A Country Music Veteran at 24, Ashley Gearing Gets Back on 'Track' With New Curb EP

Curb Records
Ashley Gearing photographed in 2015.

When Ashley Gearing earned her degree in entertainment industry studies from Nashville’s Belmont University in 2013, she could easily have turned right around and begun teaching the same classes she studied. That’s because the singer-songwriter was by then already a veteran of more than a decade in the music business, having signed her first record deal with Lyric Street Records at age 12 and her current deal with Curb Records at 16.

Gearing, now 24 and promoting a new single and EP to country radio, says, “I feel like a new artist with the memories and the knowledge of an old artist.” She’s currently on the fourth radio tour of her career, visiting secondary stations to promote single “Train Track,” with plans to hit the major markets in the new year. Since her previous radio tours took place before she was even old enough to drive, Gearing jokes that the difference this time out is “I can have some wine at dinner now.”

However, there’s another, more important difference: “I really know who I am,” she says. “I am confident and able to have fun with it. I don’t feel like I have to act a certain way to please people. I really am just being myself, and I think people are responding to that so much more.”

While she’s running into some of the same programmers she first met as a tween, she’s glad for the opportunity to reintroduce herself. “People still don’t really know who I am,” she says. “They think I’m still 12 years old.”

Gearing’s story began in her hometown of Springfield, Mass., where she performed locally as a child and developed a following. Jimmy Harnen, then a promotion executive at DreamWorks Records (and now president of Republic Nashville), gave her a poignant song he had written following the death of his father, “Can You Hear Me When I Talk to You?” 

She recorded it and soon found herself playing it for then-WSIX Nashville PD Mike Moore in his office. Moore immediately walked her down to the studio and had her play it live on the air. By the end of the day, she had invitations to meet with six record labels.

Gearing and her family decided the Disney-owned Lyric Street would be a good fit, and the label took her on her first radio tour. Her parents alternated going on the road with her, along with a tutor. She remembers that first tour as “an adventure … like summer camp.”

While the song ultimately peaked at No. 36 on the Hot Country Songs chart in 2003, Gearing did set a chart milestone with it: She became the youngest solo artist to enter the country charts, beating a record previously held by Brenda Lee.

After that, Gearing says, her burgeoning career stalled. “There was a lot of confusion because no one really knew what to do with a 12-year-old at the time, and there wasn’t a lot for me to sing about,” she recalls. Her family made the decision to return to their previous life. “It was time to go back to sixth grade,” she says, admitting, “I felt a little bit defeated.”

She periodically returned to Nashville to write, and at age 16 performed at the Bluebird Cafe, where a Curb executive heard her and offered a new deal. She accepted with the provision she would remain in Springfield and finish school. The label worked three singles from her between 2008 and 2011, and while all of them peaked in the 50s, Gearing says she got to enjoy a normal life, going to the prom and playing on her school’s varsity volleyball team.

At 18 she finally moved to Nashville and enrolled at Belmont. Once she graduated, she immediately began working on her self-titled six-song EP, released to digital retailers in September. While music had previously “always been a juggling act for me,” for the first time she says she’s now “really able to pursue this 110 percent.”

As an industry veteran before her 25th birthday, Gearing says she has learned the value of perseverance. “There have definitely been ups and downs, but music has always been a part of my life and I always want it to be,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be Carrie Underwood, but I’m trying to do what I do best and always keep a positive outlook. I definitely want the positivity and the perseverance and the confidence to come through in the new music. [And] I want to keep doing it as long as I can.”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.

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