“People ask me what I want to see in 20 years, and I always say I want to see CMAs and ACMs and be a Grand Ole Opry member, everything that embodies country music,” Big Machine Records artist Carly Pearce says.
Every hard-earned milestone in this Kentucky native’s career has been a step in fulfilling those dreams. She is already nominated in early-round voting for the upcoming CMA Awards, and has performed on the Grand Ole Opry more than 50 times.
Pearce also graces the cover of MusicRow’s recently-released Artist Roster issue, her first cover for an industry trade publication.
Since her debut single, “Every Little Thing” released last year, Pearce has become one of the few new female artists to break through with a chart-topping hit on notoriously male-centric country radio. The track was also certified Gold by the RIAA, and she became the highest-charting solo female debut since July 2015, and one of only three to reach that milestone in the past 12 years.
In 2018, she has been on four of the top country tours, opening for Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Thomas Rhett, and Luke Bryan, including several of Bryan’s stadium shows.
“I’m getting a taste of what makes each one of these male superstars unique. I watch their shows every night and take a little from Blake, Thomas, Rascal Flatts and Luke, just learning from the best.”
On her debut album, also titled Every Little Thing, Pearce’s voice is at once airy and earthy, evoking the maturity and assuredness of many of the ‘90s country artists such as Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and Alison Krauss. Working with co-writer and producer busbee, Pearce offers a thoroughly modern template for incorporating elements of hip-hop and polished country, yet still prefers to keep the twang in her lilting alto and in her guitars.
She conveys hard-earned wisdom on “Everybody Gonna Talk.” Elsewhere on the album, she imbues both sly flirtation (“Hide The Wine”) and a frank come-on (“Catch Fire”) with equal emotional authority. Songs such as “Doin’ It Right” showcase the assured maturity of a woman who is uncompromising, both in art and love.
“If My Name Was Whiskey” is one of the project’s high points, with its spacious, sparkling production that allows Pearce’s mournful pleas to wash over the verses before its power builds as it embraces the rubble of heartbreak.
Her bluegrass roots play as an undercurrent throughout the album, peeking out in the string intro to “Dare Ya” and the aforementioned “Hide The Wine.”
Pearce credits her publisher, BMG’s Daniel Lee, with conjuring the idea of pairing traditionally-minded Pearce with busbee, known for his work with Gwen Stefani, Justin Bieber, and Maren Morris.
Their very first collaboration, “You Know Where To Find Me,” co-written with Emily Shackelton, graces Pearce’s debut BMLG album. “He knows how to enhance an artist’s sound,” Pearce says of busbee. “He’s not trying to make me sound like Maren Morris, or vice versa. It was the first time I felt like a producer understood that I want to be a country artist, but still sound modern. He knows how to walk that fine line.”
Several label A&R reps in town took notice of Pearce’s talent. While she was signed to a development deal at a different label, BMLG’s Allison Jones was keeping tabs on Pearce’s career.
“She was doing a tour with Kelsea Ballerini and Lucy Hale, and writing with some of our Big Machine writers,” Jones recalls. “Then I heard she was working with busbee and I heard rumblings of the album. They were just going to make the music they believed in and release it. I admit to kind of stalking her socials because I was told she was going to release it when the time was ready.”
When Pearce did release new music, it was in the form of what would become her very first No. 1 single, “Every Little Thing.”
“I sent her a message and said, ‘Carly, you have found your three minutes. This is your golden ticket.’” Jones says. When Pearce played the Ryman Auditorium later that week, Big Machine execs met with her and offered her a deal. “I think we had a verbal agreement to that deal within a week,” Jones recalls.
That same steely resolve that runs throughout Pearce’s debut album, both in voice and verse, drove Pearce through the hard-scrabble years spent cleaning airbnbs, working odd jobs, and being her own one-woman business, that would come before the label deals. Before putting together her team, which includes now BMLG and Longshot Management, Pearce booked her own shows, handled her own publicity and served as her own label.
“When you have to work for something in the way I have, it makes you appreciate things and makes you understand it’s a privilege to get to do what we do,” Pearce says. “I want to soak up every moment because of the years I struggled doing everything else just to pay my rent, so I could stay here. I never want to lose that humble heart that has put in the time to get this shot.”
“She has Reba’s work ethic and the voice of an angel. She knows her calendar by the minute every day,” Jones says of Pearce’s dedication, describing a moment during a radio tour when illness threatened to derail a planned radio station stop.
“We put her on a grueling radio tour, and she only got sick once, but she didn’t miss any shows. She went to an urgent care clinic at 9 p.m. and still made the flight the next morning to do a radio show the next day. She wasn’t going to miss that radio visit.”
The daughter of a beautician, Pearce came by her work ethic at a young age. She eventually decided on homeschooling to help balance academics with the pursuit of music, and later took a job performing at Dollywood to further perfect her performing skills. “I think sometimes you are just born with an innate drive,” Pearce says. “I’m a person who thrives when I’m busy and that has never changed.”
Long before she had a record deal or hit single, Pearce made her own industry connections, reaching out to industry influencers including John Marks, Leslie Fram, J.R. Schumann and Pete Fisher, who led the Grand Ole Opry at that time.
“I found Pete Fisher’s email, and I sent him two songs and a headshot,” Pearce recalls. Fisher agreed to meet with her. When she told him she wanted to play the Opry, his response wasn’t exactly the one she was hoping for.
“I remember him saying, ‘Carly, you are not ready to play the Opry yet,’ but I think there is something special.’”
Fisher and Pearce would meet regularly for two years, and each time, Pearce would take his advice, using it to further her performance and music. Similarly, Pearce says CMT’s Fram always offered business advice to the aspiring artist.
“I was completely transparent with them about publishers I was meeting or managers I was meeting and she was one of the first people to come on board. I think I was a next CMT Next Women of Country artist and first played the Opry in 2015. I didn’t sign my label deal until the end of 2016.”
The closest parallel to Pearce’s devotion to her rapidly rising star might be her devotion to the Grand Ole Opry.
“Even when she has a night off from work, she will go play the Opry,” the label’s Jim Weatherson says. “She’s committed.”
“I am very much trying to be the country girl, in the way that I feel that Carrie Underwood respects the Opry. The Opry is really special to me, and not just to say, ‘Oh, I’ll play it every once in a while.’ I play as often as I can. I want to carry on and be one of the faces of the Opry in the way that Carrie took it on, and it’s really important to me.”
Her bucket list also includes a dream collaboration that harkens back to her bluegrass roots. “I would love to do a performance with some of my favorite artists like Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, or Dan Tyminski,” she muses.
“…And make it an Opry moment.”
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