The Pierces at HP Pavilion, 4:27:12 - photo by Roman Gokhman

Following three commercially unsuccessful albums, Alabama-born and raised sisters Allison and Catherine Pierce had decided that a joint music career might not be in-store. The following day Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman called them and said he wanted to co-produce their next album. And just like that, the band was back together.

Following the successful release of You & I in the U.K. last year, the album received a proper U.S. release last month.

Friday, The Pierces were opening for Coldplay at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. While the building was not halfway full yet, those who weren’t there missed out an exciting set by the sisters, whose sound fits somewhere amongst pop, folk, rock and country, but is not solely any of those genres.

Backed by four musicians, Allison (36) and Catherine’s (34) dual harmonies and sometimes dark and mischievous edge was an early highlight to Friday’s show.

A few hours beforehand, The Bay Bridged met up with the ladies at a park across the street from the arena. They were lounging on the grass before we moved to a picnic table that was home to some furry and colorful caterpillars. As one of them went for each lady, we fired off some questions before being attacked myself.

The Bay Bridged: Lets talk influences; there’s definitely Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. I got a Mamas and the Papas vibe as well. Who else?

Catherine: We grew up on The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. Not really the Mamas and The Papas so much. A lot of people really point to that. We do acknowledge that one of our songs (“Kissing You Goodbye”) sounds like one of their songs (“California Dreaming”), but it was a fluke.

How about modern artists?

Catherine: Fiona Apple was very inspiring for me when I was younger. Rufus Wainwright, and I love Fleet Foxes.

How would you categorize your sound? Indie? Folk? Pop? Do you even try to give your sound a name?

Catherine: No. We’ve been trying for years.

Allison: We only try because people ask. (both laugh).

I take it back then. You’re from Alabama but you’ve been based in New York, right?

Catherine: I just moved to L.A., but Allison is in New York.

Allison: I’m kind of homeless, actually. We moved to London for a year to work on our record, so I gave up my apartment in New York. I didn’t really want to move back there and I hardly have any free time. I’m not sure where I want to live yet.

When you were first starting out, one of your friends sent a demo to a label in Nashville. (This led to their debut album, The Pierces, in 2000. The album did not sell well). How would your lives be different had you succeeded on that first attempt?

Catherine: We probably would have made money! (laughs) That’s when people were still selling records. It’s a mystery. Do you want us to imagine?

Can you?

Allison: I can’t.

Catherine: I bet we’d probably have done solo albums at this point.

Do you two ever butt heads in this band?

(They look at each other and laugh)

Allison: Uh, yes.

What’s a typical argument about?

Catherine: It’s usually ego or power struggles.

Allison: “Who’s going to sing lead on a song we both wrote. Usually we write separately. When we write together, we argue who’s going to sing lead. We argue over who’s going to wear this dress, or that dress. That kind of thing. Silly stuff, but it seems important when it’s happening.

And how do resolve something like that?

Both: Fist fight. (laugh)

Catherine: We usually argue it out over email or text.

That’s much more civil! OK, I’ve read you both had ballerina training.

Allison: We quit that a long time ago. We both trained to a professional level. Then I had a hip injury and we were both burned out. So we decided to start a band.

You are on tour with Coldplay because you got to know the (band) through Guy. He co-produced your new record (along with Coldplay producer Rik Simpson). How did that arrangement come about?

Catherine: I met Guy in New York years ago and I gave him a demo of our last record (2007’s Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge). Allison and I decided to split up because nothing was happening with our music at the time. We thought we would both make solo records and see what happens. Then he called the next day and said, “Hey, I want to make a record with you guys.”

Literally the next day?

Catherine: Yup. So I called Allison up and said we’re back together. (they both laugh).

Allison: We didn’t really want to quit, we just didn’t know what else to do. We felt there was no energy left. We had put out an album and had great critical acclaim; we’ve had tons of songs in TV shows, but we didn’t have a label that was committed to taking us to the next level.

What did Guy and Rik bring to your music?

Allison: They brought a lot of vision and insight, I think. They are both so talented; this is their life.

[The caterpillars are now trying to climb on to the ladies more aggressively. The girls squirm down the picnic table bench to get away]

Catherine: I used to let them crawl all over me when I was little. Now I’m scared.

Allison: It looks like it might bite you or spit venom.

Did Guy and Rik try to influence your sound?

Allison: We had recorded a bunch of demos on Garage Band. It was acoustic guitar and vocals. We were banging on desks for drum beats. They heard those and loved the thought. So they used those as the basis of the sounds.

The jumping-off point.

Allison: Yeah.

Your new album is new in the U.S. It’s been out in the U.K. for almost a year. What was the reason for the delay?

Catherine: We had put out three records in the U.S. and none of them sold that many (copies). So no U.S. label really wanted to touch us. Once we got signed in the U.K., they were all kind of waiting to see how well the album did before they signed us, I think. (The album debuted at No. 4 on the U.K. charts.) When they saw it was successful, they were like, “Of course we want to sign you girls!”

[The caterpillars return yet again]

Catherine: Some of them are poisonous. I thought when they were really colorful and pretty they were.

I doubt they are. There would probably be a lot of dead kids in this park if they were. (All laughing)

This is a question you’ve probably been asked many times. This is a very big stage; opening for Coldplay. How do you intend to fill it?

Catherine: The sound we have right now is pretty big and it seems to work well in arenas, we were excited to discover. You never know until you play. We’ve tried to make it sound like the record, so it’s very full and big. They put us up on the jumbo screens, so you just try to put your energy out there as big as you can.

How do you get the attention of fans who may not have necessarily heard of you before tonight?

Allison: [deadpans] Flash our boobs. We just play. These crowds have been great. You never know If another person’s audience is going to like you or not. But they have been attentive and into it.

How often have you been through San Francisco before?

Allison: Quite a few times. Our sister is married to a guy that’s from here. His mother lives here so we visit her a lot.

What is your favorite memory of the area?

Allison: I love driving through San Francisco and seeing the architecture. It’s such a beautiful city. I love crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

You mentioned your music had been in several TV shows before. (They have performed on Gossip Girl and have had their songs featured on Dexter and Pretty Little Liars.) If you could pick your favorite show right now and have one of your songs be incorporated into it, what would that be?

Catherine: Neither one of the two shows we love would suit out music; Mad Men and Game of Thrones. I don’t think our music would work on either one of those. They don’t really use modern music; do they.

Allison: No.

Catherine: What about, like, The New Girl?

Allison: The New Girl?

Catherine: I’ve watched it on the plane a few times and thought it was kind of cute.

I watch it.

Allison: Oh, you do? [both laugh]

Catherine: It’s cute.

Just one more question. What are you girls like outside of the band? What do you do for fun? Are you in to sports, or…

Catherine: We’re not really in to sports. We both like to eat. We like to cook. We like to read, I like to paint.

Allison: We both like movies. We like to take long walks on the beach. [laughs] We like to enjoy life and figure out who we are.

[The ladies pause, and then point at my chest, where a large caterpillar has climbed almost up to my collar]

Catherine: Ahhhhhh!

Thanks for giving me a warning!

Allison: We just saw it!

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