Catherine Pierce’s voice comes through my phone from Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon. “I just moved here recently” she tells me. “It’s semi-permanent, we [Catherine and her bandmate/sister Allison] spent a year in the UK and it was really cold and rainy and I wanted to live somewhere that was sunny and nice, but I like it you have to re-adjust your energy with the sun.”
That year in the United Kingdom was spent recording and touring The Pierces latest album You and I: a cohesive collection of gothic folk tunes produced by Guy Berryman (Coldplay’s the bass player) and Coldplay and Jay-Z producer Rik Simpson. The Pierces will be warming up stages for on the western leg of Coldplay’s North American tour starting April 16th in Edmonton. She laughs slightly when I get to the obligatory question: what was working with Berryman like? “We’ve been asked that a lot , but as I’ve said before he’s really talented, he was so excited about the whole project and got it going. It was before we were even on a UK label and here he is letting us use the Coldplay studio, funding the record, to which we paid him back. He and Rik were both great.”
The album in question was released more than a year ago in European markets but is only finding its way to North American airwaves, and ears, now. “It can be frustrating, the States is such a big country to crack, whereas the UK you can drive to every radio station and play your songs, grassroots operations are exceedingly harder here, its frustrating but were happy with what is happening here, we were on Jay Leno were going to be on Letterman, those are the things you see as a kid that feel like gold.” Catherine explains, “but as touring goes this one will be fun.” The Pierces already have some experience playing larger venues- there was an opening stint for Elton John a few years back and the last two tours have both been lessons in gaining momentum. “We did headlining shows in the UK and we wanted it to sound like the record, and these [Coldplay] shows seem like a good outlet for that. It will be a different feel. I woke up this morning with a little anxiety about it, but I think it will be fun.”
Catherine knows that performance can be a hard case to crack: ”You never know; it depends on the vibe, you think it may be easy at a small show but if the vibe isn’t good, whereas a big show might be the opposite, you can’t really guess until your on the stage. All we can do is have fun and enjoy ourselves, that makes for the best show.” Which has largely been the bands intent as of late of how they approach touring in what is described as “a whirlwind collection of stories of what makes it great.” The nightmarish, no money, no food, no definite gig tours appear to be placed in the rearview mirror of the touring buses. “The past few tours we were just so happy that its going well and the audiences have been great, no real fun weird stories… except we found a penis pump in one of our hotel rooms once.”
It’s this success that’s starting to feel a little different. “I always say Alison and I have had the longest slowest uphill climb each record has got more attention, each record has gotten better and we’ve grown with each one. It’s become more natural for us, it can be frustrating, but it’s also been good we’ve been able to keep doing what we love for this long and now its kind of happening. I don’t know if its hard work or our stars aligned at this very moment.” I suggest that in this current industry climate ten years is typical before people start seeing any form of concrete success.
“I don’t know if it’s typical, most don’t keep going, it might be that for most that do keep at it… A lot of my friends found success instantly or only in a few years and that’s what kept them going, for some it went away, I don’t know if there is a typical story, even if you have success right off the bat you have to maintain it and that’s really stressful.”
This most recent album You and I has brought out a more cohesive songwriting approach than in the past, specifically because the album was made as an album. “We wanted this album to sound a little more focused, a bit more timeless, the last one was a little all over the place” she says. The writing process, however, stayed relatively the same having both write separately. There were a few instances of collaborative writing that resulted in “a few battles” over who would take lead vocals. For the record Catherine tells me Allison won all of them.
“I’m proud of this whole record and the way it turned out.” Catherine tells me, reserving special affection for the album opener “You’ll Be Mine”. “I never get tired of singing it, I wrote it in an intense situation and I suppose it’s a healing process, but I never tire of it as opposed to others where you get to a point of never wanting to hear yourself sing that again.”
The response You and I has generated, has been for the most part kind. Berryman, who’s band is familiar with some critical assessments over the years, bestowed some words of how to deal with the less than kind words. “He just said bad reviews ‘Fuck that. Ignore it’”. Fortunately the kind words have been more in abundance than that of the harsher criticisms. Interestingly, most reviews tend to use the names Fleetwood Mac, The Mamas and The Papas, and The Bangles, usually in the same sentence.”I don’t mind the comparisons because I like all those bands, but I think, that has to do with all of them having female lead vocalists. We were way more influenced by The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, but people point to those because of they have female singers. We are rarely compared to our main influences because they were guys,” (Her favorite album is Paul Simon’s Graceland). “Sure, we took some influence from Fleetwood Mac, not so much the Mamas and the Papas. I don’t even know where that came from. I don’t deny “Kissing You Goodbye” sounds a bit like them, we were thinking ‘this sounds like the Mamas and The Papas, lets go with it.’ I don’t know where that came from I didn’t grow up listening to them that much, but as long as their comparing us to bands we like I’m fine with it.” In a quick demonstration of how easy it is to just give one-off sonic comparisons, Catherine tells me of a band she saw recently that she later described to someone as “Prince meets Michael Macdonald meets Vampire Weekend meets Fleetwod Mac.” Point taken.
The Pierce sisters, despite their European success, were raised in Alabama. In slightly unconventional surroundings but not as strange as some past articles have suggested. Sure, they were home schooled and raised in a Christian environment by hippie parents. A seemingly odd mix, but a move Catherine suggests rose out of wanting to protect their children from the outside world. They’ve since started to gravitate back to their hippie side. Contrary to what others have written, it wasn’t a commune. “People say that sometimes, but I think that’s just the religious thread, and people go ‘oh it’s a commune.’ As of now, “we consider ourselves spiritual but not really tied to a religion.” Catherine explains, same goes for the political context “I’m not a huge fan of politics, if you work on yourself instead of pointing fingers on what is wrong in the world, you’ll get a lot further… our songs are more about discovering ourselves, rather then saying this is how the world should be and I think if everyone went inward a little more, it would be a better place.”
“That’s a nice thought” I say “I don’t know if it’ll happen…”
“Yeah,”she concedes. “I don’t know if it will, but its easier to point fingers and say this is why the world is fucked up, and this is what everyone should be doing, but you have to start with yourself, I think.”
If this recent success has taught her, or them, anything it is that the industry is at times out of your control, you just have to control the few things you can, like how you act. She admits that it can be frustrating, but feels you need to hold on to the belief that if you’ve been misrepresented the truth will eventually come out. But as she points out “it doesn’t really matter. I mean, I’ll read an article about someone and say ‘oh she sounds like a bitch or he’s an idiot, then I read something else that changes my mind, I don’t think people take it too seriously, I think when you do start to take it too seriously that’s when it goes wrong. You just have to enjoy yourself and try not to worry about it.” Recalling an incident of a recent interview that saw the fabrication of direct quotes, “he made shit up I could tell he wasn’t writing anything down and not listening, just nodding his head and then he made fake direct quotes, we saw him the whole time he wasn’t listening, or taking notes.”
“Like you’re a mouthpiece for his own agenda?” I ask.
The voice on the other end pauses. “Yeah, but whatever, it’s a small price to pay and it often provides entertainment for us.”
The future is also providing entertaining thoughts about the next record, new songs, and a new tour before this current one has even begun. “It’s harder when you’ve had a little success because you feel you have to follow that up with something better, our past records didn’t really do anything, which gave the opportunity for some experimentation but this last album created a new level to reach.” Does that mean The Pierces aren’t even thinking about the exciting prospects of the present? “Were trying to stay in the moment, and enjoy it and have fun working with people we love working with, but, yeah, avoiding future expectations are hard.”