The Band Perry ‘Pioneer’ Captures Siblings’ Wandering Spirit (Exclusive Interview)
"Not all who wander are lost," author J.R.R. Tolkien said, and the Band Perry's new album, Pioneer, released Tuesday (April 2), is a great example of what can happen when you do wander. The three (Neil, Kimberly and Reid Perry) set out to make their second album as bold as possible, throwing off the bowlines and setting sail into exciting, new, uncharted musical territory. To find some creative inspiration, they did some wandering out West -- with a purpose, of course -- and wrote some amazing new songs for their sophomore disc. But they wandered, nonetheless. During the course of their road trip, they came upon the philosophy that would ultimately inspire the album, including the title track, and would give them the courage to color outside the lines, using even more colors from the box this time around.
"A lot of times you think of pioneers and think of covered wagons and bonnets or astronauts on moons," Reid tells The Boot. "But for us it means going out into the unknown and knowing you have somewhere to go and that you're barreling towards it, but not necessarily knowing the path that you're gonna take. It's all about putting one foot in front of the other. And 'Pioneer' as a song and an album really became a lifeline for the three of us."
Coming off of a breakneck tour schedule the past few years, the three needed some time to recharge their batteries, and elected to head to Malibu, Calif., and producer Rick Rubin's studio to do some preliminary work on the new CD. During a stop in Santa Fe, they penned the title track, a song that has a nostalgic feel but a modern and universal message about the exhilaration of exploring the unknown.
"The song really asks more questions than it has answers," Kimberly explains. "Sometimes when you're barreling towards your future, you have no idea what it's gonna look like or how you're gonna get there, and it can be a scary thing. For us, 'Pioneer' is about the journey from our first album to our second -- everything that we've been thinking about and living out for the past two years. It's about putting one foot in front of the other and about the journey. We did take a literal journey from east Tennessee all the way to the southwest and Malibu to do a long songwriting trip. 'Pioneer' was written on a hilltop in Santa Fe with the skyline in the background, and it was just a beautiful, inspiring moment."
Amid all the grandeur and majestic beauty, the three found what they had been looking for -- a new kind of inspiration thanks to their unfamiliar (and peaceful) surroundings.
"One of the distinctions between creating our first album and the second was we had to look for inspiration in new and different places," says Kimberly. "We were at home so much in the writing and making of our first album and when we're home we have time to think and daydream, but we didn't have that luxury this go-round. We've done nearly 700 shows over the last couple of years, so we've had to be deliberate about being inspired and making life happen. That was the other reason for changing our horizons, if you will, on that road trip, just to be inspired by our surroundings and have time to decompress and turn the cell phones off and get back to a place of focused creativity."
By the time the trio reached the beach, they had an entire new batch of songs to play for Rubin, who helped them polish the gems and redefine their ideas about rhyme schemes and such at the same time.
"One of the things Rick really stressed to us was the importance of good rhymes," recalls Neil. "In the South, we can rhyme anything ... free and easy to us rhymes, but to him it didn't and so we really found a great pusher of our songwriting abilities."
"He was also about hearing the heart behind the music," adds Kimberly. "He just really challenged us to make every lyric and melody completely honest. Sometimes as you write lyrics you do so because maybe these set of words sound good together; it's poetic, but you don't necessarily believe it in your heart and soul. So Rick was about really digging deep to write the most honest music, and he was very involved in our songwriting phase, and being a counselor and just giving an ear to our collection of songs."
After retooling the lyrics and stripping things down, the Perrys headed back home and realized that the songs also needed to fit the huge arenas they had been playing opening for acts such as Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, so they enlisted the help of producer Dann Huff to amp them up a bit.
"Rick is in a place where he's all about minimal production," says Neil, "and we realized for the rooms that were playing, which were these amphitheaters, we needed a huge macro-production, so we brought it back to Dann. I think the biggest differences between our first album and this one is he helped us bring more of our live show into this album, more of the elements that we have, like more aggressive drumbeats, more electric guitars. He actually came out to see one of our shows and he was the first producer ever to do that. When he saw it he said, 'This is the perfect snapshot of who you guys are, let's take the elements from here and put it into the album.'"
"I think the other side of the spectrum is that we also are as vulnerable as we've ever been," Kimberly adds. "We certainly tell real life stories and wear our hearts on our sleeves, so I think we just pushed both sides of those limits even more so than we did on our first album on this CD."
The resulting CD is a collection of tunes that pick up where hits such as "You Lie," and "If I Die Young" left off and is also anchored by the weight of the wickedly morbid first single, "Better Dig Two." The smash hit has sold over a million copies already, and sounds as though it was created explicitly for their voices. A fan of anything Southern Gothic, they were instantly drawn to the song.
"Every time we hear a song and it sounds like we would have written it, we always are willing to cut it," says Neil. "That song has all the elements that we love in a great song ... it's got that Southern Gothic kind of feel to it, and it's a love song. But it's written in kind of a dark way and that's what we really like about it."
"We grew up in the deep south, in Mobile, Ala., and it kind of runs through the culture down there," Kimberly explains. "For whatever reason, when you're down there you run into it everywhere. "Even in school, for summer reading you read Southern Gothic literature, so it just feels like a place that we've come from. For that reason if feels like musical home for the three of us."
The siblings tap into their inner musical child a bit on another track, "Forever Mine, Nevermind," a song they penned with former tour mate Brad Paisley. The track features Brad tearing it up on guitar while they have some vocal fun, Freddie Mercury-style, and is one of their favorites to play live.
"'Forever Mine, Nevermind,' we actually have titled as 'featuring Brad Paisley and the greatest guitar show on earth' in the liner notes," says Reid. "We wrote with him last year. We were talking with him a lot about the second album process and what he went through and what were some of his experiences, and one thing led to another and before a soundcheck one day we pounded it out.
"It truly is an indulgent piece of music," Kimberly confesses. "Anything we ever wanted to do, from grandiose vocals to Brad Paisley's greatest guitar show we packed into this song, so it's a real good time."
Another good-time song and their latest single, "DONE" The plucky tune about throwing in the towel on a bad relationship is flying up the charts. The subject is explored again on the bitingly fun "Chainsaw," a rip-roaring rant about sawing down a tree where lovers initials were carved that the trio describes as the love child of Led Zeppelin and the Judds. The band's knack for ear-catching lyrics is evident on "End of Time," in which they poetically describe the end of days in their hometown when "all the sweet tea wells run dry and the babies cry the blue from their eyes."
The group has been on the road with Rascal Flatts on the Changed tour and will continue to be throught the year. For Neil, the group's resident shutterbug, the perpetual travel offers a chance to take plenty of amazing photographs, some of which can be seen in the booklet for the new CD.
"That's one of the things I love to do in my free time, is take pictures, and the great thing about traveling is you get to go to all these cool places," he says. "For instance, we were in Australia a few weeks ago, and we got to go to this kangaroo and koala reserve. We've talked about doing a photo book someday."
On the extreme rare occasion when the three do get to come off the road and get back home to unwind, the close-knit family finds they still prefer each other's company to just about anyone else's, and the making of Pioneer has only cemented that love and affection.
"We may go do our separate things for a while and there are moments where we do go to our separate corners just to get a little bit of space, but we still end up eating dinner together," says Neil. "We've always been really close, but I feel like we have gotten closer especially through this album-making process."
"We're so blessed and honored to be able to make a second record, and we owe all of that to the fans," adds Reid. "When we go play live, a lot of people think that they're there to see us, but we're actually there to hear them sing back to us, so we're very thankful for all the support that our hometown and fans all across the country have shown us. It really means a lot to us."