By Dan Kimpel
The Band Perry is composed of three siblings: eldest sister Kimberly Perry, 27, (lead vocals, rhythm guitar and piano), middle brother Reid, 22, (bass and vocals), and youngest brother Neil, 20, (mandolin, accordion, drums and vocals). The trio have harmonized informally all of their lives. And when Kimberly turned professional at age 15 and formed her own band, she enlisted Reid and Neil,––10 and eight years old, respectively,––as her roadies.
Wisely, the group decided to record half an album’s worth of songs before ever presenting themselves to a label. The idea was to create a solid identity, rather than being subjected to the decrees of the proverbial “powers that be” in Nashville. The three were signed to Republic Nashville as the Band Perry in 2009.
The Band Perry’s first single, “Hip to My Heart,” was a convincing introduction to country radio. But it was a song penned by Kimberly, “If I Die Young,” that propelled them to mega-prominence, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, hitting No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and receiving a Grammy nomination. their latest single, “You Lie,” is following its predecessors straight up the country charts. MC spoke with all three members of the band for this exclusive interview.
Music Connection: Your touring, interview and performance schedule seems to be in-credibly grueling, even by country music standards. How do the three of you sustain this momentum?
Kimberly Perry: We are a “blue collar, roll up your sleeves, keep your nose to the grindstone” band. We didn’t count our days home until the end of the year, and it’s good we didn’t. We’re used to the pace. A lot of it is about shifting your mindset. So home to us is now on the road. We assume that every day is a working day, and that keeps us content out here.
MC: We would imagine that since you are adept at performing acoustically, this would be huge plus in doing radio tours. Is there an added intimacy when you bring your performances to smaller environments?
Reid Perry: We live in East Tennessee, and we practice with the three of us acoustically, because the band guys are in Nashville. That’s how we grew up, playing around the house, just the three of us.
Kimberly: We do some acoustic shows, and when we perform as the full bandРРplugged in and electricРРwe bring out a drummer, a fiddle player and an electric guitarist. We do everything now, from theaters to sweaty little rock clubs to arenas opening for Tim McGraw. That tour is set to start soon.
In our theater shows, we have this segment where the band guys leave and the three of us do a 10-minute acoustic set. We give folks all flavors of the Band Perry.
MC: You grew up on both rock and country?
Neil Perry: Yes, we did. Our dad was the rock & roll lover and mom was the country lover. Dad gave us an appreciation for old rock artists and new ones as well. So we love to pull out some Queen and some Rolling Stones to perform.
Kimberly: In our first incarnation as a three-piece, Neil was back on the drums and I played more electric. We were kind of a rock & roll power trio. We do just a little bit of everything. We’ve always been at that crossroads of country and rock & roll, what we call “American Music.”
MC: There is another version of your hit, “If I Die Young,” that is remixed with guitars added and a de-emphasis on the banjo and violin to make it more pop. But it still sounds country.
Kimberly: Country music has always been songs first. That’s what we love about “If I Die Young.” In any form or fashion, the country version, the pop remixes, or if we’re playing it with an acoustic guitar, the song rides on top of all the arrangements. It’s all about the song.
MC: Saying the word “die” in a song certainly adds a layer of gravitas.
Kimberly: It’s one of the most powerful things any of us ever deals with, whether it’s an actual loss or even the inhibition of death. It was a really interesting thing: It was written more to celebrate life than contemplate death. It was this moment in time, and the first song written for the record. It was penned pre-record deal, with no promise that any ears would ever fall on our music.
But we were so grateful to have the opportunity to do music and play it with the people we love. “If I Die Young” is about this. If it ended right this minute, we got to live life, even though we are young. It reminds us to make the most of our minutes.
MC: Tell us about your hometown.
Reid: Greeneville is in the eastern part of Tennessee. We love the mountains. We were from Alabama originally, and we moved up there about eight years ago.
Kimberly: Greeneville is not on the map, which is why we chose it. Nashville is our home away from home, but we wanted to keep one foot in town and one foot in the mountains. We have a wonderful little group of friends and family. It’s such a sup-portive town. The cool thing about Greeneville is how everything that’s been happening around the Band Perry and our music has encouraged them. It’s brought a lot of hope to our town. That’s really humbling.
MC: You returned in the fall for a homecoming concert. How was that experience?
Kimberly: We were hoping 50 people would show up. Five thousand did.
Neil: Our grandmother, Betty Lou, was re-sponsible for the majority of the crowd being there. We had three days to promote the show. She went to every single store in Greeneville and put up flyers and talked to people. Everyone was there for Betty Lou’s grandchildren.
