Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge might be the third album for the sisterly duo known as The Pierces, but in a very real sense, it's easy to view it as their debut. After all, neither of its predecessors really succeeded in capturing the sensibilities of Allison and Catherine Pierce. We had a chance to speak with Allison a few days after the album's release about her expectations for the disc, what it was like to tour with the member of the Strokes who's also her sister's fiancé, and how she'd respond to the suggestion that she and her sister are just trying on new musical styles to see what fits best commercially.
Allison Pierce: Hi, Will!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Allison, how are you?
AP: Goooooood. How are you?
BE: Not bad. My daughter's name is Allyson, so…
AP: Oh, really? How does she spell it?
AP: (sadly) Oh. I'm an "I."
BE: So I hope that, by now, (your sister) Catherine's case of strep throat has come and gone.
AP: Oh, yes, it's long gone.
BE: Well, good. I just wanted to be sure; there's a lot of illness going around right now. In fact, my daughter's battling an ear infection in each ear at the moment.
AP: Oh, really? How old is she?
BE: Twenty months.
AP: (sweetly) Oh, she's a baby!
BE: And a cute one, I don't mind saying.
AP: Awwwwwww! Oh, poor little thing!
BE: Well, thankfully, she's battling back after having gone to the doctor and gotten properly medicated. But she comes by ear infections honestly. I'm assured by my mother that I battled them constantly as a kid.
AP: I had a sister, not Catherine, but my youngest sister, she had ear trouble as a child. Did you have to get tubes in your ears?
BE: No, thankfully. And I'm hoping my daughter will be as fortunate. (Steering things back to the topic at hand.) So I love the album.
AP: Why, thank you.
BE: I actually just did a write-up of it for our site, which should be up sometime in the next few weeks. I know it came out on March 20, but I understand there was a bit of trouble getting it stocked everywhere the way you'd wanted.
AP: Yeah, it seems that way. I mean, I guess that just kind of happens when you're on an indie label and they're not making massive shipments, but I think they're figuring out the problem.
BE: Now, I haven't heard your first two albums except for the samples of them that are available on iTunes, but I have heard that you two weren't happy with them.
AP: Um, well, the first one we liked – we have sentimental feelings towards it – but the second just didn't really turn out the way we wanted it to.
BE: Just based on those samples, when compared to the new album, it sounds like other stuff was produced to within an inch of its life.
AP: Yes! And that was the problem. We had wanted to make more of a country, Ryan-Adams-like record, and the producer we'd been hooked up with just didn't like that idea at all. So it was our own fault for staying with him, I guess.
BE: With the new album, I made a comment about how the new songs have almost what you'd call a goth-folk feel.
AP: (laughs) That's a good way to put it.
BE: It's pretty sparsely produced, for the most part, but given the dark feel of the material, I think that works.
AP: Yeah, I think so. I like to think so.
BE: In fact, the line I close with says that it's "the perfect album for girls who look like Winona Ryder in ‘Beetlejuice,' wear Emily the Strange attire, and, most importantly, maintain their sense of humor despite having a predilection for the dark side of things."
AP: (laughs) That's great! That is great. It's funny, because I'm starting to realize that not everybody has a sense of humor, which is a strange concept, that you could live your life without a sense of humor. But there are really a lot of people without it, and they don't get the jokes. Like "Boring." They don't get that "Boring" is a joke.
BE: Right, and I read somewhere about that, where you said you were battling people who just couldn't comprehend that the way you're acting in the video, well, that you're kidding.
AP: Yeah, exactly!
BE: Do you find it hard to walk the line of doing fashion layouts that flaunt your attractiveness, but still presenting yourself as intelligent female singer-songwriters?
AP: Um, no, I don't really think that's a fine line to walk. I mean, I don't see why those two worlds can't collide.
BE: I just mean that a lot of people might look at you and say, "Oh, well, they're too pretty, they must be a label concoction."
AP: Of course. Of course there are people who'll say that. But it's not true. So what are you gonna do?
BE: So I saw that Spin magazine covered you on Spin.com.
BE: And, actually, you've been getting quite a bit of press.
AP: Yeah, we have! Andrew (Steinthal, the band's publicist) has done a fabulous job.
BE: Yeah, I've been in regular contact with him; he's definitely been very helpful with that.
AP: Yeah? Good. (teasingly) He's a good boy!
BE: Now, I know you've toured with Albert (Hammond Jr., Catherine's fiancé), but are you going to be doing a headlining tour, or are you going to be doing more opening gigs?
"The Beatles showed me how wonderful and beautiful music was, and how addictive it can be, then Joni Mitchell showed me the more personal side, that you can express your inner thoughts and feelings through music." AP: Um, I think we're hoping to get a good opening slot. I'm not sure when, maybe late summer, early fall. Somewhere around there. But in the meantime, we'll probably be playing in New York. And we're going to London at the end of this month to do a couple of shows. But, yeah, I think we might do a residency here in New York. Are you here in New York?
