Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 2010, The Band Perry have ascended to dizzying heights. Fronted by Kimberly Perry and rounded out by her younger brothers Neil and Reid, the band has notched a string of hit singles, including the quadruple-platinum “If I Die Young” (which climbed to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country and AC charts), the platinum “You Lie,” and the Country No. 1 “All Your Life.” They’ve also enjoyed sold-out tours and a showering of honors, including multiple ACM, CMA, and CMT Music awards, as well as Grammy, Teen Choice, AMA, ACA, and Billboard Music award nominations — all of which has cemented the sibling trio as one of the hottest acts in recent history.
But despite the validation that comes with such success, Kimberly, Reid, and Neil felt as if they were walking into the unknown when it came time to write and record their second album, which they’ve called Pioneer. “People hear the word ‘pioneer’ and they think of covered wagons or astronauts on the moon, but to us the idea of a pioneer is very modern,” Reid says. “It reflects the idea of putting one foot in front of the other when you’re unsure how to get where you’re going. It’s about marching forward and making noise.”
“We had so many questions about our future, both personally and professionally,” Kimberly explains. “You can hear it in the lyrics to the song ‘Pioneer,’ which asks, ‘Where are we going?’ ‘What will become of us?’ After writing those lines, the song became our guiding light throughout the process of recording the album, which is why we chose it as the title track. It’s truly about the last three years of our lives and trusting that the songs we wrote would lead us where we were supposed to go. We also had to let go of fear and trust the boldness that has always informed our creative decisions.”
The boldness is clearly evident in everything from Pioneer’s album cover — with its bright red, grey, and black color scheme and the band’s confident leaning-forward stance — to the album’s fiery, rock and roll-influenced country sound. It’s the first recording the trio feels truly captures the full-throttle intensity of The Band Perry’s live show, which they attribute to the input of the album’s producer Dann Huff. Huff, a Nashville veteran who was mentored by Mutt Lange and has worked with Faith Hill, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts, is the first producer who insisted on seeing them in the band in its live element.
“He was flabbergasted,” Kimberly recalls. “His mouth was hanging open. The first thing he said when we got off stage, was, ‘Whoa, you guys have a rock and roll edge. This is what you do.’ He had never heard it represented in our recorded music and he opened up our minds to that in the studio. That led us to add more electric guitars and background vocals, which created more daring musical moments. Dann threw out the rulebook and let us go anywhere we wanted.”
The result is a collection of country-rock stompers like “DONE” (an empowerment anthem “about how you feel when you’ve given the best of yourself and it’s still not good enough,” Kimberly explains), the blistering “Night Gone Wasted,” and the Queen-influenced, punk-poppish “Forever Mine Nevermind.” There are also vulnerable, thoughtful tunes like “Pioneer,” “Mother Like Mine,” (an emotional tribute to the siblings’ parents, especially their mother), “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” “I Saw A Light,” and “End of Time,” a ballad that recalls the band’s Southern roots.
The trio’s love for Southern Gothic culture, including such authors as Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, is reflected on the platinum-selling first single “Better Dig Two” — a foreboding tale of a woman who makes a lifelong, somewhat unhinged commitment, while still wearing her heart on her sleeve. “The song expresses what we love about the deep South,” Kimberly says. “When you listen to the lullabies and fairy tales told in that part of the country, they feel a lot like the lyrics in this song.” (The platinum-selling “Better Dig Two,” which spent two consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Country chart, is The Band Perry’s fastest-rising single at radio ever, as well as their first No. 1 song in Canada.)
Then there’s “I’m A Keeper,” which Kimberly feels is very much her story. “I feel like I’m a free spirit first and foremost,” she says. “And the woman in this song has big plans, with or without a man. Maybe she’ll join the military, or maybe she’ll buy a house out on the prairie. All she knows is she has a big life ahead of her.”
One of the most meaningful songs to the band is “Back To Me Without You,” which was written in real time while Kimberly was dealing with the aftermath of a friendship that had imploded. “It was literally crashing and burning as we were writing the song,” Reid says. “She was heartbroken and had to take breaks from writing it in the front of the bus to go to the back of the bus to cry. Neil and I kept telling her, ‘Get back to what you know’ and ‘Get back to what you do,’ which ended up being lyrics in the song.” The track is just one example of how the band members raised the bar for themselves as songwriters on Pioneer. “We wrote every song on this album probably four times,” Neil explains. “Each time we’d finish, we’d ask ourselves, ‘Is this song completely honest about where we are in life? Does it say everything we want it to say?’”
“Our first album was an honest representation of where we were at the time,” Kimberly says. “When we sat down to write songs, we had pictures in our head, and back then it was very romantic imagery, like Ferris wheels at the county fair. This time our inspirational images were of armies and marching bands moving forward. It was very militaristic, and I think you can hear that in the melodies and the lyrics.” Adds Neil: “We didn’t discuss the images we had in our heads with each other at first. It was just what we all felt and how we processed the meaning behind the music.”
Taken as a whole, Pioneer enables The Band Perry to accomplish one of its primary goals: to bring the romantic mystique of bands back to music — something they’ve dreamed of doing ever since forming the group in Mobile, Alabama, where the Perry kids moved with their parents after a childhood spent in Jackson, Mississippi. Kimberly started her first band at age 15, with ten-year-old Reid and eight-year-old Neil observing every rehearsal from the sidelines. “When the drummer and bassist would take a water break, they would jump on their instruments,” Kimberly recalls with a laugh. “They caught the fever immediately.” Reid and Neil started their own band, traveling with their family in a 36-foot motor home, playing modest shows in malls, campgrounds, and fairs.
“Sometimes there’d be more people onstage than there were in out in the crowd,” Kimberly says. “But our parents, who had no legitimate experience in the music industry, said, ‘We’re not going to allow you to have a fallback plan. You were born to do music. We’ll support you, we’ll help you figure it out. This is what you need to do with your life.’ That was really the moment the three of us joined forces as The Band Perry. All the friends I had been playing with become interested in other things. I needed a band and Reid and Neil needed a lead singer.” Kimberly, Reid, and Neil spent the next ten years traveling, performing, and honing their skills before signing with Universal Republic in 2009 and being catapulted into the spotlight with “If I Die Young.” To this day, they are most comfortable onstage. “Just learning that craft made us feel comfortable when we started to book shows at the big arenas that we’re now getting to play,” Neil says.
The songs on Pioneer are tailor-made for arena shows. “We needed songs that could fill large spaces,” Kimberly says. “Our show is very aggressive; there are a lot of electric guitars and hard-hitting drums, and the music on Pioneer captures that.” “Playing the new songs has given our live show a new burst of energy and the crowd feels it, too,” Neil adds. “They’re as excited to have new music as we are.”