Sounds Like Nashville's Carly Pearce: The Cover Story
Pearce reflects on her breakout year and why it's so important to chase your dreams
By Annie Reuter | January 16, 2018
Carly Pearce had big dreams of a music career from a young age. The Kentucky native says she had aspirations to move to Nashville as early as elementary school. As she explains, she always felt her destiny was to sing country music.
In January 2017, that dream became reality when she signed a record deal with Big Machine Label Group. The following month her debut single, “Every Little Thing,” was released to radio and the song’s success would bring about many firsts for Pearce.
“Every Little Thing” became her first No. 1, making Pearce the only solo female with a charting country debut single certified Gold in 2017 and the highest charting solo female debut since July 2015. The song’s success had Pearce in a distinguished class as she joined Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini as one of only three women to achieve this feat in the past 12 years. Humbled by the success of “Every Little Thing,” Pearce tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone that it’s hard to believe all these accomplishments have come to fruition.
“I don’t know how to put into words how much it still doesn’t feel real,” she marvels. “That song has continually amazed me. Never in a million years did I think that song would have broke the records and done what it’s done. In Nashville, it’s hard enough to break through as a female artist in general, but then with a heartbreak ballad as your debut. That’s kind of the kiss of death. To see what it’s done and maybe start to be one of the females in that line of girls that help to change the mold for new females is really, really exciting, and truly is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve dreamt of singing country music on a mass level since I was a little girl.”
Pearce penned the powerful heartbreak ballad with busbee and Emily Shackelton and paints a vivid picture of a woman going through a difficult breakup. It’s a real and universal sentiment that Pearce thinks helped propel the song to the top of the charts.
“We’ve all experienced loss. And I think that no matter where you are in your life, you can identify with that emotion of true heartbreak and heartache in uncomfortable moments of trying to let someone go,” she explains.
Her favorite line in “Every Little Thing” comes in the song’s second verse, but she admits it’s a lyric that many people have misheard. She sings, “Baby, your ghost still holds me / But I don’t want to sleep with him no more.” Pearce says she’s heard many covers of the song where people sing the line, “Baby, your ghost still haunts me.”
“I always have loved that lyric and felt it was a unique way of putting how you feel in those moments. But people think it’s ‘haunts,'” she shares. “We didn’t write the song with the intent of it being a bad thing, and that’s the unique spin on the bridge of you don’t want to forget it, and that’s just the nature, the beast of a heart. But it does take on a different meaning, whether you hear ‘haunts’ or ‘holds.'”
Pearce says her biggest professional moment in 2017 was “Every Little Thing” going to No. 1 on the country charts. Her personal accomplishment, she adds, is that she released her debut album in October and that it is one-hundred percent her.
“The fact that I was able to put out an album that I can confidently say is one-hundred percent me, and I came out with a song that I wanted to as an artist and didn’t compromise any of it and it is so who I am that I was able to start my career with, is something I’m really proud of,” she admits.
Although “Every Little Thing” was the 27-year-old’s breakthrough single, she’s been performing for live audiences long before the song hit radio last year. She started a bluegrass band when she was 11 and by the time she was 16, Pearce convinced her parents to let her quit high school and move to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. where she’d perform six shows a day, five days a week at Dolly Parton’s amusement park, Dollywood.
She describes her time at Dollywood as a stepping stone for her to get to Nashville. Once she learned everything she could singing in the shows at Dollywood, she knew she couldn’t move back home. While all her friends were in their first year of college, she thought Nashville could be a way to continue her musical education, and she once again convinced her dad not to press her about college. Nine years ago this month, Pearce packed up her bags but this time she moved to Music City for good.
“I was a very good student, loved school, and never missed [a day] and cried when I was sick because I genuinely loved it. I think because of that, my parents knew that I wasn’t running away from, ‘It’s too hard,’ or, ‘I hate school,’ or, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore,'” she reasons. “They knew that it was because I had aspirations of something greater. And they trusted that. It really was awesome to see that, even at 16, my dad knew that that was truly what I wanted to do and it wasn’t gonna change.”
