In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a sad girl Fall for country fans and Carly Pearce and Kacey Musgraves are providing its sweetly melancholic soundtrack. Pearce, however, doesn’t seem to be embracing the doom and gloom all that much.
“Honestly, I'm just excited”, she laughs from a hotel room in LA, where she’s appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live the following night. “I may have an exciting fall coming. We'll see. I'm excited for the CMAs and I have huge plans for next year on the road. I'm just excited to see what happens next”.
It’s a surprisingly satisfying place that Pearce now finds herself in. Her album 29, released in February, has just earned her two CMA Award nominations, one of them for the coveted Album of the Year award.
Now, six months after its release, Pearce has added eight new songs to the original seven, rereleased as 29: Written In Stone. In that process, she has managed to complete a circular lyrical journey that might have felt unimaginable when she began writing the original record.
“During the first part of it, it was like I was doing it to survive. When it made such a splash, people really latched on to it and I just felt inspired to keep going”, she explains. “I just kept writing until I felt like I had gotten the whole story out”.
Last year, Pearce went from being on top of the world - after winning her first CMA award for ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ - to finding that her world had come crashing down around her. Written and recorded in the throes of a marriage breakup and facing the loss of her producer and champion busbee to cancer, the album captured her entering her thirties while tackling some of the biggest personal challenges of her life.
With a set of the most deeply soul-searching and emotional songs she’s ever written, the country-grounded cycle challenges her personal troubles with breath-taking honesty, humour and candour.
“I'm a situational writer. I'm somebody who writes my truth. I'm somebody who has to experience things to feel inspired to write about them. So, I was experiencing all these things and writing them in real-time because, quite honestly, I had to survive. That's just who I am. In the process, I realised I was writing something that was so much bigger and defining for me as an artist than I ever thought it could be”.
While other country artists - like Taylor Swift or Dolly Parton - have often switched up to pop and moved away from country as their careers have progressed, Pearce has made a journey in the opposite direction. 29: Written In Stone finds her rediscovering and revelling in the same love of country music that originally inspired her to move from Taylor Mill, Kentucky to Pigeon Forge to perform six shows a day at Dollywood - at the age of sixteen - all those years ago.
After moving to Nashville at the age of 19, Pearce spent the next seven years working part-time jobs around the city, playing the Grand Ole Opry and trying to get the attention of labels. That attention was eventually grabbed after she recorded ‘Every Little Thing’ with busbee; she signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine shortly after.
“A lot of the pop elements of my music were coming from busbee. He was a pop producer from the Bay Area who grew up on jazz music, and I think the difference was that I took him as country as he was ever going to go on my first two albums. When he passed away, I had to figure out what music looked like without him - it led me to Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, who grew up loving country music as I did”.
McAnally and Osborne have taken Pearce back to the music that inspired her - particularly the country music of the 90s. “I listened to a lot of Lee Ann Womack to get ready for this album. Patty Loveless, The Judds, all those 90s females that I just worshipped”, she effuses. “I reverted back a lot to early Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn’s early stuff, where she was just so honest”.
It’s an album that places women – and their stories and experiences - very much at its centre, even if that wasn’t Pearce’s conscious aim. It features co-writing with Kelsea Ballerini on ‘Diamondback’, Natalie Hemby on ‘Easy Going’, Brandy Clark on ‘Dear Miss Loretta’ and Ashley McBryde on the duet ‘Never Wanted To Be That Girl’. The towering female-female duet picks up where Linda Davis and Reba McEntire’s ‘Does He Love You’ left off.
“It’s a story that I think so many women have experienced, of two innocent women being burned by the same bad man. We wanted to take a “cheating song” but make it more about the exact same emotion that both women feel when they fall victim. It's not about hating the other woman, or even hating the man, it's just this realization in this song of “Oh, my gosh, we've both been duped”.
It’s just one of the tracks on 29: Written In Stone that continues to mine that rich vein of country songs sung by women, for women. They document the thoughts and experiences of women in a lineage that stretches back to Sara Carter, through Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette in the golden age, on to Shania Twain and Reba McEntire in the 90s and right up to Carly today. They explicitly address an adult female experience that most other musical genres can’t or choose not to, with humour and sadness, victory and heartache.
“I was truly just writing what was happening in my brain. I wasn't trying to do anything except get through what I was going through. In the process, it became an album that women especially are able to align themselves with, because I was going through what a lot of women go through in life”.
“I now understand why I had to go through what I went through, I understand the pain. Actually, I would go through it again"
More than anything else, though, 29: Written In Stone is an album about heartbreak; the kind of heartbreak that’s humiliating, that hurts unimaginably when you’re going through it, but that you come out on the other side stronger from. The additional eight songs have rounded out the record, giving it something of a happy ending at least.
“I now understand why I had to go through what I went through, I understand the pain. Actually, I would go through it again, because of who I am now on the other side. I'm now able to articulate music in a way that helps people - that's what we're all trying to do here."
“I feel like I'm making a bigger impact than I ever could have imagined" She continues, “I'm really proud to be a face for some not so pretty parts of life that maybe people are afraid of. I can use my platform to show people it's okay if things in life don't go the way that you thought they were going to”.
So, maybe things didn’t go the way Carly Pearce thought they were going to go, but she’s ended up somewhere she never expected to be. 29: Written In Stone has allowed her to finish off the turned-on-its-head fairy tale that she began when she wrote ‘Next Girl’. A little over a year later, she’s made a record that stands as one of the best of its time; a modern country music masterpiece.
“I think you're really getting the whole pendulum swing; from going through something to getting out the other side and seeing it for what it was. You appreciate that time and are gratified that you got through it; that you made it out alive and you made it out pretty good”.
Pretty good is an understatement. The next chapter of Carly Pearce’s life is underway; an unputdownable page-turner with one of country music’s most exciting new characters taking the lead role. A star has been born. Again.
29: Written In Stone is out now via Big Machine Recordings - listen below now.