Though “If I Die Young” may have given The Band Perry a career-defining hit very early in the sibling trio’s career, Kimberly, Reid and Neil aren’t content to try to duplicate its quaint, folky style for a life of diminishing returns.
The group’s sophomore album, Pioneer, showcased them branching out into arena rock with amped up hits like “Done” and “Chainsaw.”
“Live Forever,” the lead single from their third album, keeps the bombast of Pioneer’s loudest moments but adds the kind of ear-worming melody and production that’s easily palatable for fans of modern pop.
Though The Band Perry’s third full-length album has yet to receive a title or release date, lead-off single “Live Forever” is a very good indication that it will be full of surprises.
Nash Country Weekly had a chance to sit down with Kimberly, Reid and Neil during a recent office visit and asked them about what fans can expect.
What are the three of you working on right now?
Kimberly: We’re just in town this week rehearsing. Now that we’ve added our first new song from the new album to the set, it’s like now we’re rearranging everything around that one song [laughs].
Where does it fall in the set?
Kimberly: It’s actually going to be in the encore. We decided to save one of the best for last and we’re not playing any other new songs except for “Live Forever” right now because we want to wait until the album’s out but we have, what, like 25 shows left?
Reid: Twenty-five shows, yeah. You know whenever you find a set that works you kind of wear it out for about a year and a half, which is what we did. And we assumed that this set we’re currently playing couldn’t be rearranged. But we somehow managed to turn this one completely on its head.
Kimberly: And now we like it better.
Your new single, “Live Forever,” has a pretty evocative opening line with I was dreaming of war. Where did you get that idea?
Kimberly: If you’ve listened to our first record with songs like “If I Die Young,” [that] is a bit of dark romantic poetry. The verses on “Live Forever” really find that in the narrative. It’s a dream sequence. It’s sort of this idea that goes along with living forever—one of the emotions that sentiment brings about is invincibility.
Neil: Surviving the odds.
Kimberly: Beating the odds, if you will. So we open on a dream sequence where I was dreaming of war and just saw that, even in that most critical, dangerous moment, somehow I was gonna survive that.
Neil: Sometimes we feel like if you go all the way happy, it makes the song a little cheesier and less respectable. So sometimes we like to counterbalance that with something on the opposite side.
Kimberly: If you’ve got a bright chorus, you gotta have a dark verse. If you have a bright verse, you gotta have a dark chorus. That’s sort of our math here in The Band Perry.
It’s a big anthem that feels like a potential crossover hit in pop. There’s this strange notion that it’s bad for a country act to have ambitions to have a pop hit, or that you’re abandoning country. What do you make of that?
Kimberly: I think for us, any time your ambition is to chase a particular marketplace as an artist—that seems a little disingenuous in the first place. Everything we did for this album was about chasing authenticity and for what we know our fans have grown to love in our music and what we bring to them. So that was really our goal and wherever that led us melodically is where it led us. On the country side of things, it is authentic for us to have our three-part harmony, Neil’s mandolin and banjo—which he feels like makes [it into] all of the songs we get to release—
Neil: [interjecting in agreement] Pretty much—
Kimberly: —and also to keep that narrative. But this time we were really also compelled to embrace some modern sounds that we love and, quite frankly, are hearing all over country radio anyway. That’s a really special thing: that artists can identify as country but still be able to stretch themselves creatively.
Neil: As much as, if not more, country artists moving out and expanding their own borders as many people are coming into country. People think if there’s country music going to pop radio that the country artists are going to pop, but a lot of times it’s pop asking for that. That shows the power and long-reaching arms of country music, not only on pop radio, but internationally as well. Country should embrace that.
You worked on “Live Forever” with RedOne, who has produced songs for Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. How did that experience compare to the typical Nashville songwriting session?
Reid: Pretty similar in the fact that whenever you write a song you’re sitting there trying to pound out what you want to say in the best way possible. With RedOne, the way that he likes to work is he likes to produce the track as well as write at the same time.
