Long before “If I Die Young” put them on the map, The Band Perry was a rock trio, lighting up clubs with edgy, original music. Now, the siblings from Tennessee are reaching back to those times, turning away from their successful country music career for a chance to make a mark in rock ‘n’ roll.
Although their early days may have been centered around rock, Reid, Kimberly and Neil Perry signed with Republic Nashville in 2009 as country artists and the next fall released “If I Die Young.” That song reached number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Adult Contemporary charts and was certified six-times platinum.
Two other number-one singles followed: “Better Dig Two” and “Done,” and two other top-10 releases — all on country radio.
Despite the success, the trio started to yearn for a return to more pop-flavored music. In the spring of 2016, they bought themselves out of their contract with Republic and signed with Interscope Records in anticipation of releasing their first non-country album this summer.
“We’ve been slowly transitioning from the beginning,” Kimberly said recently. “Even before the world knew us as a country band, we were basically an independent rock power trio,” with her singing and playing guitar, Reid playing drums and Neil on bass.
During a writing session for a rock album, however, she wrote “If I Die Young,” and “it was totally different than anything else we’d just spent two weeks recording. Sometimes these moments happen in your life and you’re gifted with these happy accidents and it begins to change the course creatively.”
They’re hoping lighting will strike twice.
She stressed that branching out to a different genre shouldn’t be viewed as a “rejection” of country music, but rather as an embrace of their own personal evolution.
“The artists that we all know and love that remain around longer than a couple of records are all reinventors,” Kimberly said, pointing to U2, Madonna and Rihanna as examples. “It’s those artists showing us something we didn’t know was a part of their heart before. Country people get a little more freaked out by it and think there’s more of a statement than there actually is.”
She continued: “A lot of people talk about change and evolution creatively, which is not all that different from human evolution. I definitely don’t want to be the same person I was five years ago and every year we’re supposed to be getting a little wiser.”
Neil added: “Whenever we interact with the fans, we come into their lives in moments. They see the growth as more of a dramatic thing because they don’t see the whole process behind the scenes. As we start rolling out the visuals, the other singles off the record, they’re going to definitely know exactly where we are in life and music right now.”
To introduce their fans to the new Band Perry, the trio hosted a series of intimate “pop-up concerts” in small venues around the country, where they played songs from their upcoming album, My Bad Imagination, as well as some of their well-known country hits.
At the New York show at Irving Plaza, they set the stage up in the middle of the venue so they could “get up close to the fans,” Kimberly said. “It takes the barrier down.”
“Whenever you’re introducing new music,” Reid added, “it helps to get as close as possible.”
The shows, which drew a lot of “hard-core fans,” were “an introduction to what the new music is going to sound like, feel like and look like,” he said. “And it’s really important to us that all three of those senses are taking it in.”
But the transition might not be so easy. The first single from the upcoming album, “Stay in the Dark,” only managed to reach number 23 on the Adult Top 40 charts after its release in February.
Even so, the Perrys are staying with the new course, which also finds them with a dramatically new look.
Even during their country music era, Reid and Neil always looked a little more Goth than their sister, with her curly blonde hair and girl-next-door good looks. Today, Kimberly’s hair is jet black with bangs and she’s more apt to be seen in skin-tight leather and midriff-bearing tops.
“It’s been so much fun,” Kimberly said. “It’s a totally different character. I’ve had blonde hair for as long as I can remember. In reality, my hair is more of the color tone of the boys, but as soon as I turned 10 or 11, it started to get darker and my mom said, ‘Highlights for you, young lady.’ It was fun to see myself in a different way and it’s been ages since I’ve had bangs, so I’m trying to channel my inner Uma Thurman.”
They’re also extremely well-versed in fashion, admitting a passion for such brands as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Maison Margiela.
“I love old Alexander McQueen and the Savage Beauty mentality he had was an all-time favorite. Anything with a little dark twist to it,” Kimberly said. “Givenchy is also amazing, and Balmain.”
Neil said even when they were entrenched in country music, “we loved to push the visuals. One of my favorites is the ‘Done’ video where we brought a chess board to life — all of us dressed in these crazy military outfits. Even way back when, we loved to do that kind of stuff.”
They’ve also stepped out of the box when it comes to their own concert merchandise. Instead of the standard concert Ts, The Band Perry installed pop-up shops at their shows, something they picked up from living in Los Angeles and visiting shops by apparel brands such as Fear of God, Neil said.
“To bring that to a live show setting and pair a shop with a show has been really fun and stretched another creative muscle for the three of us,” he said.
The shops offered hand-painted vintage Levi’s and leather jackets and T-shirts with a “doodle aesthetic,” as Kimberly described it, all intended to “bring this music to life.”
They’re also finding their new record label to be supportive of their new direction. “There are so many supportive, really smart minds around this project,” Kimberly said.
“And they understand and are encouraging the vision,” Neil added. “To have the wind behind us as we move forward has been super-encouraging.”