American musical siblings The Pierces
Following the success of their latest album, American musical siblings The Pierces tell Andy Welch about finding success the hard way and baring their souls in public
In these days of preordained success, media hype and end-of-year polls, there's something pleasingly natural about the way The Pierces have risen up and demanded attention.
No disrespect to the likes of Jessie J and Ellie Goulding, the two most recent recipients of the annual BBC Sound Of poll, but quiet, old-fashioned success backed by radio play and live performances can still make the heart sing.
To date, the New York-based sister duo have sold 75,000 copies of their fourth record, You & I, in the UK, going as high as No 4 in the album chart.
“That sales figure is closer to 72,000, actually,” says the dark-haired elder, Allison, jokingly. “I think our label are rounding up but we're happy to let you think that.”
“You always hope for the best, but you also have that fear at the back of your mind, you know, ‘What if no one buys it?”' continues the duo's blonde half, Catherine. “I think we were just excited it charted and did so well.”
Now 11 years on since the release of their debut, it was only really the sisters' third album, Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge, that received the attention these Abba-esque ladies deserved.
Although widely praised on release, it sold well enough to give The Pierces another chance, even if, at the time, it felt like their last.
“We've felt that every time since the first album,” says Allison. “And each time it hasn't been true.
“Even if Thirteen Tales had flopped, we would've kept going, although we might have tried solo albums too.”
For whatever reason, the siblings believed their particular unique selling point — sisters sharing lead vocals on country-tinged songs of heartbreak — wasn't working.
“We thought maybe people just don't like duos,” explains Catherine. “There aren't a lot of duos that are really successful, especially same-sex duos. Maybe people couldn't get their head around there being two singers and not knowing who to focus on?”
“I've clearly over-thought this over the years but something clicked with the latest record.”
Part of this could be down to the work of Guy Berryman. The Coldplay bass player co-produced the album, organising things in a way The Pierces hadn't experienced before.
“We met Guy out and about in New York,” says Catherine. “All the musicians hang out in the same places. We started chatting and I gave him demos of our last album. He talked about us touring with them and, although that didn't happen, we kept in touch.
“He called one day saying he wanted to start a production company with Rik Simpson [a producer who has regularly worked with Coldplay] and he'd thought of us for his first project.”
As willing guinea pigs, The Pierces got to work recording in Coldplay's studio when Berryman had a gap in his schedule.
“Guy found his feet as a producer very quickly,” says Allison.
“He's so talented, playing a lot of instruments on the album, and he and Rick work so well together.”
“We had all these amazing resources at our disposal,” continues Catherine. “The sessions felt very professional and Guy is very, very organised. Before we started You & I, we thought about what we wanted to sound like and how to execute that.
“I've enjoyed making every record, but there was something about this one that really suited us.”As subtle as their rise has been, however, the Pierce sisters always looked likely to be doing what they're doing now.
Born to “hippie” parents in Birmingham, Alabama, they were encouraged to be creative, dancing from the age of three or four, and first singing together when Allison was eight and Catherine was six.
They would perform wherever they could (parties and weddings), and moving around the country with their father, who played in numerous bands, meant they always had a new audience.
Songwriting came at a later age, with younger Catherine first getting things going when she was 15.
They moved to New York 10 years ago, but have lived in London since February.
“We love it here,” says Catherine. “And the city has made it into a few new songs I've written. My boyfriend is from Leeds, so there's one about meeting someone in London.”
That's as much as either will say about their private lives, with Allison becoming quite cagey when I Put Your Records On is mentioned. The closing song on You & I deals with breaking up with a musician, and listening to his records to find out if he's as upset as she is.
“I think all my heroes bared their souls,” she says. “Occasionally there might be a person or two that I don't want to write about, but I've been touched so deeply by songwriters who have written about personal things that I couldn't not this time.
“As for that song, I don't think he's heard it but he'd know it was about him,” is her final word on the matter.
“It makes a lot of sense to be here,” concludes Catherine. “We don't have a deal in the US at the moment, although we are talking to some labels at the moment. We don't know how popular we are there, because we haven't been able to tour in America for a while.
“For now, we're very happy with the way things have worked out.”
You & I is out now