Nashville wasn’t easy for Pearce in the beginning and she says she’s always been honest and open about the struggles when she moved here. She confesses that she’s been told “everything in the books of why I should move home.” But, she never had a plan B as music remained her only goal.
“There was a fire in me that I can’t explain. Each day that I really thought it was the end, something would happen, even if it was so small, and make me believe that I could do it for another day,” she explains. “So I really do genuinely believe in fate and going after what moves your heart.”
During her early days in Nashville, Pearce confesses that she wishes she trusted herself more. She explains that she let the opinions of others affect who she was as a person and the way she saw her career. Once she took her blinders off and embraced that, as an artist, she could do a lot of things on her own whether it be A&R or social media, things started happening for her.
Pearce recently released “Hide the Wine,” her follow-up single to “Every Little Thing.” Penned by Ashley Gorley, Luke Laird and Hillary Lindsey, “Hide the Wine” is a fun and upbeat track that she feels was written for her. Her publisher played the song for her two years ago and she instantly loved it but there was one problem — it was being recorded by another artist.
“I was so mad at him, because I was like, ‘Why are you playing me this song that I can never have?’ From the bluegrass-y kind of swampy vibe of it, to the sentiment . . . I love wine so much. That’s not something that I’m putting on,” she exclaims. “I genuinely — that is my favorite drink.”
Lucky for Pearce, that artist didn’t wind up putting the song on their album and it became available shortly after she signed her record deal with Big Machine. She immediately went into the studio and recorded it and says it’s been a crowd favorite for a while now.
“I’m really, really excited to be happy on the radio, and show a completely different side of me,” she admits. “If you were to ask my friends or my band about me, I think they would say I’m goofy and fun, and I don’t always take myself so seriously. So I think it’s really fun to have that.”
Country fans will get the chance to see Pearce perform “Hide the Wine” live throughout much of 2018 as she’ll be joining three massive tours in the coming months including opening support for Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett and Rascal Flatts. She is proving to be an in-demand artist following her stint with Brett Young’s tour last year. Recalling her days performing at Dollywood, she says she is making sure she’s continually growing in her live show and, as a result, the audience has been receptive to her new music.
“I have a responsibility of putting on the best show that I can. It’s my responsibility and my job to make sure that people are enjoying themselves,” she says. “I think that people are starting, since the album came out, to identify me as Carly, and not just as the girl who sings ‘Every Little Thing.’ People are singing the words to my album cuts, and they just seem to have a bigger sense of who I am as an artist. And that’s been really exciting to see.”
One of the album cuts that the audience has been enjoying is “If My Name Was Whiskey,” a personal favorite of Pearce’s. She co-wrote the song with her producer, busbee, and Shane McAnally and says the vocal on it is so special.
“It’s that timeless late 90s, early 2000s country that I fell in love with so much. I think that it’s a mature sound that we haven’t heard in a while, maybe since the days of Faith and Trisha and that era of country,” she explains. “It’s definitely one that I feel like people really pay attention to live.”
Pearce wrote eight of the 13 songs on her debut, Every Little Thing, and says songwriting is important to her because she can tell her story better than anyone else. If she’s going to be true to what she’s putting out to listeners, she says she has to write the majority of her music.
“My whole thing here in Nashville has been very storyteller based. I played the Listening Room Cafe almost every weekend. I’ve played so many rounds at the Bluebird. So, the storytelling side of things is very much a part of me, and it’s fun to get to tell your story,” she adds.
Thanks to the success of “Every Little Thing” and countless tours lined up for 2018, country audiences are getting a closer look at who Carly Pearce is as a person and as an artist. And, while 2017 saw many dreams come to fruition for Pearce, she continues to set her sights high for the future.
“I hope to be remembered as a female who helped mold this era of country music. I want to be a Grand Ole Opry member, I want to hold that very precious and dear to my heart and be an ambassador of that. I want to win ACMs and CMAs and make a mark on country music, because that’s all I’ve ever genuinely wanted to do — to sing music,” she concedes.