A Night at the Opry: How Queen Inspired The Band Perry's Acoustic Electric Epic "Pioneer"

August 15, 2013

 Left to right: Neil, Kimberly, and Reid.
THE BROTHER-BROTHER-SISTER country trio that is The Band Perry has earned an incredible amount of music-industry awards nominations since 2010, and the band’s latest release, Pioneer, hit number one on Billboard’s country chart and number two on the Billboard 200 album chart on the way to multi-platinum sales. The album is an exhilarating country-pop- rock hybrid with savvy blends of electric and acoustic instrumentation, devised by vocalist/guitarist Kimberly Perry, mandolinist/ banjo player Neil Perry, bassist Reid Perry, and producer Dann Huff . It’s certainly not a stretch these days to recognize the young band’s bluegrass influences mixed with its love of the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin on Pioneer, but the enormous imprint of Queen on a country album is a surprise.

Queen, huh? How did that happen?

Kimberly: We’ve been big fans of Queen— courtesy of our dad—since day one. Freddie Mercury is my favorite frontperson of all time because he was powerful, but he would connect. From a musical standpoint, Queen has always influenced our live show. But the real moment Queen seeped into our creative process when making Pioneer was when I heard “’39” from A Night at the Opera. That song had a real country sensibility, but also Queen’s insane amount of vocals. So while we were writing the title cut for the album, “Pioneer,” we just kept listening to “’39” over and over. Ultimately, although Queen inspired us in many ways, we focused on bringing their background vocal approach into our music. You see, for awards shows, we always seem to be nominated for things as a vocal group—which we appreciate, even though we view ourselves as a band. So we thought, “Hey, if that’s how people see us, let’s take vocals and background vocals to a whole other level.” So, of course, Freddie and Brian May were really inspiring while we were in the recording studio making Pioneer.

Neil: The other thing is that we started out playing small clubs, and then we’d be in large venues opening for some of our country-music heroes, and it was apparent that the sweeter, more intimate material of our first album didn’t accommodate those huge arenas. We realized we had to go to the next phase in our career, and adjust our musical expectations when writing and recording Pioneer. We needed songs that could fill up the space of an arena. Everything had to be bigger, and Pioneer had to have the right sounds, lyrics, melodies, production, guitar riff s, and so on. Obviously, having Queen’s music in our collective consciousness was a major factor in attaining those goals. And we listened to a lot of Queen while making Pioneer.

How do your acoustic instruments inform the writing process?

Kimberly: Quite frankly, I’m more of a lumberjack player than a finesse player, and, as a songwriter, I use the acoustic guitar more for rhythm parts. We depend on Neil’s mandolin and banjo to provide the melodies. My McPherson acoustic becomes my kick and my snare drum. A lot of the beats on Pioneer were worked out between Reid and I during the writing process. I don’t want to strum all the time because then your songs have no variety. We push ourselves on the rhythmic side of things.

Neil: I started out as the drummer in the band, so while my musical ideas are usually based on riff s, that rhythmic focus always influences my fingers. I tend to plunk around and record ideas into my iPhone or GarageBand. Our single “Done” started out on the banjo, but the mandolin is very versatile, and I use it to enhance guitar riffs and vocal melodies. The mandolin is kind of a hidden jewel.

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