After 18 months and a false start with super-producer Rick Rubin, the Band Perry returns with "Pioneer" ... Get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the cover shoot and making of the album

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Faux smoke is billowing and Beyonce music is pumping as siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry, collectively known as the Band Perry, glam it up for the camera inside a Nashville-area photography studio. Despite the fact that it's almost 5 p.m. and their day started hours earlier in Orlando, Fla., at a private concert and won't be done for six or more hours when their bus delivers them to the family home in Greeneville, Tenn., the trio is upbeat.

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"Sometimes the creative process was our best friend and sometimes it was our enemy, but all of these different moments were teachers"
- Kimberly Perry on the making of "Pioneer"

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They're eager to chat about their new album, Pioneer, which has been 18 months in the making and is due April 2 on Republic Nashville (under the Big Machine Label Group umbrella).

That the Band Perry's new album is called Pioneer is not by chance. "We see it as a journey," older sister Kimberly says. "It's us going from point A to point B and every step along the way. That journey led us to a new horizon and a new place."

Not that anything Kimberly, Neil and Reid do is by chance. The siblings are deliberate, dedicated and determined. Neil estimates that every song on Pioneer was written and then rewritten four times, until the Perrys were sure it was exactly right (part of a process that had them mentored by famed songwriting perfectionist Rick Rubin, with whom they began work on the album). And the work doesn't stop when the songs are finished. "Literally after every single show, we watch the video of that show like a game tape to see what we can do better," Neil says.

The Band Perry's self-titled debut album, released in April 2010 and produced by Paul Worley (Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride) and Nathan Chapman (Taylor Swift), was successful on all counts. It has sold 1.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and spawned the third-best-selling country digital single of all time, "If I Die Young," which has tallied 4.5 million sold.

The "Ann of Green Gables"-inspired "If I Die Young" was a country and crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs and Adult Contemporary charts. Johnny Chiang, operations manager for country KKBQ Houston, says the Band Perry has the rare ability to straddle listeners young and old. "In other words, they're probably the only act that can currently cross over to pop radio and still sound 'country' for our format," Chiang says. "Most other country acts that cross over to pop really just sound pop."

In all, the album produced two country No. 1s ("If I Die Young," "All Your Life"), a top five ("You Lie") and a top 10 ("Postcard From Paris").

Along with a few headlining shows, there were major tours with the likes of Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Reba McEntire. Awards and nominations, including song and single of the year at the 2011 Country Music Assn. Awards for "If I Die Young," were heaped on the threesome.

The trio's journey-which began in Mobile, Ala., when a 15-year-old Kimberly was joined on the road by then 8-year-old Neil and 10-year-old Reid, then continued to East Tennessee, where the family settled to be closer to Nashville-was finally paying off.

It's well-documented that sophomore albums are difficult to do right for a number of reasons, the least of which is trying to match the success of the freshman effort, but Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta says the siblings were up for the challenge. "They felt and expected the pressure," he says. "They completely delivered."

"They've taken it to another level in a lot of ways," Republic Nashville president Jimmy Harnen says. "They've upped their game in songwriting, they've upped their game in musicality, they've upped it in song selection. You've got your whole life to write your first album and you've got 12 months to write your second one. That's a challenge that can be very daunting."

"Even more than pressure, we felt responsibility to even have the opportunity to record a second album," Kimberly says, "because the fans making the first record such a success was in itself such a gift. The three of us felt the responsibility to dig as deep as we could, and we definitely dug deep."

The trio decided that Rubin-whose varied track record runs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Dixie Chicks-would be the right man to produce Pioneer. At least that's what the Perrys thought they had decided. "To begin the recording process, we took a road trip out to Malibu, Calif.," Reid says, "and during that time we wrote a lot of the music along the way, including at the Grand Canyon. We wrote the song 'Pioneer' in Santa Fe, N.M."

They eventually made it to Malibu and met with Rubin. "Rick helped us refine the songs," Reid says.

"We call him 'the song doctor,'" brother Neil chimes in.

"He was kind of like an editor," Reid continues. "He helped us with rhyming words, for example. We rhymed a lot of words that he doesn't find good enough. He really pushed us in that aspect."

"Words like 'free' and 'easy' don't rhyme," Kimberly adds. "In the South they do, but in Malibu they don't.

"Rick also opened up our minds to the spirit behind music," she says. "He was a teacher in that area. There were times where we walked into the control room that he had tears in his eyes because the music so moved him."

All that said, the trio realized that the sound it had in mind wasn't what Rubin would deliver. "Rick in his current incarnation is such a minimalist-it's what we love about him," Kimberly says. "But we also knew that to accommodate all of the goals that we had, the best producer was Dann Huff."

That doesn't mean the Malibu trip was a waste. "Even though you don't see Rick's name in the credits, you'll see it in the 'thank yous' because he gave us the boost of confidence to make Pioneer happen," Kimberly says.

The trio returned to Nashville and turned to Huff to helm the project, in part because he understood that the Perrys wanted an album that reflected their live show. Those who work with Huff, including Rascal Flatts and Urban, are always struck by his willingness to attend their shows so that he can better understand their live vibe and work to capture it on record.

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