MC: Among your influences, you note that you collectively listened to A Prairie Home Companion, the National Public Radio show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor.
Reid: After A Prairie Home Companion there was an hour of bluegrass music and we’d sit around and listen to that.
Kimberly: What I really love about bluegrass is there are so many traditional songs. Living in Appalachia, it’s in the water. We love Alison Krauss, who records traditional hymns and songs. There’s a darkness to a lot of them, or they border on fairytales. It’s something we try to channel with “If I Die Young.”
MC: You very famously worked on your first record with the acclaimed country producer Paul Worley. What wisdom did he impart to you?
Kimberly: Paul was the one who heard “If I Die Young” and said, “Take this song and go write your country record around it.” His process was different from the other recording processes we’d been around. He’s a good guy with a big heart for music. And we were grateful for his direction. Paul has one of the strongest “song guts” in Nashville and he extends that Nashville adage, “It begins and ends with the song.” He challenged us on our song selection process. I feel like we got the best collection because of that.
Songwriting is the bread and butter of Nashville. Whether an artist writes or not, the best song can be found right here in town. It’s amazing to me that everyday people are holed up in these cubicles and writing rooms up and down Music Row and literally cranking out the soundtrack for all of our lives.
MC: Speaking of songwriters, there is a song, “Postcard from Paris,” on your debut that you co-wrote with one of our favorite Los Angeles interview subjects, songwriter-producer Kara DioGuardi. How did that evolve?
Reid: It was a last minute session. She was in Nashville working with other writers and our A&R lady called and said, “Kara is free, would you like to get together and write?” and of course we said, “Yeah!” And it’s funny writing with a new writer; you don’t know how it’s going to go, a good session or bad session. Fortunately, it came out good.
Kimberly: And since then we’ve been out to her house in L.A. to write. She’s like a big sister now, and she’s given us a warm welcome. And we’ve met her Chihuahua, Tiki.
MC: You are clearly very comfortable doing interviews. Have you had media training or does it come from experience?
Kimberly: We never did media training. Our grandmother, Betty Lou, has the gift of gab, so we’ve learned to be social, and we have taken our cues from her.
Reid: We just love people, so it’s not hard.
MC: In country music, fans like to be close to the artists. Under what circumstances do you interact with your audiences post-performance?
Kimberly: One thing the boys and I do is this: We sign after every show, no matter how large the room or how long the signing line. It’s so important, and crucial to us to shake hands and have conversations, not only with people who are lending their hard earned dollars to our music, but who are lending their ears and their hearts. We stand on these stages night after night because the country music lovers put us there. We’ve seen this pay offРРwe won a preliminary ACM Award, one that is fan voted. And we were so honored. Everything we do is for the fans.
MC: What about social networking? Does it offer additional access to your younger fans?
Reid: Yes, we communicate through Twitter and Facebook pages. We love to talk to people, and when we have shows in their area, if we find someone who wasn’t able to get a ticket, maybe we can help them out.
MC: It’s interesting now that, because of your success and the stardom of your label-mate Taylor Swift and others, younger audiences are more drawn to country music. How about the folks who come and see your shows? What age demographic do they tend to be?
Kimberly: It’s a mix. We do a blend of headlining shows and opening for Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. At a headlining show it’s everything from high schoolers to 30-35 year olds, and kids on the other side of that.
MC: We note you performed at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. What was it like for you to perform your music in New York City?
Kimberly: It was more guys than girls. It was our second time to play New York, and it’s always a little edgier there.
Neil: Because New Yorkers live in a city, when they find something a little more country they gravitate toward that and are able to live their country music lives through the shows.
MC: You are now also performing at The Grand Ole Opry, one of country music’s most hallowed institutions. How is that experience for you?
Kimberly: We just played our sixth time at The Opry. It always feels like the first time. It’s such a historic stage. We don’t get nervous a lot, but we have the most nerves at The Opry. We’re intent on being respectful and following our forefathers’ steps.
MC: Your success seems so sudden, but Kimberly, you especially have been working at this a long time. You were signed solo as a Christian artist early on, and now the trio has been together since 2005.
Kimberly: We celebrate 13 years on the road this October. We got started when Neil was eight, Reid was 10 and I was 15. We’ve grown up doing it. It’s so wonderful to be here, but it took a lot of blood sweat and tears. It’s the three of us, but our friends and our parents have all worked with us to make this happen. It’s a long walk, but we wouldn’t have traded any of it.
Contact Erin D. D. Burr, Big Machine Label Group, 615-250-6636,