Neil Perry of The Band Perry: Behind the Lens
“My nickname growing up was ‘Point and Shoot,’” The Band Perry’s Neil Perry recalls of his lifelong love of photography. When he and his siblings (and fellow Band Perry members) Kimberly and Reid Perry weren’t practicing music, writing songs and performing on the road as kids, Neil was often behind a camera lens.
“I would line up my family and before they were even ready, I would have already taken the shot, so all the photos I have from when I was younger are of my family lined up and none of them are looking at the camera,” he says.
These days, Neil still takes photos of his family, though his skill for photography is markedly developed. “I will run photos by [Kimberly and Reid] if they are in them. Especially with Kimberly, she’s the girl, so she wants to look her best. It’s great because I have that access to them, but I might like a certain photo and she may not like it,” he says. “So I definitely run everything by them. I was an aggravator growing up, so I think that channels a little bit into why I do it now.”
This multitalented singer, songwriter, mandolin player and drummer finds as much inspiration from the visual realm as he does from the music he crafts as part of The Band Perry. “I really think what got me into photography was wanting to shoot things that were interesting, whether that had an interesting color or pattern. I wanted to take photos that made people think,” says Neil.
Much like crafting an album of songs, a solid theme oftentimes runs through Neil’s photography efforts. “Yesterday I took a photo of a Coca-Cola cap from a bottle and I was holding a baseball at the same time. I thought, ‘These are two very American themes. Baseball is the American pastime and Coca-Cola is the classic American drink in a way, so I took photos of both of those and started this all-American theme.”
In a world where many 20-somethings barely remember nondigital cameras, Neil favors his retro film cameras. “I’ve got a LOMO LC-A+. It’s a 35-millimeter camera. It’s kind of their common camera—it’s good for a little bit of everything. The interesting thing is that everything is manual; nothing is automatic. With digital, everything is automatic and it’s convenient, but I think there is an art to taking real film camera photos. If I’m taking a picture at about four feet, I’ve got to change the setting. If I’m taking a picture at 10 feet, I’ve got to change the setting.”
For digital photos, he prefers the Canon 5D. “A lot of our music videos were shot on a 5D. It’s really good for portrait shots, but also good at landscape shots, and it has 12.8 million pixels [PPI], so the clarity in each of the shots is unbelievable. Of course, you can’t leave out the iPhone, either. If you’re in your car, you’re not lugging around a big camera. The iPhone actually takes really great pictures. If you see something and don’t want to miss it, you can just bring it out and take the shot and you won’t be disappointed.”
Neil depends more on his iPhone and the Canon 5D these days as he, Kimberly and Reid crisscross the country for various performances. The trio recently finished opening for Brad Paisley on his Virtual Reality Tour.
Neil says traveling across the nation is both a help and a hindrance to his photography. “One of the things that has helped the photography is that I’m getting to see a lot of new landscapes and odd buildings. We just played [famed Chicago baseball field] Wrigley Field and they’ve got that famous classic American ivy wall. I want my pictures to convey an interesting color or pattern and the ivy had such an interesting pattern. I think being able to travel has opened up a world of new themes, colors and patterns.”
Unfortunately, it also means he has to leave behind his LOMO LC-A+ when he’s on the road. “Now I mainly use the LOMO LC-A+ when I’m home or in Nashville. Usually when I take a photo on that camera of somebody, I’ll say, ‘Great, I’ll show you that in a month,’ just because it takes so long for them to develop the film,” says Neil. “These days it’s even harder because there are fewer places that develop film. They send it off to a lab in another state. That’s the hard part about doing film photography. I keep trying to convince Reid and Kimberly to let me create a darkroom on the bus, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe we can convert the bathroom into a darkroom—who needs a bathroom, right?” he says with a laugh.
A true creative artist, Neil has big plans to combine his love of visuals with his love of music, much like his tourmate, Brad. “We’re out with Brad Paisley and he’s another guy who has combined music with his visuals. Right now he’s got these great Star Wars battles on the LED screens behind him and he did all the artwork for that. Right now we’re playing a 45-minute set, but I think when we start headlining our own shows and we’ve got big LED screen walls, I think that’s when I’ll be able to have the freedom to do all the visual things I’d like to do.”
For now, he’s focusing on how to make the trio’s merchandise more visually exciting, and when The Band Perry performs hits such as “All Your Life,” the accompanying music video plays behind them on the screens. “I think that kind of, in a way, takes the crowd into the setting of the music video. I like taking people away from where they are in life, taking them to a place where they forget all their troubles, and I think visuals are a big part of that.”
Oftentimes, the visual aspects don’t just enhance the trio’s music—they inspire it. “We try to make our music have a visual aspect, too. When we were creating our debut album [2010’s The Band Perry], there was this one image that was in our mind as we were writing the first album. It was a picture of a county fair from a movie called Paper Moon [released in 1973]. It was this image that was in our head—it was kind of the theme of the album—this romantic Southern county fair, and it was this visual aspect that ran through it.”
He admires the work of director David McClister, who directed four videos for The Band Perry, including the trio’s latest two clips, “All My Life” and “Postcard From Paris.” “He’s got a great visual eye,” says Neil. “The ‘All My Life’ video is one of my favorite videos so far because it has this kind of O Brother, Where Art Thou? look. It had a little dirty look to it, which is what we always wanted. Then, the ‘Postcard From Paris’ video had this French New Wave look to it—very classic, a cool black-and-white look.”
Another muse is famed photographer Annie Leibovitz—who has taken photos of John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. “She’s diverse as far as subject matter [goes]. She can do landscapes, people and ads,” says Neil. “She can work in color or in black and white. One of the things that Annie does best is capturing the personality of the people she’s photographing. She captures the essence of who a person is. I take example from that.”
“I want to do a lot of things well. I don’t want to be lumped into doing one thing and nothing else,” he says. “I think as long as I get a reaction from people to either the photos or the music, I’ve done my job.”