A year ago, The Band Perry watched the Country Music Association Awards from the nearby Comfort Inn & Suites, Room 211.
"We were eating a pizza so there was nothing too bad about it," singer Kimberly Perry joked.
Fast forward to this year and the family trio is not only going to be in the door at Wednesday night's CMA Awards, to be aired live from Bridgestone Arena on ABC, it's a young act so precocious and promising that it was nominated for group of the year BEFORE releasing its first album.
"We fully intend to be seat fillers," Kimberly said. "Actually getting to attend the show is a win for us. We're so humbled to be in that category. We actually aren't quite sure how we made that this year. But we're going to be cheering them on. We will be happy to lose to anybody in that category."
Siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry also will perform, giving them their widest exposure to date -- though the band has had no trouble drawing attention. The Perrys have been on the radar for a while, but really began to stand out this year with the release of an EP in the spring and their self-titled debut album last month, which has spurred the country top 10 hit "If I Die Young."
"The Band Perry" debuted at No. 2 on the country charts and No. 4 on the all-genre Billboard 200. Surprising? Perhaps. But it's not so shocking once you learn that the group is no flashing meteor. They've had over a decade of preparation combined with the hard sell from a new venture backed by Big Machine's Scott Borchetta to secure a breakout moment.
"The Band Perry" is the first release from Republic Nashville, a partnership between Borchetta's growing independent line and Universal Republic. The band had the full attention of new label president Jimmy Harnen, who traveled with them on their radio tour last year. Harnen hit 87 radio stations with the band from October to January, laughing all the way.
"It was literally one of the most fun times of my life," Harnen said, noting at 47 he "felt like a proud father."
"I wanted to show our deep support for this band, and I wanted to take them out there and proudly tell the world what was on Republic Nashville. I did it before with Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum, and we've had great results with it."
"For us it was really cool," the 27-year-old Kimberly said. "Radio got to see that commitment, but also we got to know the head of our label really, really well."
The Perrys started playing live gigs from a young age. Kimberly put together her first band at 15 and Reid and Neil, now 21 and 20, were opening up for her at the ages of 10 and 8 in their own band, the Mobile Music Connection, so named because they lived in Mobile, Ala., at the time.
Their mother and father were closet musicians and very supportive. Their father, Steve, acted as their first booking agent, and he was aggressive.
"He would book us in every place he could find -- restaurants, churches, festivals, fairs ...," Neil said.
"The side of the road," Kimberly joked.
They played a little bit of everything, from Led Zeppelin to Southern rock.
"They all had these matching bowl cuts and they were 3 feet tall," Kimberly said. "They were so cute."
"We called ourselves mini-Beatles," Reid said.
By the time the boys were in their teens they found themselves in need of a singer and Kimberly needed a band, so they joined forces. They were recruited for The New Faces of Country Tour in 2005, playing acoustic in-store shows at Walmarts across the country.
"We actually became The Band Perry in the lingerie departments of Walmart," Kimberly joked.
Three years later, Garth Brooks' manager, Bob Doyle, hooked the band up with producer Paul Worley to start honing its sound. The band cut its own music before approaching labels to retain some control over its future and establish a baseline.
It sounds easy: How to make a splash in country music in five easy steps. But it's been anything but.
"We just celebrated 12 years on the road together, and you know what?" Kimberly asked. "There's just a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into taking a band and raw talent from Point A and actually getting it to Point B in front of people's eyes and ears. So it's just really been amazing to think about all these steps we've taken this last decade."