The Band Perry Bring ‘Hip’ New Sound to Country
The Band Perry are a good example of what happens when you expose your children to equal, but copious amounts of the Rolling Stones and Loretta Lynn. The brothers and sister trio soaked up bits of every musical influence that crossed their paths, from Dylan and the Beatles, to Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Johnny Cash, and were already on the road performing by the time most kids their age were mastering grade school skills.
Kimberly, Reid, and Neil’s songwriting prowess and musical abilities became evident early to their parents, who drove them to gigs all around the Southeast and eventually moved them from the Mobile, Ala. area to East Tennessee where they could be closer to Music City, yet inspired by the mountains around them. Though they made trips to Nashville and spent time writing with local songwriters and learning the ropes, the trio’s real magic seemed to happen in their family-inspired writing circles, where they would create songs like their hauntingly beautiful new single, ‘If I Die Young.’ The focus of the three belies their young ages, (Neil, the baby, is only 19,) and the moment they take the stage, there is no question that this is what they were indeed born to do.
Republic Nashville soon took notice of the family, signed them to a deal, and they entered the studio last year to record their first single, ‘Hip to My Heart,’ and their self-titled EP, which was recently released. A full-length album from The Band Perry is due out in the Fall. We recently sat down with them during a busy afternoon to talk about their Southern gothic influences, the challenges of working with two totally different producers on a debut project, and to uncover just how deep their family’s love of the Rolling Stones goes.
What were some of the earliest memories of music in your home?
Kimberly: We grew up in Mobile, and I was 15 years old when I fronted my first band, the High School Boys, and Neil was eight and Reid was 10, and they had matching bowl cuts! And mom would always dress them alike too. She just stopped doing that a few weeks ago! They had their own band, as well. Neil was back on drums back then, and they found this adorable little lead singer and guitar player and their band would open all the dates out on the road for me and my guys. Then our parents bought this 33-foot motorhome and loaded all of us kids up and took us around the Southeast, and every weekend we would play music.
We always had music playing around the house. Dad was our rock ‘n’ roll lover, and actually when most kids were being rocked to sleep to rock-a-bye-baby, our dad was putting us down to the Rolling Stones. Mom was a country music lover, and she would have Loretta Lynn records on, and when she was a kid her grandfather bought her an acoustic guitar because he wanted her to play and write like Loretta. Every Saturday night we would sit around and listen to ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ with Garrison Keillor, and we still listen to it today. It had a lot of bluegrass, and that’s where The Band Perry got its earliest influences. One of my earliest memories is Mom had the Michael Jackson ‘Bad‘ album and would put it on, and we would dance to that getting ready for school in the mornings.
When did you first start coming to Nashville?
Kimberly: We first started coming here to be part of the songwriting community. That’s how we began to make connections into the country world. There’s no place like Nashville for songwriting. We recorded an independent project that was before our record deal, and it spoke more to our Rolling Stone side than our Loretta Lynn side. But we wanted to be in the country world, we felt that’s where we belonged, so we hooked up with producer Paul Worley here in town. He heard our song ‘If I Die Young,’ and said ‘you guys need to start there and write around i.’ That’s where we began a year ago now writing for this record.
Tell us about your songwriting influences.
Reid: Being a bass player, I’m influenced by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and I feel like I contribute a lot to the music side of the songwriting.
Kimberly: Reid is always walking into the room with this incredible bassline, which not only defines the chord structure but also a lot of the rhythm. He’s a very melodic player.
Neil: I love reading, it’s my guilty pleasure. And I like bringing a lot of lyrics to the table when we write, being that I’m an avid reader.
Kimberly: And being that Reid is the drama in The Band Perry — this guy is quite dramatic — he’s a good actor, and he can do about a thousand impressions! So he brings a lot of personality into the writing room to contribute to the songs.
I love writers from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash, who still blows me away. I never get over how incredible his words are. And Patty Griffin, of course. We love Bobby Gentry, her southern style of lyric writing. One of our favorite genres of literature is Southern Gothic, which doesn’t mean that we’re all dressed in black, but they’re deep South stories that all have certain grotesque characters, larger than life characters. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was considered Southern gothic. So a lot of our imagery is surrounded in those places and uses that vernacular. Antique words with modern melody, I guess you could say. We call ourselves a modern throwback. A lot of that culture we picked up in southern Alabama, swampy towns with a lot of Southern rock — the crossroads of country and rock ‘n’ roll.
