Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Band Perry: 2011 CMA New Artist of the Year

The Band Perry: 2011 CMA New Artist of the Year
By Holly Gleason
© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
“We’re still childlike,” confessed multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Neil Perry of The Band Perry. “We romanticize the business and the stuff that goes into it. But there’s a place where … “
“ … You’re not naïve,” picked up lead singer/pianist/guitarist/big sister Kimberly Perry without missing a beat. “One of the reasons we are what we are – especially if you’d seen some of the early shows we’d done – is our wonder and that attitude that nothing is impossible.”
That easy back-and-forth, finishing each other’s sentences without any sense of interrupting, comes naturally to these three siblings. In each other’s pocket since Kimberly enlisted her younger brothers to “roadie” for her at the tender age of 15, that familiarity is organic.
But The Band Perry isn’t just some down-home brother-and-sister proposition. Since landing the decidedly pop “Hip to My Heart” (written by all three Perrys with Brett Beavers) on Country radio, they’ve become a force.
“If I Die Young” (Kimberly Perry) was perhaps the breakout song of 2011. A No. 1 at both Country and AC radio, it went on to win Song of the Year and Single of the Year honors at the CMA Awards. Kimberly sings it with an earthy smokiness that helps present “If I Die Young” as a classic song of hope, acceptance and the embrace of life as well as the inevitable.
Their organic collaboration helped elevate their self-titled debut album on Republic Nashville to Platinum status, powered by an exceedingly fresh sound strewn with a strong sense of the South. Honest, raw and as emotionally transparent as 20-somethings coming into their own can often be, the philosophical “If I Die Young” also helped The Band Perry take home CMA’s New Artist of the Year Award.
“It’s like Christmas started really early for us,” said Reid, 23, the bassist. “It’s not what you think it’s gonna be like. It’s so much more.”
So much more and then some. Appearances on every major awards show, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and even at the November “In Performance at the White House” series were complemented by tour dates with Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban.
Brian O’Connell, President of Nashville Touring, Live Nation, laughs when asked about the group’s live shows and touring ethic. “Knowing when a band is gonna break happens long before they’re on the radio,” he insisted. “It’s all those gigs before anyone knows who you are that create solid performers. The Band Perry isn’t about the hit singles so much as their musicianship, the way they play together and bring the audience in. There’s no pretense when they take the stage, and they draw fans in, be it Tim McGraw’s fans or Luke Bryan’s, which are very different. And The Band Perry connected with both sets on the Emotional Traffic Tour.”
O’Connell was so impressed with them on McGraw’s tour that he locked them in as the middle act on Brad Paisley’s Virtual Reality World Tour in 2012. “To be honest,” he said, “they can’t get enough time to play and sing for people, ever. Fans can sense that.”
That urgent buzz surrounding this trio is fanned as much by their desire to make music as the momentum they’re building. In fact, they laugh about their work ethic and love for playing. Kimberly observed, “Perseverance and hard work are characteristics we all have in common.”
“It’s always been our life course,” Reid added. “This wasn’t a hobby. We took it very seriously. That’s what kind of tipped the boat for us.”
“Half of our success,” Kimberly finished, “is about outlasting the process. We’re all competitive. We want to make better music every day. That’s how we were raised. But even if we were strangers, we would have gravitated to each other. We all love the same music and we all apply ourselves completely.”
Much has been said about their mother rocking them to Loretta Lynn while their father played them the Rolling Stones. That raw feel of instruments, in their most unprocessed state, is inherent to both artists. The same quality permeates The Band Perry.
But another element, not so obvious, exerts and equally powerful influence.
“Southern Gothic literature,” Neil said. “We love the words in those stories, the images and elements …”
“There’s a real edge to it,” Kimberly agreed. “Flannery O’Connor has a lot of beautiful elements, but there are lots of grotesque elements too – the romance of the way those things stick together.”
Reid made it even more literal. “We took family vacations to New Orleans, watching street performers. You can feel those things everywhere. And now we live in Appalachia.”
“That’s the thing about the South,” Kimberly reflected. “There’s a certain struggle to it, but there are lots of very special elements too.”
Neil jumped in. “Listening to all those old bluegrass nursery rhymes and lullabies … the stuff they sing about?”
This provoked more laughter. “There’s this lullaby about a little girl who fell in a river and drowned,” Kimberly said. “And they made a fiddle out of her bones. That’s the same kind of contradiction to ‘If I Die Young.’ I wrote it about the life I’ve lived and how I’d feel if I was to die. There’s a little Southern Gothic to ‘If I Die Young.’ It’s a little tragic, but there’s also something romantic about it. It’s kind of like Bobbie Gentry, who always raised more questions than answers.”
Matraca Berg, who wrote her first No. 1 at 18 (“Faking Love,” recorded by T. G. Sheppard and Karen Brooks), recognizes the spark of originality that ignites The Band Perry. Berg, whose “You & Tequila,” written with Deana Carter, lost 2011’s CMA Song of the Year recognition to “If I Die Young,” has recently written with Perry.
“Her mind is just different,” Berg said. “She works from a place of such creativity. Writing with her is a lot about recognizing that when you’re working with her – protecting that instead of making her more like everything else out there.”
Though their debut was produced by Nathan Chapman, with additional tracks by Matt Serletic and Paul Worley, the trio has enlisted Frank Liddell for their follow-up. “They’re young and they have definite ideas,” said Liddell, whose other credits include Miranda Lambert, David Nail and The Pistol Annies. “But they’re young enough that they’re not chasing the business, they’re chasing the music and reaching for something that can be theirs. It’s exciting to see, in that they’re all so creative. They play, they write and they just want to get better, push their music and be great.”
“He has romance about him as a producer,” said Neil of Liddell. “He loves the process too.”
“To have done it as long as he has,” Kimberly expanded, “and have all the wisdom he has about songs and making records, he somehow still has the wonder about it all. He’s like us. We want to write and record an album that, if it’s the last one we make, we’d be OK with knowing people would think that was us. Musically, we’ve grown. As human beings, we’ve grown. But we’re like anyone figuring out their life at this age.
“So we want to write songs that are true to what we know,” she continued, “things that represent those aspects of our life so it represents what our fans are experiencing too.”
“We’re getting it on a lot of levels,” Reid said. “We’re in our 20s, but we’re pulling out gray hairs! We’re having so much fun, but there’s a lot of work to do too.”
The Alabama-born-and-raised group is thrilled that there is a pace to keep up, given the standard they set with their first album. The notion of accordion, fiddles reeling and acoustic instruments pushed to their limits thrills them, as does the response their music has received. “I’d hope this music gives voice to someone who doesn’t have the words,” Reid said.
And, again jumping in to elaborate, Kimberly noted, “You’d like it to touch people and hopefully make a difference, encourage or challenge them, answer or ask questions, because songs can mean a hundred different things to people — even different things to the same person over time. I know (the Beatles’) ‘Let It Be’ meant so much to me at different times and it’s always perfect for that time. I’d love for us to be like that too.”
With time blocked to write, The Band Perry is steeping in the creative process as they’re basking in the glow of their three CMA Awards. Given the creativity shown on their debut, and the work they put in to support their music, it’s likely the group, equal parts sunshine and Spanish moss, will find solid footing in Country Music.
On the Web: www.TheBandPerry.com
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