Sister Act

Catherine and Allison Pierce

Birmingham natives Catherine and Allison Pierce fine-tune their sound with a darker, edgier approach.

by Cindy Riley     Photo by Edward Badham

Growing up the daughters of self-proclaimed hippies, The Pierces seemed destined for a career in the arts. Their folk/indie/psychedelic harmonies have been a lifetime in the making.

“Our parents were so encouraging,”  explains Catherine, who lives in New York City with her sister and band mate, Allison. “We were surrounded by creativity, so it was a natural breeding ground for making music.” “They were very raw and emotional,” adds Allison. “They  are  antennas for inspiration.”

Having bounced between Homewood, Hoover, Alabaster and Chelsea in an anemic attempt to put down roots, the bohemian clan was on the road much of the time. Their dad played guitar in different bands, while their mom painted. Influenced by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell, the home-schooled girls often performed at parties, churches and assorted gatherings. Allison was dancing by age three, and both sisters became accomplished  ballerinas. But music was their ultimate calling, as witnessed by their latest album, You and I, which debuts March 14.

“I think Catherine and I have grown a lot as people and it’s reflected in the music,” Allison admits. “We have a better idea of what we want from life, love and our careers. Our vision has become clearer. Getting older and wiser is the best thing that ever happened to us. “

“The new album is a bit more sophisticated than the last one,” Catherine points out. “We had a clearer idea of how we wanted it to sound as a whole. There’s still a lot of personality, there but it’s more focused. I feel like we’ve grown emotionally and that comes through in our music and what we have to say. Also, in the past we were sometimes unsure about how we wanted to sound but I feel like something clicked with us in recent years and we are much clearer about that now. ”

Once featured as a Rolling Stone “Breaking Artist,” the thirty-somethings’ journey as recording artists has been a slow but steady one. While enrolled at Auburn University,  their  friend  sent a tape to a record company in Nashville. By 2000 their first album, The Pierces—a  mix of folk harmonies and adult alternative songs—was produced, but didn’t get the proper backing. In  2005, their second album Light of the Moon was released through Universal, featuring almost a dozen  tracks  the girls wrote or co-wrote. Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge followed a couple of years later, receiving good reviews. But their label was less than supportive, and they decided to split up.

“Cat and I  had  a collection of songs we consider our own and would like to do as solo projects some day. Since things weren’t going so well, it seemed like a good time to branch out and try something new. Then we got the fated call that changed that plan.” The call was from Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman, who asked if they wanted to join the band on tour in South America. That didn’t happen, but when Berryman and Grammy award-winning producer Rik Simpson started their own production company, The Darktones, last summer, The Pierces became their first project.

The pair went first to NYC’s Electric Lady and then to Coldplay’s studio in London. The  album was recorded over nine months. The Pierces also recorded a steamy new music video, Love You More, which was filmed in the desert heat.

“We’ve  never stopped trying,” stresses Cat, who like her older sibling performs vocals and plays  acoustic guitar. “We’ve had major ups and downs, but we kept writing songs and good things kept coming along eventually. I feel like we’ve earned it. We’re  releasing the new record so that’s really exciting. We’ll also be touring a lot in the UK since our new label, Polydor, is there. We plan on doing some summer festivals as well as club and theatre tours. We’re really looking forward to performing as much as possible.”

“I’m starting to enjoy London more, Allison adds. “It was a little overwhelming at first—it’s very big and hard to get around, very expensive, and of course, can be very grey. Now that I’m getting to know the city and the people, I am finding it more and more charming.”

The Pierces have performed on Gossip Girl and Dexter, and  their “Secret” melody is the theme song to the hit show Pretty Little Liars. With a heavy travel schedule, they welcome returning to their hometown twice a year, to escape the frenetic pace.

“My fondest memories of Alabama are picking honeysuckle, and the most delicious blackberries I’ve ever tasted,” Allison reminisces. “And the gardenias. God bless the gardenias. You also can’t beat Birmingham thrift store shopping.” Cat, once romantically linked  to Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes, is equally excited about having the chance to connect with family every chance she can. “They’re really happy our career is picking up. They’ve been amazingly supportive throughout the whole journey. They’re all getting pink Cadillacs when we strike it rich.•

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