In what are largely barren times for the record industry, one major success story this past twelve months has been the unprecedented rise of Alabama-born sisters The Pierces. Despite having cut their first album as far back as 2000, the ensuing decade has been one of almost constant struggle searching for recognition until the arrival of fourth long player 'You And I' in May of this year. Since then, they've attracted a host of critical acclaim while appearing at events such as Glastonbury and V before playing to full houses almost every night on their most recent UK tour.
Now, with the tour at an end, the two sisters, Catherine and Allison, find themselves courted by the media everywhere they turn, a far cry from this time last year where they'd struggle to be recognised outside of their own backyards. Having already seen two previous attempts to hook up with The Pierces aborted for one reason or another, Contactmusic finally tracked down Allison Pierce, the older of the sisters by two years. Currently based in London, the next twelve months promise to be just as relentless as these, with more tours, singles to be lifted from 'You And I' and subsequent promotional ventures on the horizon.
How are you and what are you up to at this moment in time?
Allison: I'm very well thanks! I'm actually in Bethnal Green just about to get in a car. We've a full day of press and promotional activities ahead, which at times is still quite hard to take in, but obviously enjoyable at the same time.
It's been quite a busy year for you, and I guess a surreal one too in terms of raising your profile. Did you expect 'You And I' to take off in the way it has done?
Allison: No, not at all! We had no expectations whatsoever when making this record, other than to make the best album we possibly could. The fact that people liked and bought it was beyond our wildest dreams, particularly when considering how long we've been making music.
Your success has been a long time coming from the release of your first album 11 years ago to 'You And I' this year. Was there ever a time during the past decade when you felt like calling it a day?
Allison: Oh yeah! We actually did split up after the second record ('Light Of The Moon') and then a friend persuaded us to get back together, and after we recorded 'Thirteen Tales Of Love And Revenge' in 2007 we went our separate ways again. I'd always wanted to make a solo record and that was my intention, but then that very same friend persuaded us to give it one last try, and fortunately, here we are.
What was the catalyst for you with 'You And I'? Did you approach the songwriting on that record differently to how you had done in the past?
Allison: I wouldn't say we did anything differently to be honest. When I'm inspired I just tend to write, and I guess the same could be said for Catherine too. I think Guy's (Berryman) involvement definitely spurred us on, as we both agreed before making 'You And I' that if no one was interested after we'd released it then it would probably be our last album.
You mention Coldplay's Guy Berryman, who co-produced 'You And I'. How did he become involved with the album and what did he bring to the recording process?
Allison: We'd met Guy a few years earlier in New York and gave him a copy of 'Thirteen Tales.'. He contacted us a while later and said that he'd been cleaning out a drawer in his house, found the record hidden away, played it and immediately fell in love with it. It was then that he expressed an interest in working with us and I think both Guy and his co-producer Rik Simpson brought an element of magic to the recordings. Its difficult to express in words how it felt but they ignited a certain spark we hadn't experienced previously.
Do you see the Coldplay connection as being partly responsible for your profile being raised and ultimately, the upsurge in popularity you've enjoyed since?
Allison: In terms of generating publicity then definitely. I think it encouraged people to check out our music that may not have been aware of our existence beforehand. Ultimately though, it still comes down to having the songs to back any kind of publicity up, and hopefully we've proved that with 'You And I'.
You've recently completed a near sell-out tour of the UK. How do audiences here compare with those back home?
Allison: For a start we've been playing to bigger crowds here than we ever do back in the States. I think the UK as a whole, both in terms of the public and the press have been far more supportive than what we've experienced back home.
Allison: Yeah. We're still relatively unknown in America. In fact, we haven't undertaken a full US tour for the best part of ten years! That's why in some ways, despite only being based in London for ten months, we actually feel more at home in the UK at this moment in time.
Do you see yourselves permanently uprooting to the UK?
Allison: I dunno. Maybe not permanently, but after spending so many years in New York London has been a breath of fresh air, especially the people. Our youngest sister has recently moved to Nashville and that's somewhere I'd maybe consider settling one day.
Your music often gets compared to people like Fleetwood Mac and The Mamas & The Papas, which in turn can lend derogatory accusations of being "retro" or "MOR". Does it concern you that The Pierces may get pigeonholed in such a way?
Allison: Not really, no. I can think of far worse artists to be compared with! Ultimately if that's the public's perception of us then fine, but I like to think we have something unique to offer in the way we portray ourselves through our music.
Definitely. The vocal harmonies remind me of early nineties bands like Lush or Slowdive for instance.
Allison: I'm not overly familiar with either of those bands, but I do think we've a definite country, or Americana element to our sound which perhaps escapes many people's attentions.
You collaborated with The All-American Rejects on their last album. How did that come about and are you fans of their music?
Allison: They were looking for some female singers to duet with on one of their songs, and we share the same publisher so that's how we became involved. They were actually asked to choose between Taylor Swift and us, and they decided to go with us! I wasn't aware of their music beforehand, but since then we've become great friends, and live, just the sheer onstage energy of Tyson Ritter is a sight to behold in itself!
Is there anyone else you'd like to work with in the future?
Allison: Fleet Foxes, definitely. I just think they're incredible musicians, an incredible band.
You've just released the fifth single from 'You And I', 'Kissing You Goodbye'. Will this be the last release from that record or are there more to come?
Allison: No, there are more in store next year. I think 'Drag You Down' may be the next one, and we're also going to be re-packaging 'You And I' with several new and unreleased tracks next year, so I guess there will be more singles to coincide with that. Nothing's been finalised yet, but that's the plan.
You're also set to announce some new tour dates in the coming days.
Allison: Yeah, although we haven't seen them ourselves yet! It's really strange as we've just completed arguably our biggest tour to date, and we're already talking about going back on the road straight after!
So, apart from the repackaged album and imminent tour, what else does 2012 have in store for The Pierces?
Allison: Ideally I'd like to get my solo record laid down. It's something I've wanted to do for a while now, and hopefully the opportunity will arise sooner rather than later. Other than that, most of our focus will be on promoting 'You And I'. It's really weird, as I don't honestly know what I'm doing from one day to the next, never mind next year!
Are there any new songs in place or timescales set for the follow-up to 'You And I'?
Allison: The only new songs are the ones that will appear on the repackaged version of 'You And I'. In terms of timescales for a new album, we haven't got any, although the label may say otherwise! We try not to get bogged down with that kind of stuff as it just creates extra pressure to be honest.
Finally, I read a quote from your sister that said "We'd been searching for a sound our entire careers, and it happened when we least expected it." Explain.
Allison: My interpretation would simply be that maturity comes with time and experience, and after spending so long writing and recording we've finally reached that stage where we're at our most comfortable with what we're doing.
The album 'You And I' is out now on Polydor Records.
Canto Della Terra - Live From Teatro Del Silenzio, Italy / 2007