
C&I: Speaking of family, I can tell that you guys grew up listening to a wide variety of music.
Reid: Our dad played bass, our mom played piano, but I think their biggest influence was what they listened to. They’d listen to everything from bluegrass to Motown to Michael Jackson to country. And our dad was a big rock ’n’ roll lover, so it was Queen and the Rolling Stones. They’ve peppered our palates with a lot of different sounds.
Kimberly: And we’ve talked before how we’re influenced by the Stones, and on the country end, Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash. But we certainly have been listening to a ton of Queen in making the second album. Vocal groups are such a tradition in country, and we’re a band in that we play instruments, but we’re trying to stretch our vocal boundaries and go places we haven’t gone before.