BY KATIE KAUSS
There’s a saying around Nashville that “it’s a 10 year town.” As a singer-songwriter, it often takes 10 years (and at least one or two failed record deals) to get your big break. Based off of this theory, Carly Pearce is right on track.
Eight years after moving to Nashville, where she was once told, “I could throw a rock and hit six different girls that just sing pretty and look good,” Pearce, 27, is finally getting her chance.
As the only solo female artist currently on the Top 20 Billboard country airplay chart with her hit “Every Little Thing” (Maren Morris shares a spot with Thomas Rhett on their hit “Craving You“), she will be releasing her long-awaited debut album this fall. It’s a dream she’s been fighting for most her life.
“I’ve never known a day where I didn’t want to be a musician,” she tells PEOPLE, which is debuting the video for the hit single above. “I’m 27 and I would say 22 of my years of my life have been focused on what my career could be like — and if this would ever happen.”
At the age of 16, Pearce convinced her father to let her quit school and move to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to sing at Dollywood.
“I sang in the country show called Country Crossroads,” she explains. “We did six shows a day, five days a week — I really did work ‘9 to 5’ for her.” The gig afforded her the opportunity to meet her idol, Dolly Parton. “I couldn’t breathe when I met her, so I need a redo of that because I was so freaked out. She’s an artist, she’s a songwriter and she’s a killer business woman — that’s awesome!”
After cutting her teeth performing at the amusement park, Pearce moved to Nashville at 19 and hit the ground running. “I just started playing writers’ rounds and trying to write songs and meet people,” she says.
In 2012 she signed her first record deal, and lost her first record deal, and started looking at apartments back home in northern Kentucky. “I was trying to figure out why the stars weren’t aligning — I was literally told to move home,” she admits.
But that was before she received a call to be in a music video for Lucy Hale, who was kicking off her own country career. Determined, Pearce quickly talked her way into a backup singing gig for the Pretty Little Liars star, despite being told it would be “the kiss of death” for her own career.
“Lucy’s so real,” Pearce tells PEOPLE. “I’d never worked with someone or known someone that famous, but she’s become a great friend — she’s really down to earth and normal.”
It was her experience with Hale that led to her meeting producer busbee and publisher Daniel Lee, who gave her a second chance in Nashville and subsequently, a new record deal with Big Machine Records.
“They really wanted to break my thought process and get the truth in my head,” Pearce tells PEOPLE, grateful for their guidance. “Whatever lie I was telling myself, that I wasn’t good enough anymore, and that I’d already had my shot because people told me I was old news … [they got it out].”
Paired with being picked as “the right girl” to duet with Josh Abbott on his band’s “Wasn’t That Drunk,” which climbed to No. 46 on the country charts, Pearce gained the confidence she needed.
Now, with fans all over the country enjoying her voice, Pearce is proud to say that in the end, she didn’t let the naysayers get her down. “I’ve been really transparent, vulnerable and honest about what people have said to me in Nashville over the years,” she admits.
Reflecting on how someone once told her her sound was “dated,” Pearce points out it’s that same “dated” sound that currently has “Every Little Thing” climbing the charts.