By Joan Tupponce
The energy level in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas soared the minute The Band Perry stepped onto the stage at the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in April. Dressed in edgy, form-fitting black leather, the power trio rocked the house with their spirited fist-pumping hit “Done.”
Since bursting onto the music scene in 2009 with their hit “If I Die Young,” the trio has morphed into one of the hottest bands in country music today. The Southern gothic aura the band embraced on its debut album is still intact but the trio is proving on stage and in concert that The Band Perry is not a one-trick pony. “We always wear black leather when we perform live so we wanted to raise the bar on television,” says lead singer Kimberly Perry of the ACM performance.
The band’s sound has evolved since the release of its first album in 2010. “We have tried out so many different sounds and styles,” says Kimberly, who acknowledges they have embraced a performance style that leans more toward the rocker mentality but has still kept its country roots. “We’ve always had a rock ‘n’ roll edge but we didn’t want to show all of our cards on the first record.”
The three siblings – Kimberly, Neil and Reid – are already on the fast track to fame. They have won multiple ACM, CMT and CMA awards as well as nominations for Grammy, Teen Choice, American Music, American Country and Billboard Music awards.
The group’s song “Done” is its fourth No. 1 hit. The bold anthem about giving your all and realizing it still isn’t good enough dominated the Billboard and Mediabase country charts this summer. It was co-written by Reid and Neil, who penned it in the “spirit of the underdog.”
The song, normally the band’s show opener, pumps up the audience in the first few minutes of the concert. “It’s like song therapy for the fans and for us,” says Neil, noting they wrote the song in a day. “We all raise our fists in the air and shout a unified ‘Ugh!’ From there on out, the rest of the night is like recess.”
The inspiration for the song was more of a situation that people experience rather than a particular person, and fans have taken the lyrics to heart. “They’ve made it the soundtrack of their breakups, their tough times, their struggles,” says Kimberly.
“Done” is from the band’s sophomore release, “Pioneer,” which has already produced the platinum hit “Better Dig Two,” a reflection of the band’s fondness of the Southern gothic culture with its tales of the Deep South. The trio wrote the songs for their new album while they were touring and readily admit the schedule made the process difficult. Appropriately, “Done” was the last song they finished for the album, giving the song a dual meaning for the trio. As Kimberly explains, it meant “we were done with the rocky terrain” of trying to write on the road.
Touring has been a way of life for the three Perry siblings, all 30 years old and under, for the past 15 years. Their musical influences date back to their childhood in Jackson, Miss. “Even long before the three of us were in any sort of band we had this overwhelming love of music,” Kimberly says. “It came from our parents.”
Their father, Steve, and mother, Marie, listened to all types of music, from Stevie Wonder to Queen. On Saturday nights, the family would sit around and listen to bluegrass. On other nights it was rock ‘n’ roll. “We would be dancing to Michael Jackson with Mom. With Dad it was the Rolling Stones,” Kimberly says.
“There were so many styles of music.”
Their cousin Ann-Carter Bloomfield, who travels with the band and works with its fan base, says the siblings were typical kids growing up. “The boys were so cute. They had bowl haircuts and they wore polos and khakis. They were all-American.”
Reid and Neil always had their hands in music, learning to play an assortment of instruments at a young age. And Kimberly, the oldest of the group, was never afraid to step up and take charge. “She would line us up and teach us songs to sing and we would perform for our parents,” Bloomfield recalls.
Kimberly started her first band when she was 15. Reid and Neil, who often watched their sister perform, were only 8 and 10 when they began a mini rock ‘n’ roll band of their own. The family was living in Mobile, Ala., when the three decided to team up and hit the road as a family band. One of their first gigs was in, of vall places, the lingerie department of a local Walmart.
At first, the family traveled in a 35-foot motor home with their mom, Marie, behind the wheel. “She was The Band Perry’s original bus driver,” Neil says. “None of us could drive. Mom would take us around and Dad was our booking agent.”
For the next 10 years, the Perrys played everything from malls to fairs. If they ever thought about giving up, their parents were there to support them. There was no backup plan and luckily they didn’t need one. In 2009, they signed with Republic Nashville. Rob Beckham, the band’s agent at WME agency in Nashville, describes the moment he heard the trio sing as magical. “It took about 30 seconds for me to figure out they were going to be superstars,” Beckham says, adding that the trio’s perfect sibling harmony sets them apart from other bands on the charts.
Each member of the group brings something to the table. Neil, the youngest, is a jokester who keeps everyone laughing on the road, while Reid, the middle child, is often pensive and thoughtful. As for big sister Kimberly, she’s always known what she wants to do with her life. “She has wisdom and insight,” Bloomfield says. “She’s the perfect leader in the band and the family.”
The Perrys have been writing songs ever since they started performing. Their process starts with an image. “We don’t ever talk about what we are thinking when we are writing,” Neil says. “It usually just happens.”
When they sat down to write songs for their debut album, the images that kept popping up were related to what they considered to be the romantic aspects of the South. “We had images of Ferris wheels and fairs,” Neil says, whereas the visions that came to mind with “Pioneer” were more militaristic. “We had an image of an army marching forward. If you listen to the music, it has military drum rolls.”
To continue the imagery of “Pioneer,” the band wanted to create that same power visually on stage, so they brought in choreographers to add a dose of adrenaline to the performance with lots of stomps and fist pumps. “We wanted to look like an army on stage,” Kimberly says. “Now people come out to our live show doing the movements with us. We have a cult following.”
The band’s new album is perfect for the group’s aggressive arena shows – in addition to their own sold-out headlining dates, they have been on the road with Rascal Flatts for the Live & Loud Tour. The concept for “Pioneer” involves the strength to continue on when you’re unsure how to get where you’re going, a concept the band knows well.
Several of the songs on the album pay homage to the trio’s childhood influences as well as their life experiences. “Forever Mine Nevermind,” for example, has a Queen-like vibe, while “Mother Like Mine” pays tribute to the siblings’ mother and father. The touching “Back To Me Without You” was written during a time that Kimberly was dealing with her emotions over the loss of a friendship. The song’s lyrics “Get back to what you know, get back to what you do” echoed the advice of her brothers during that difficult time.
Fans are not only embracing the band’s music but also the Perrys themselves. The siblings make it a point to really connect with fans on an individual basis whenever possible. Even though the air was muggy and the temperatures were in the 90s, the trio carved out time before their concert in Richmond, Va., in August to spend some time with fans during a meet-and-greet event. While most meet-and-greets herd fans through the line at a dizzying pace, The Band Perry elected to see only a few fans at a time to make sure each sibling could talk with them, sign autographs and take photos. The trio even made time for the small canines that a few fans slipped into the arena with them. It’s that type of interaction that makes each fan of The Band Perry’s “a fan for life, not just the life of a single on the radio,” says Beckham.
While it might not be your typical family business, the Perrys are fully aware that their music is their business. “Our greatest asset is that we know each other as well as we do,” Kimberly says. “We know the different personalities and the different creative strengths.”
The siblings’ strong work ethic contributes to the band’s success. Their workdays begin in the early morning and end around 2 a.m. when the tour bus pulls out of the venue. After each show, they’ll sit down on the bus and watch their performance again – they tape each show for this very purpose – and make a list of things they can improve. “They are true professionals in what they do,” Bloomfield says. “They take their craft and their career very seriously. They are always looking to see how they can make their show better.”
What is obvious on and offstage is that the Perrys genuinely love one another. “We are each other’s greatest supporters and each other’s greatest critics,” Kimberly says. “We are not afraid to tweak each others’ craft as well and that’s an important asset.”