You all seem to have a really well-defined sense of exactly who you are and what your sound is. To what do you attribute that?
Kimberly: Our band covered lots of different songs back in the day. I was actually 17 when I started writing, so I had been in bands for awhile by then and we did everything from rock covers to pop and we all started writing young. The first song we penned together was a song called ‘Quittin’ You.’ We typically sit in a writers circle together to write, and lots of times we rehearse in that circle when we’re getting ready for an acoustic date. A lot of times we’ll allow a rehearsal session to roll right into a writing session. That’s how ‘Quittin You’ came out.
Kimberly, being the only girl in the band, how is it watching your brothers interact with female fans?
Kimberly: The ladies love Neil. We were in Houston last week and someone asked my mom, ‘So you and Mick Jagger had a love child?,’ which is Reid. Not really, but he could pass for that! I love it because we’re at the point now where people will come through the autograph line and say to me, ‘Could you move out of the way? Actually, could you take the picture of us?’ So that’s a good sign the girls love them.
Your new single, ‘If I Die Young,’ is a beautiful yet sad ballad. What does it mean to you three?
Kimberly: That song works on so many levels and means different things to different people. It was just one of those songs that you felt like was meant to be on planet earth. We were just real humble to have the pen and paper in hand when it was ready to come, and for us it is a statement of contentment. We finished that song and just looked at each other and said, ‘How cool is this that we were able to put feet to our dreams?.’ So many people work so hard for so long and for whatever reason are not able, or don’t have the opportunity to access their dreams. So for us it was a statement of you know what, if it all ends at this moment for whatever reason even at our young ages, we’ve gotten to live and love so well and so completely. And that’s what it means to us.
Kimberly: Kara was in Nashville one afternoon and she had some free time. Our A&R lady at the label is friends with her and asked us if we wanted to write with her. We ended up writing ‘Postcard From Paris’ with her and she ended up becoming a big sister to us. She’s a wonderful lady and has such song prowess … it was great working with her.
Being that you’re siblings, is there a lot of bickering on the road?
Reid: Oh, we always get along, we’re the Brady Bunch! [laughs] But what’s great about being on the road with family is they always have your back as well and somebody who cares about you.
Kimberly: Fourteen days out on the road, it’s amazing how things revert back to 12 and 14-year-olds! And we call them discussions, not disagreements. [laughs] We function as a democracy … everybody has an equal voice, and everybody gets an equal voice most days, unless I’m in a bad mood and then I count for two!
What’s been the coolest moment of your career so far?
Kimberly: There have been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into the last decade of our lives to bring us to this moment. It’s been a long walk, and we hold the pinnacle moment of our career and favorite moment as when we got to debut at the Grand Ole Opry in November, 2009. Friday, the 13th … we made our own luck that day, and the Opry is on the Ryman stage in November, so not only did we get to play it, we got to play the mother church of country music.
Neil: We’re students of the history of country music … that’s what we love so much about that experience and also what happens backstage. You have so many of the older country artists still around that are so supportive of the younger artists. When we walked in the first guy we saw waiting out in the back alley was Little Jimmy Dickens, which was an amazing way to enter the night.
You have rock influences as well as country. Why do you think the pull ended up going more towards country?
Kimberly: When we recorded our independent album, which included ‘If I Die Young,’ we took it away and began crafting our country music careers around it, we had a real moment of transparency. We said you know, we can walk into the rock ‘ roll side of the world, or we can write some more music and hopefully be competitive in the country marketplace. And we weighed all our options and I knew first of all, we have hearts of country. We’ve always lived in rural areas, and I absolutely believe it is the most romantic genre and we love all the traditional instruments, the fiddle, the banjo, mandolin, we love the history of the genre. Even in the rock genre we tend to lean more towards country sounding music. So we knew that this was where we belonged.
Since you’re just starting out, is there any particular artist whose career you’d really like to emulate or model yourselves after?
Kimberly: One who stands out for us is Garth Brooks. Our manager actually was the longtime manager for Garth, so we’ve gotten to ask all the questions and asked him to tell us all of the earliest stories of Garth, because everywhere we go in country music, whether talking to radio or fans, everybody talks about what a darn nice guy he was. Everybody loves him. I think for as many years as he was in the marketplace he stayed relevant, and you can tell everybody connected with him was focused on the fan experience and giving the fans a good show.