Nothing beats a great song to take an act from obscurity to stardom. Case in point: The Band Perry's multiple-format hit "If I Die Young."
The second single from siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry's self-titled 2010 debut on Republic Nashville, "If I Die Young" made a steady six-month climb up Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart last year before finally topping the ranking in December.
But the song wasn't finished. During the latter half of this year, it peaked at No. 12 on Mainstream Top 40, No. 4 on Adult Top 40 and, most recently, No. 1 on Adult Contemporary.
The huge crossover appeal of "If I Die Young" -- which has sold 3.3 million digital tracks, according to Nielsen SoundScan -has made the Band Perry one of the most successful new acts in country music.
While the siblings write songs together and occasionally enlist other collaborators, "If I Die Young" was penned by Kimberly Perry, making her one of Billboard's top 10 songwriters of the third quarter based on U.S. radio airplay.
In an interview with Billboard, Perry talks about the song, collaborating with her brothers and what the trio is working on next.
When did you write "If I Die Young"? What inspired it?
It was basically a cloudy day in East Tennessee where the boys and I call home. A lot of times before I start writing a lyric, I'll start writing in free-verse poetry. I find that it's not as binding as a three-and-a-half-minute song -you can get a lot of good brainstorming out in that way.
On this particular day, I was thinking about what my funeral would look like if it were mine to plan, and it grew into this idea. It was such a gorgeous moment of contentment that was hitting me so hard in the heart. I began to contemplate the idea that if it all ended at this moment, I'd done everything that I set out to do so far. I was very aware that I had so many other aspirations but for whatever reason if they didn't happen, that I had done everything that I needed to do.
I had brainstormed in my little notebook and I began to see this song take shape. I came up with the melody and ran downstairs and said, "Hey, boys, play this with me!" It was one of the most special days in my life.
The song has hit No. 1 on two different airplay charts. Why do you think it's resonated with so many?
It's one of those songs that both melodically and lyrically means many different things to so many different people. It has a lullaby melody about it -even if they don't know what the song is about, the melody is so comforting. It has a lot to do with not necessarily being strictly a country melody or strictly a folk melody or strictly a pop melody, and the spirit that it was written with -contemplating young death, but also celebrating contentment and life.
When did you begin writing songs?
Since the first day I started, writing has been a labor of love. I've been writing poetry since I was a kid. I would flesh out thoughts and emotions and it was my outlet, both for communication and to be creative. The first song I wrote, I was probably 16 or 17 years old and it was figuring out how to mesh melody and words in a way that made sense.
I feel like "If I Die Young" was the first great song that I wrote by myself. The process of writing that song taught me a lot about being a writer. It had all this interesting meter and internal rhyme and from the mechanics of writing, it taught me so much. It also taught me to communicate not only on a metaphorical level, which I've always done a lot. Every line in the song is 100% realism, but then there is also some deeper metaphor underneath if folks choose to see that.
What is the creative process like with your brothers?
A lot of times Reid will have a bassline that will have such a cool groove I get really inspired by, or Neil will have a mandolin melody, and then we'll sit together and I'll throw out ideas. Because we read a lot, we keep a lot of words and phrases and ideas in the back of our minds. So we'll be sitting in a little songwriting circle with just the three of us and somebody will remember something and it will be the perfect complement to the song. It's like baking without a recipe. You keep tossing in ingredients until it comes out right -that's how it is, songwriting with the three of us.
Have the three of you begun writing for your next album?
We are in full force writing for album No. 2 and really excited about the songs that are being born right now. We've gotten to experience a wide variety of new things over the last two years. One thing that I'm so proud of already is everything rings 100% true. Every line that we're writing and singing is something that we feel deep down in our gut.
Are you writing with anyone new?
Dan Wilson out in L.A., who [co-wrote] the Adele songs "Someone Like You" and "Don't You Remember," which is our favorite on 21. I've always been a fan of Dan. I had a songwriting crush on him, so our publishing company got in touch with him and he fell in love with "If I Die Young." We got together and hit it off, so we're going to go spend some more time with him in December. He's a great gentle soul and we love writing with him.
You have your own Pearlfeather Publishing, administered by Major Bob Music. What made you decide to start your own company?
We finished recording the first seven sides [of our debut album] and were passing it around to everybody in town. We ended up having three label offers on the table, and once the label deals were on the table, then the publishing deals came. At that point, it didn't seem to make sense because we had already recorded our music and we had label intentions so we were like, "Why don't we just hang onto it?"
Do you worry about writing another song as successful as "If I Die Young"?
That song had its place and it did what it needed to do. I always feel like songs come to us when we need them to. I don't know where we'd be without "If I Die Young." Every artist has to have that point of introduction, and whatever song we need next will come to us when it's meant to. We're going to try to stay open and available and keep our ears bent to the wind and see what comes in our direction.