By Brian Ives
A little over a month ago, the Band Perry informed their fans of their new direction, one that would take them far outside the confines of country music, the genre where they first made their mark. The group took to Facebook to share a few new photos and to announce their new album, My Bad Imagination. The images were surprising: this was a new and edgy look. Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry were all shot in stark black and white and were decked out in black leather. Kimberly looked barely recognizable, with her signature blond locks replaced by straight, jet-black hair.
The album, they said in their Facebook message, “led us to disrupt everything that was comfortable and familiar to us a short year ago.” “Disrupt” isn’t a word that is often associated with country music, but it was an appropriate usage. The message informed fans that My Bad Imagination wasn’t a country release; they referred to it as “our very first pop album.”
Today [March 8], the morning after playing the second of a series of club shows, they spoke with Radio.com about their new music, their new look, and their relationship with country music in 2017.
“It’s OK to be a little bit different,” Kimberly says, explaining that they haven’t always fit in with the country community. “We definitely have felt, over the past couple of years, in the environments that we’re in, that we’re in high school and it’s the first day, because nobody is talking to us for some reason.”
“It takes courage to be yourself,” Neil adds. “It’s not easy, but once you get to that point, it’s very freeing.”
“There’s a lot of magic in that,” Kimberly continues.
Country music has evolved a lot over the past few years, but My Bad Imagination still stretches far past the genre’s borders.
“Country music is a traditional format,” Kimberly notes. “And we love it. It’s very important to keep traditions in play. It’s just that we don’t always want to subscribe to tradition. I think that country fans are very protective if they feel [something] isn’t ‘country’ enough… and if you’re trying to force it on them, they don’t like it. But the moment you say, ‘You know what? We love you guys, but this is not a country song, you’re gonna hear this on pop radio,’ they respect that.”
Although she says she tries to avoid reading comments on their social media posts, she sometimes takes note of what the fans are saying. “It will say in the comments, ‘Don’t forget your roots.’ You know what? [We] never will. Country music has the best melodies and the best lyrics on planet earth and it cuts right to the heart. And to me, that’s the roots that we take from country music. That’s what we learned there: to be honest.”
Neil points out, “We just put it over 808s,” referring to beats created by the popular drum machine.
And they enjoy experimenting with their imagery as much as with their sound. “We love the musical side of what we do,” Neil says. “But just as important for us is pairing that with a really interesting visual.”
One striking bit of interesting visual imagery that they’ve used lately is a drawing of two people, wearing full face masks, kissing. It’s impossible to tell the sexes of either of them. Is that a nod to their LGBT fanbase? Kimberly laughs, “That was probably the least thought-out part of this.”
“It was just a cool drawing,” Reid adds.
But if the LGBT community interprets it as a nod, that’s fine with Kimberly, Reid and Neil, and they’re grateful for all the segments of their fanbase. “Absolutely, we’re big believers that being yourself matters and loving yourself matters.”
“Being yourself” is a theme that comes up often in the Band Perry’s world these days, in their social media messaging, and also from the stage. Last night at their New York show, Kimberly frequently told the crowd, “Be who you want to be!”
Reid says, “It’s our life story, and this album is us putting that [concept] into actual, physical, form. It’s us, being ourselves, being who we want to be. It’s a simple thing that a lot of people get, but it’s hard to implement it into real life. It sounds pretty easy, but once you try and do it, it’s turns out to be a lot harder than you thought.”
The masked and somewhat androgynous theme continues in the lyric video for the first single, “Stay in the Dark.” And it might extend a bit further: Kimberly says, “For the music video — which we haven’t shot yet — Reid had this idea: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if it was this makeout party in the dark, but everybody has to wear a mask?'”
She qualifies that, saying, “We don’t know if that’s where the video is going to go yet.”
While thier concepts for music videos are still up in the air, considerably more thought went into their first photo shoot debuting their new look.
“We’re big fans of fashion,” Kimberly states. “As we’re announcing that this is the first song of ours that is headed to pop radio first, we really wanted to freshen up the look. So, our very favorite fashion photographer in the whole world is a guy named Steven Klein.”
They reached out to Klein, and arranged a shoot with him and his team. Kimberly says that he really captured something that had eluded past photographers. “We treated it like an editorial shoot, and we said, ‘We’re like clay in your hands.’ [The shoot] was their concoction, but I felt like it was the first time our personalities, that were on the inside, were finally on the outside.”
“Plus,” she adds, “I love bangs. Half of the time they’re itchy; half of the time I love them. It’s been a really fun transformation.”
“We did show the photos to some of our family members first,” she notes. “Just to say, ‘Just so you know, this is what’s coming.’ Even those closest to us, who might have prefered the comfort zone of what we’ve always looked like, said, ‘I get it.'”
Reid, the quietest of the three siblings, adds, “And we’re not really scared of change. Whether it’s music or visuals, we like keeping it interesting for ourselves.” He’s the group’s bass player, but last night at their New York show, he spent a good amount of the night on a sampler (and ditto for Neil). And while some may dismiss the sampler as not a “real instrument,” Reid disagrees.
“It’s just like a keyboard,” he says. “It’s an instrument, it takes talent to play it, just like anything else.”
Kimberly chimes in: “These days, it’s all about how to make electronics sound human. How do you give it warmth and humanity? I’m really proud that we’ve struck that balance.”
But she admits that she has heard the inevitable grumblings that they are “selling out” by releasing a pop album. “You know what I think a real sell-out is? Doing something for a business-only purpose. The most comfortable thing we probably could have done would have been to remain very steady in the career trajectory that we had. But it was more important to us that we’re honest with our fans and with our music. And that’s the biggest risk that we possibly could have taken: exactly what we’re doing right now. We’re aware of it; we just know that in the past, it’s been the biggest statements and the biggest risks for us — starting with ‘If I Die Young’ — that have been the most important. I’m really proud.”
“If I Die Young,” of course, was the band’s huge breakthrough 2010 classic. But that song marked another huge change in artistic direction for them.
“A lot of people don’t know this about us: our first iteration as a band was as a power trio, playing rock,” Kimberly explains. “I played electric guitar, Neil played drums, we had actually cut an independent rock album before we signed our deal in Nashville. In that session, the last song that we wrote, on the last night, ‘If I Die Young’ was written. It was like, ‘Whoa: this is totally different from anything else that we’ve ever written before.’ ‘If I Die Young’ was really a happy accident that led to a change of direction.” That’s how the one-time rock band became a country group.
And even if this album is aimed at top 40, there are still echoes of country music in the mix, as Kimberly says: “Are there banjos on the new record? Yeah. Are there 808s on the new record? Yeah. It’s probably the romantic thinker in me… there’s so many things that divide us as people, music should be the last thing on the list that divides us. We just think of it as music. The next few years are really going to be fun.”
In the near future, though, they’ll be gearing up for the release of My Bad Imagination, which doesn’t have a date yet. Kimberly revealed some of their collaborators: “Jon Bellion did a song called ‘Best One Yet.’ We worked with Jeff Bhasker, one of our favorite collaborators. And in an eleventh-hour play, I’m hoping for Francis, from Francis and the Lights.”
Is that to say that the album isn’t completely finished yet?
“Oh no, man,” Kimberly laughs. “We’re almost mixed. The songs are chosen. But until they say, ‘This is due on my desk tomorrow morning,’ we’ll be tweaking it.” In the meantime, fans can catch their rare club shows this month. See all of their upcoming dates at Eventful.