In her life and career, Carly Pearce's new record 29 represents both a closing chapter and a new beginning. The seven-track EP marks the end of an equally celebratory and grief-stricken year for the ever-rising Nashville artist; having dealt with her divorce from fellow country artist Michael Ray and the death of her long-time producer Busbee, while handling the pressure and exposure of being in the public eye even more so than before.
While Pearce has always been a naturally open and transparent artist, 29 offers the clearest insight into the life of the rising country music star, and her will to offer universal empathy through personal experience. It’s a record of anger and torment, but also of grounding and understanding – learning from the loss and hurt and using that as a source for self-refinement.
Built on the foundations of Pearce’s contemporary sensibilities, she opted this time around for a distinctly time-honoured sound; one for such narratives to be expressed unequivocally, with her love for 90’s country at the forefront. With this desire to take that more traditional-sounding path, Pearce has encompassed her love for passionate storytelling and authentic musicianship. She's paving a new direction for herself on a trip that seems unquestionably headed for unfaltering stardom.
As we sit down to discuss the tracks that have influenced both this new EP and her career overall for Cuts The Deepest, that drive and directness that fuels her music is here to see first-hand. She’s not one for mincing her words – her passion lights a fire inside her that brings out both a humour and sharpness that’s undeniable. As she pays homage to those who inspired her – it’s hard to not envision those in the future putting Pearce on the very same pedestal.
It's always just been a song that I loved. I loved the songwriting of it. It was honest, vulnerable and heart-breaking, yet so simple. The twist of it hurts me every time I hear it. Obviously, it's taken on new meanings for me as an adult, but it's just so beautifully written. Gretchen Peters wrote it by herself, which I still think is so wild, but it’s the way Patty Loveless sings it; she's from Kentucky and just has this mountain tone to her voice. I really tried to emulate her voice as a kid because I loved it so much. So that's my favourite country song.That one's evolved as I've gotten older and understood what it means exactly and who I am as a writer.
I actually remember where I was when I first heard this song. I was probably six or seven - I remember driving in Indiana with my mom and it came on the radio. I already knew I wanted to be a singer at that age, but she was the closest in age to me who actually was one. On this song, she did that flip in her voice on the chorus - almost like a yodel. If you listen to my music, I do a version. It's not quite as distinct as a yodel like that, but I took that from her as a kid and just started to integrate it into my music. You can truly hear it in the majority of my songs and it was from that moment, just hearing her as a child singing. I just wanted to be like LeAnn Rimes. I found my own version of that sound through her.
I love story songs. I don't feel like story songs are as big as they used to be, but this is one that just breaks my heart, every time I hear it. When Don Henley sings in harmony with her, it breaks my heart even more. Her voice was so special - you hear me talk equal parts about songwriting and equal parts about delivery, because I feel like all of these women really could just deliver a song and a lyric – but Trisha’s tone is so special. It's like husky and alto - just the way she sings the song you feel like she lived every word and I just love it.
I think although things have gone slightly more commercial, I feel like people like Luke Combs are bringing it back [the storytelling song]. He had ‘Even Though I'm Leaving’, which was totally a story song. I think you'll hear more of them, we're having a resurgence of that kind of 90s sound. It’s interesting, I want more of them - I guess I did a story song with ‘Dashboard Jesus’, but I need another one.
To me, this became a story song as I became an adult. I love her voice as well. I feel like it evolved, from the time she was in the Judds to becoming a solo artist. I feel like it took on such rich, mature sounding tones to it. But that song to me, now that I've experienced some life experiences and some love that didn't go great - listening to that love story is so powerful to me. That guy would literally do anything for her, and I just think it's such a beautiful, realistic and simple way of expressing a love story. That lyric [she sings] “And every once in a while you could see him get up / And he's head downtown / Cause he heard about something she wanted / And it just had to be found”. It just makes me want to die.
So here's a different take on them. Obviously, I idolised them growing up – but at a time when I loved country music and not a lot of other people my age did, they still were cool. I think I was like eight or nine when that song came out – now I'm 30 and it still hits me the exact same way, as soon as it starts. I feel like there are very few songs that can stand the test of time, but that is one that has. It’s their sound, the way they could incorporate the fiddles and the banjos and make it sound cool - Emily and Marty are so unbelievably musical in their own right and then Natalie has her sass and this way she can phrase things in her voice - I just don't think there will ever be another Chicks.
Lee Ann Womack, for me, was the queen of taking super traditional music and making it contemporary. I looked to her a lot when I was writing this new record, especially ‘29’. I really tried to ask “Leanne, what would you do in this scenario?”, and the play on ‘Never Again, Again’ is so painful. She sings it in the way that traditionally you would hear songs on the Opry. I feel like she was so good at being current and singing ‘I Hope You Dance’, but yet when you hear her sing it’s like listening to WSM The Opry on the radio back in 1955, which I think is so cool. I can't wait to sing ‘29’ on the Opry, because I feel like that will be my moment of stepping back in time.
Carly Pearce's new EP 29 is out now via Big Machine Label Group. Watch the video for 'Should've Known Better' below.
Photography by Allister Ann