AFTER The Pierces released You & I in 2011, it turned into a word-of-mouth hit.
Backed by radio play - BBC Radio 2 especially loves them - and TV appearances ranging from Paul O’Grady to Later... With Jools Holland, sisters Allison and Catherine finally had the success they’d been dreaming off.
It was their fourth album and came at a point in their career where they felt they’d toiled for long enough without anyone listening and were just about to go their separate ways.
Now, with that success under their belts (You & I peaked at No 4 in the charts and sold more than 100,000 copies) it was time to make a follow-up.
“It was supposed to be out ages ago,” says Catherine, referring to the forthcoming Creation - they kick off their promotional tour at the Queen’s Hall on September 16.
Even though the pair finally thought things were going their way, they hit a huge bump in the road.
In 2013, they teamed up with a producer to start work on what would become their fifth album. Despite being confident with their songs and the producer having “lots of talent and a great reputation”, they spent six months recording, only to have what they’d done knocked back by their record label.
“It went well at first,” says eldest Pierce, Allison. “It’s hard to put your finger on why something doesn’t sound right, but you know it doesn’t. It didn’t have the energy or the emotion or life that we wanted it to have, and the label agreed.
Neither Pierce will say who it was they were working with, although they say he’s worked with “loads” of big-name bands and made many great records.
“Working out what to do took a while,” says Allison. Catherine, meanwhile, went travelling, to South America for a time, where she took part in an ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a brew made from the banisteriopsis caapi vine, known for its divinatory, hallucinogenic effects and is traditionally consumed by Amazonian Peruvians.
“We all felt like we were in a really delicate place,” says Catherine. “We were scared we were going to get dropped, scared we hadn’t written the right songs, and then we did ayahuasca and it put everything in perspective.”
She clams up a little when talking about the experience, largely because she’s aware it makes her sound like an old hippy, and when she mentions the drug helping her discover the “oneness of humanity” she visibly cringes.
“It’s hard to talk about the experience, hard to describe, but it’s given me a whole new perspective,” she says. “People get so caught up with career, with money, with future, and I had a lot of anxiety about those things, but during the first ceremony, I realised I have a home, I have loved ones, I am generally happy, and it took the pressure off all of that.”
She says realising the album wasn’t the “be-all-and-end-all” of her life enabled her to actually concentrate on re-recording the songs they’d written and do justice to it. She and her sister then recruited Christian ‘Leggy’ Langdon to produce the album. He is a producer they’d worked with before on various B-sides, but perhaps more importantly, he is Catherine’s fiance.
“He was hesitant,” she says. “He said, ‘What if we do it and it flops?’ and he was worried that we might argue, because we do argue when we’re working together. We’re both stubborn when we have an idea we believe in. There was some friction, but it was worth it.”
Allison is equally complimentary, saying Langdon knew straight away how the album should sound, and even though there were a few minor arguments, she never had to step in as relationship counsellor.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, the sisters travelled all over the States with their family while growing up, and were encouraged to pursue artistic creation by their “old hippy” parents, all the while being raised on a diet of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan albums. Their background shows in their music, which has always had a American West-Coast vibe, while their close harmonies and vocal styles recall Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac.
After living in New York for 11 years, and then moving to London around the release of You & I (“We moved to London because things weren’t happening in the US,” they say), they’re now back in America, but in Los Angeles.
“We love the weather, although there’s a terrible drought here at the moment. Maybe it’s all the ice bucket challenges?” says Allison, drolly.
She seems to find it harder to talk about Creation than her younger sister, mainly due to circumstances that sparked many of the songs.
“I didn’t have anywhere to live, so I was wandering around a lot,” she says. “And I was heartbroken.”
As a result, she only wrote five of the album’s 13 songs, where normally it’d be a more even split.
“Being emotionally centred is important to writing songs,” she continues. “I needed to feel more settled, although most of my songs have come out of heartbreak, or out of some sort of emotional suffering, so I should be used to it. Writing those songs for the new album, I Can Feel, Elements, An Honest Man, Monsters and The One I Want, was at least very cathartic, almost like therapy.
“I think those songs are like little gems, like gifts I’ve been given. So if it takes a while to get to them, through a load of pain, then I’m willing to pay the price.
“Listening back, I think everything we’ve been through for this album was all worth it.”
Creation is released on Monday.
The Pierces, Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, September 16, 7pm, £16, 0131-668 2019