The Band Perry: Trail Blazers

The Band Perry are musical explorers on their new album, Pioneer.

Originally published as the cover story in our April 8, 2013 issue.

Kimberly Perry is having a hard time walking. Apparently, precarious high heels and an uneven brick path do not mix. But somehow, she’s making it work, as she and brothers Reid and Neil, in the face of a stiff, cold wind, do a model strut on the historic grounds of Travellers Rest Plantation in Nashville. 

Normally, the siblings of The Band Perry wouldn’t be all done up as they are, in showy slacks for the guys and a white dress—and those dangerous heels—for Kimberly. 

“We wouldn’t be dressed like this if it were up to us. We’d be in pajamas all day long,” Reid says later, seated next to Kimberly and Neil in the back lounge of the band’s bus, parked anachronistically near the plantation.

“If it wasn’t for our mother,” chimes in Neil, “we’d be wearing sweats.”

But as it is, thanks to mom Marie Perry, Kimberly, Reid and Neil are in high-fashion glam mode for their first-ever Country Weekly cover shoot, in support of their highly anticipated new album, Pioneer

The follow-up to The Band Perry’s self-titled platinum-selling debut, Pioneer, as its name implies, finds the trio exploring new musical territory. There is the
mature thump and grind of
No. 1 hit “Better Dig Two,” the unexpected fierceness of current single “DONE.” and the sweet balladry of the title
track. As Kimberly, barefoot and finally warm inside the bus, describes it, Pioneer is a journey from Album 1 to Album 2. 

“At the beginning of this recording process, we found ourselves asking more questions than having answers. Where are we going from here? What the heck are we going to say next?” she says. “With all of the success of the first album, we certainly felt a responsibility to raise the bar.”

The band asked those very questions in the song “Pioneer,” co-written, like five other tracks on the album, with their pals the Henningsens (see A Tale of Two Trios).

“That song became our lifeline through the entire recording process. It steered our ship,” Kimberly says.

“You always hear about the sophomore slump and the second album jitters, and people were asking us what we were going to do to combat all that,” adds Reid. “We didn’t have any answers. And that’s what this process was, putting one foot in front of the other until you get there and finding the answers along the way.”

That journey is always much easier when one has a proper support system. For The Band Perry, theirs lies in one another. Kimberly, now 29, has been performing with her brothers Reid, 24, and Neil, 22, since she was not yet old enough to drive. It’s a bond both musical and by blood. 

“Because we are so close, that support really helped us get through the tough times making Pioneer,” says Neil.

“Without really discussing it, while making this record, we all had an image of a marching band or an army marching forward. We’ve realized on some wavelength how close we are,” Reid explains.

Moved, Kimberly turns to her brother and asks, “Are you saying we’re an army marching together, the three of us?” she asks, letting go an emotional “awww.”

“At least we think that way,” Reid replies.

It’s an honest and vulnerable moment, a glimpse at the ties that bind brothers and sister.

“I don’t know that we could have gotten closer,” Kimberly says. “We’ve always been raised to really be close to one another, and even though we have music on the radio now and get to play every night, we’ve been touring together since I was 15 and Neil was 8 and Reid was 10. We are each other’s best friends.”

When not on the bus—which isn’t often, considering 630 days of the past two years were spent on the road, Neil calculates—the band lives together on their parents’ farm in Greeneville, Tenn. And although each is now afforded the financial freedom to build houses of their own wherever they wish, the siblings say they’ll do so near mom and dad. 

“They’re still deciding if they’re going to do the bachelor pad,” Kimberly says, gesturing at Reid and Neil, “but I am [building] for sure. I’ve got some plans happening. But we all will stay in Greeneville. That’s our family’s manor, if you will. We love being close. Mom and Dad are like the fourth and fifth members of the band.”

Indeed, father Steve Perry—a pediatrician, not the former singer of Journey—and mother Marie have been there since the very beginning. Steve would even run all the band’s production back in those early days.

“Our dad soaks in everything he can. When we first started out, we had our own production: lights, lasers, fog machines. And he would read up on everything,” Neil says proudly.