Kimberly: I think we really preferred that, because a lot of times on the first couple records we would write a song on the tour bus or something and you just get out your iPhone and make a voice note of it acoustically. But you then have to wait until you collect songs and take them all into the studio and see which ones work with a live band, so I actually preferred the method of writing and almost producing the song in the same day. Because you can see almost immediately—
Neil: —what you have.
Kimberly: You know how it’s going to fit into the whole landscape of the album and what you want to say next.
In the vibrant video for “Live Forever,” Kimberly, Neil and Reid Perry perform the song in an enclosed space while surrounded by some eye-popping visual effects. It adds a new, colorful dimension to the already-dynamic group’s stage presence. Turns out that setting is a new performance space called The Cube, which offers an immersive experience like few others.Originally debuted at The Band Perry’s fan club party in June, The Cube is a mobile performance space featuring rear-projection screens for an array of visuals. The band is placed right in the center, putting them face-to-face with fans and surrounding the whole collection of people with a full sensory experience.
You also worked with producer Diplo, who has worked with Sia and founded electronic group Major Lazer. What can we expect from that collaboration?
Kimberly: [laughing] Why does everybody smile when [I say] Diplo?
Reid: It’s because his name: [drawing out the pronunciation] “Dip-low.”
Kimberly: The track he did with us was a ballad. We don’t have a lot of ballads on this album, but ironically one of the ones we did with Diplo was. It’s a very emotional piece of music. He was interesting because he had never recorded a mandolin before and that was one of the dominant instruments on the track he produced for us. He was so curious about country music and our world and vice versa: we were curious about his.
The last single you released was the cover of Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on My Mind,” and that seems so stylistically far from “Live Forever.” How important is it for you to show versatility and range?
Kimberly: With “Gentle on My Mind” in particular, that was a true honor for us. For us from just an artistic and emotional standpoint, it was a really near and dear song to our heart. But we also knew what was coming next. We knew that “Live Forever” and everywhere we’re headed on the new album was coming down the pike and it was very important for us to go back and touch home plate, to say this is what we grew up loving, this is country music, knowing that you guys always expect us to do the unexpected and that’s right around the corner for us.
Reid: But it won us our first Grammy, so that was really special for us.
Kimberly: That was a really nice thing. But it also became clear the place where country music is at the moment. “Gentle on My Mind” was a special moment, but it wasn’t one of our biggest moments. So that was the other thing for us to just assess as artists and go, you know, the fans want us to be putting out songs or writing songs that they can fill up an arena and sing along with. That’s where our fans are right now.
How much does that input influence your decision-making? Do you feel like they have to trust you sometimes?
Neil: It’s give-and-take. The three of us are fans, first and foremost, of music as well. I think we’re just like everyone else out in the crowd too—whenever they want to dance and move, so do we. Whenever they want to sing along, we do too. I think we follow trends and where music’s heading just like the fans do. They tell us what they want to hear and they also trust us to give them what they want to hear as well.
Kimberly: Absolutely. It’s funny because the boldest steps we’ve taken [creatively] over the past five years seem to have been our strongest moments and the fans have grown to trust us in that.
You always have such a distinct visual aesthetic with each new release. There was Pioneer, with its black and white, almost military look . . .
Reid: Leather, don’t forget the leather.
Reid: You kind of hit the nail on the head. When we write any song or project we have these ideas and visions in our head about what it should be. For songs like “Better Dig Two” and “Done” it was very militaristic, moving forward in a synchronized fashion, so a lot of black leather, very underdog spirit about it. But for when we were writing “Live Forever” in this third era of The Band Perry, we had a lot more joy and smiles on our faces when we were leaving the studio.
Kimberly: We had more fun than ever before.
Reid: So we wanted to find visuals that represented that to us, that accompanied songs like “Live Forever” and other ones off the project. Yellow was the complete opposite of black leather and it was the best representation of what we felt.
Kimberly: [laughs] We weren’t going to tiptoe into the rainbow. We were going to find the boldest shade we could.