IN THE MASHED-UP, MIXED-UP WORLD OF contemporary country music, you’re nowadays just as likely to see inked-up heshers slinging Les Pauls as you are to see buttoned-up gents sporting Stetsons and a smile. The savvy new generation of Nashville knows there’s more to country music than fiddles and twang. It’s an outlook that comes naturally to Reid Perry, who, along with his sister Kimberly and brother Neil, makes up the chart-topping Band Perry. The band is currently touring to support its latest, Pioneer.
How does the band generally write tunes?
Often times, we’ll write with Kimberly on acoustic guitar, me on bass, and Neil on mandolin. We actually arrange the songs as we’re writing them, because we have those core instruments all going. Then we’ll take those songs and play them in soundcheck with our [touring] band. That way, we’ll have a good idea of the arrangement before we get into the studio, and I’ll already have come up with my bass part. There’s always in-the-moment creativity in the studio—I’ll add a new part here or there. But for the most part, it’s pre-arranged.
What’s your approach in terms of tracking?
I’ll lay a track down with the band, and then I’ll go back and scope it to see if there’s something I want to do differently, Sometimes, I’m completely happy with the tracks, and we’ll just leave it the way it is. On Pioneer, we worked with [producer] Dan Huff , who’s a musician, himself. So it was nice to have his extra ears on the tracks.
In Nashville, it’s common practice to use studio players for a band’s record, though you were clearly the one out on the road. For example, Chris Chaney and Michael Rhoads played on The Band Perry’s 2010 self-titled debut.
They did—they played on about five tracks, and I played on the rest of the album. That’s the way that Nashville is. What we love about studio musicians is that they literally make it a 9-to-5 job, and it’s a lot of the bread and butter of the Nashville scene. And we’ll take some of those studio players out on the road with us, as well. We love the studio musicians, but we are a band, and it’s important to have our sounds on the records. We may not be the best technical players, but we have our own unique way of playing.
Did anybody else contribute bass tracks on ?
No, it’s all me.
That’s a bit of an anomaly for a country record coming out of Nashville.
It is, but country music is becoming a very broad genre, and we’re using a lot of different methods to make records. It depends on what you need. One thing we’ve always said amongst ourselves, whether it comes to writing the songs or picking the players, is that we have to make sure the music is what comes first. I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job putting aside all ego and pride to make sure music is what takes the lead.
The studio and the stage are definitely different arenas. Do you have to modify the bass lines you’ve recorded when you take it to the stage?
Definitely. On the recorded version of “Done,” for example, there’s a swing to the chorus, and I’m pounding away at eighth notes. Live, we straighten it out to a four-on-the-floor feel, and I'll just hit quarter notes on the downbeats, throwing in a run here or there to give it a little accent.
One difference between the first album and this album is that we’re playing bigger rooms now. On the first album, I played more intricate parts, just because people could hear it in the small theaters and clubs we were playing. That kind of stuff doesn’t translate as well in amphitheaters and arenas. You almost have to dumb it down just for people to be able to hear your ideas.
How would you describe your playing style?
I like a lot of movement on bass. We grew up playing as a three-piece, with Kimberly on electric guitar and Neil on drums. We didn’t really have a lead guitar, so I added a lot of the melody to what we were doing.
What are you looking for in your tone?
I like a round-sounding bass, but I like my bass tone to have a bit of a nose—some mids and high end. Melodic lines can get lost when the tone is too round. I don’t really use distortion, but I like adding a bit of dirt to the sound, usually by boosting the gain a little bit. I always play through the overdrive (VINTAGE) channel on the Super Bassman head. It gives me that little bit of grit to push through. There are times when I want to add even more dirt, but I haven’t yet found the right pedal. I currently have a ZVex Woolly Mammoth, but the songs we’re currently playing live don’t really call for it.
You seem to prefer P-Basses, but you also play a Gretsch White Falcon. Do you find that it’s tricky dialing in the tone of a hollowbody bass on stage?
That has been the hardest one to wrangle. P-Basses sound great no matter what they’re plugged into, but it’s taken a bit of work to get the Gretsch sounding the way we want it. It’s a beast. It’s not as punchy as the P-Basses, so I generally use it on ballads.
Do you use standard tuning on your basses?
I have one standard, one with everything down a half step, and one with all strings down a whole step.
How do you like your basses set up?
I play really hard, so I have super high action.
When you were first learning to play bass, whom did you look to?
I’m a huge Stones and Beatles fan, but for opposite reasons. I love Paul McCartney’s melodies. I remember listening when I was little and assessing what he did. He was the first player I heard that would play the fifth when everybody else was sitting on the root. I didn’t know why, but I knew I liked the way that sounded. With Bill Wyman, I loved the holes that he would leave in the music. Often, people will play just to fill up space. But a better bass player knows when not to play.
Growing up, I also listened to a lot of Stevie Wonder. I’d play what his left hand was doing on keyboard. I didn’t even know it was keyboards, not bass, but I’d learn those parts. I also had a big book of tuba music, so I’m sure I got some ideas from that, as well.
The Band Perry, Pioneer [Republic Nashville, 2013]
Basses Fender American Standard Precision Basses, Gretsch White Falcon
Rig Fender Super Bassman with 8x10 cabinet
Strings DR Strings Hi-Beams (.045–.105)