“If there was ever a weekend where we weren’t playing, he’d set up all the gear to make sure it was all running,” Reid continues with a laugh, “and then tear it back down.”

“We’d go play with no one watching, just to work on the show,” Kimberly says.

While their parents aren’t particularly musical—“They say they play the radio the best,” Reid quips—they did impart a keen appreciation of all types of music on their children. Marie was into Loretta Lynn, Michael Jackson and Motown, and can boast Alice Cooper as her first concert.

“It scared her to death!” Kimberly shrieks. “I think he bit the head off a chicken onstage.”

“It scared her right to country,” Neil finishes.

But dad Steve was always the rock ’n’ roller, turning the kids on to one of their biggest influences, Queen (see sidebar on page 36), along with The Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder.

“I remember when Reid was learning bass as a kid, Dad used to play Stevie Wonder for him. And a lot of that stuff is [keyboards], but he told Reid it was the bass so that Reid would figure out how to play the low bass lines on his guitar,” Kimberly remembers. “It’s so cool that they didn’t necessarily have a musical background in the same way that we do, but they guided our music.”

And Marie, in particular, still does. 

“Mom is coach,” Kimberly says. “She’ll go out on almost every tour date with us and I do not believe that we’ve done as great a performance as we possibly can unless she says so. We gauge a lot of our live performance around her feedback, because she’s seen us since day one.”

One of Pioneer’s most emotional tracks pays homage to their mom, “Mother Like Mine,” a ballad that imagines what the world would be like had their mother raised it.

Simply put, it is a tearjerker, the kind of song that makes you pick up the phone to call your own mom.

“I have seen grown men cry already when they hear ‘Mother Like Mine,’” Kimberly says. 

“But we won’t name names,” jokes Neil, the natural actor of the bunch.

Kimberly says after writing the song, underneath an enormous shade tree on their folks’ property, they tried to keep it secret until a special occasion, like Mother’s Day or Marie’s birthday. But they couldn’t wait. “And she bawled,” Kimberly says.

“We determine how good an idea is based on if Mom cries,” Reid adds, “and tears were flowing throughout that song.”

While the trio usually writes as a unit, new single “DONE.” was written by Reid and Neil. 

“They kicked me out of the room! Does that mean it’s about me?” Kimberly ribs her brothers.

“No, it’s not about you. Kimberly was late, because she was fixing her hair,” Neil jabs back, before explaining the theme of the song. “Reid and I wrote ‘DONE.’ with some friends about a relationship where one person is giving all that they have, and the other person is just taking and taking. Eventually, the person who gives just gets tired of doing it and has to cut them loose.”

Kimberly says the song, which has become their show-opener, is already connecting with fans via social media.

“It’s been really cool to see tweets about the song: ‘All I want to be is Done . . . with the last day of school,’ or ‘All I want to be is Done with work, so I can get on with the weekend,’” she says. “I think it’s cool that fans are already taking it into their own world.”

Adds Reid, “Some take it as a relationship song, but it’s funny how people have taken it as [being done with] chocolate or cigarettes or whatever they’re fed up with, too.” 

“I have not given up my chocolate,” Kimberly says adamantly. “‘DONE.’ has not inspired me to do that.”

For a group that sings about such heavy subjects—death, heartbreak and, you know, digging graves—the family band is awfully irreverent and genuinely funny. When describing Pioneer’s empowering anthem “I’m a Keeper,” Kimberly, Reid and Neil free-associate like standup comics. 

One of the song’s lines talks about a girl wanting to change her name to Cherry.

“Secretly, I’ve always wanted to be named Cherry,” Kimberly shares. “Cherry Perry. Wouldn’t that be great?”

“What if you changed your name to Cherry, and I became Larry and Reid was Harry?” Neil offers.

“Cherry, Harry and Larry Perry,” beams Kimberly, satisfied.

For now, however, they’re just happy being The Band Perry. But with Pioneer poised to discover new fans for both the trio and the genre, they could soon be known as country’s Lewis & Clark.

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