BE: No, actually, I'm in Virginia.
BE: So, hopefully, ya'll will get down here at some point.
AP: I hope so!
BE: So was it weird being on tour with Albert, given Catherine's, uh, proximity to him?
AP: No, not at all. It was great. He's a really nice guy, incredibly generous, very talented, just a wonderful person to spend time with and be on the road with.
BE: Now, do you appear on his album, or vice versa?
AP: No, actually.
BE: Was that ever under consideration?
AP: It was. We were going to sing back up on a song, and…I don't remember why it didn't work out. Catherine, actually, wrote a couple of lines on the record. (laughs) He was playing it around the house, and she said, "You should say this here."
BE: I'm throwing this out as a hypothetical: do you have any concerns that cynics will look at your first two albums, then look at this one, and say, "What, are these girls just throwing a bunch of different styles against the wall to see if one of them sticks?"
AP: I can see how someone would think that.
BE: Because the new album does sound dramatically different from the other material, based on those samples I heard.
AP: Right. Well, we just wanted to have fun and experiment. We didn't even go into the studio planning on making an entire record, because we hadn't signed to a label. We'd just gotten out of our Universal deal, and we met this guy named Roger Greenwalt, and he said, "Come by my studio – I have a studio in my apartment – and we'll record a couple of songs." And, actually, we did that with another friend of ours, John Kent, who lives in Texas. So we just slotted all that together, and we had a great time in the studio, and we realized what great chemistry we had with each other, as far as recording goes. So we just started doing it as often as we could. He did it in his free time, and we would end up going over three or four times a week and just having fun. We would bring him a song, and we would say, "Okay, what fun things can we do with this song?" And we would do it. It was pretty magical, because we just got to do whatever we wanted. We were like little kids in a candy store or something.
BE: So who are some of your musical influences? I know, it's one of those obvious questions, but you have to ask it.
AP: (laughs) That's all right. Hmmm, I would say, originally, The Beatles. They kind of showed me how wonderful and beautiful music was, and how addictive it can be. Then Joni Mitchell showed me the more personal side of music, that you can express your inner thoughts and feelings through music, and have it be cathartic in a way. And…who else? Sam Cooke. We love Sam Cooke. My father always listened to James Taylor, so we listened to him. Lately, there's Rufus Wainwright, The Shins, and, more recently, Amy Winehouse and the Scissor Sisters.
BE: What do you think of Lily Allen?
AP: I like Lily Allen! I think she's very talented; it's cute, it's fun…yeah, I like it.
BE: I've seen descriptions of your parents as "hippies," and that your dad played guitar, but were you into playing your own music at a young age, or was it something you came into later?
AP: We sang at an early age. As soon as we could speak, my dad was teaching us how to sing. So, yeah, I've been singing my whole life. I started playing guitar, I think, when I was 19 or so. Maybe 18.
BE: The style of the album is really diverse, literally, from song to song, it feels like you've moved into a completely different album…and, yet, it still manages to maintain a surprisingly cohesive feel, even with all that diversity.
AP: Well, that's good! That's what we were hoping. We did have concerns that it wouldn't be cohesive, but I think it is. I think it ends up being cohesive.
BE: Well, the fact that the vocals remain the same from song to song is, I think, what helps to hold it together.
AP: True, true.
BE: Do you have any specific sales expectations for the album?
AP: I mean, y'know, I would love for every person in the world to own a copy!
BE: I know it's just dangerous to get them too high, so I was wondering if, in your mind, you'd thought about what you'd be happy with it selling.
AP: I just…I don't know what my, uh… (Makes a sound to indicate that she's tongue-tied.) I would love for it to sell lots and lots of copies. Honestly.
BE: I just didn't know if you were viewing it as a gateway album, since it's more or less a new introduction to an audience who might not recognize you this time around, or if you're planning to go whole-hog with it.
AP: You know, I'm just glad people seem to like it, because the last couple of records, they didn't respond as well as they're already responding to this one. Just that feel is so refreshing and makes me feel successful already. But I would love for it to continue to grow, of course. That's why we do it. I hear musicians say, "Oh, it's all about the music, it's not about selling the album," but that's not really true. It's not as satisfying if people don't hear it. I could sit around in my room all day and just play guitar and sing, but that's not as satisfying as people hearing it and connecting with it.
BE: And, lastly, do you have a vision of who the typical Pierces fan is?
AP: Not really. It seems to reach a wide variety of people. And that's how I like it. I think young kids could listen to it, and Grandma could listen to it, and people my age could listen to it.
BE: Well, it's been a pleasure talking to you.
AP: You, too. Thank you so much!