Carly Pearce has never been one to hold back her feelings in songs, but on 29, out Friday (Feb. 19), the “Every Little Thing” singer bares her soul like fans have never heard before.
The seven-track EP, out on Big Machine Records, chronicles massive losses and shifts in the 30-year old’s life as she reflects on her past year that saw the death of her mentor/producer busbee and the end of her marriage to fellow artist Michael Ray. See-sawing between despair and hope, swagger and sorrow, Pearce co-wrote all the songs on the album — fearlessly mining her own life alongside new producers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne.
The new set comes on the heels of Pearce scoring her second No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart last summer with “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” a searing duet with Lee Brice, which also won the CMA Award for musical event of the year. But now her focus is on 29, and sharing the pivotal stories from a seminal time in her life.
Below, the singer shares her thoughts on showing her vulnerability to her legion of fans, and reveals a surprising hidden talent to Billboard.
1. At what point did you decide you were going to make a themed album about what your 29th year had been like?
I didn’t set out to make a themed album by any means. I think I’ve always approached songwriting from an honest place, so it very quickly became evident that all of the stories of this time in my life needed to be told, written and recorded.
2. You co-wrote all the songs on here. What was the process like?
I knew this music was a collection of music that absolutely had to come from my words. I didn’t think that it would come across as authentic if I didn’t write every song. I was selective in choosing co-writers who I felt like understood me as an artist — but also were my friends, and were that “safe” place for me. I feel like a lot of those writing sessions were just as much therapy for me as they were creative.
3. How did the pandemic affect your writing sessions?
Fortunately, I was able to do some in-person writes and some Zoom writes. For example, we wrote “Next Girl” over Zoom, but then got together in person to tweak it, which I think had to be done in person.
4. One of the first songs we heard from 29 was “Next Girl,” which is a spunky and less specific than some of the other songs on the album. Why did you want that to be an early taste?
I grew up loving that female ’90’s country sound– which so much of that were those undeniable girl anthems. What I love most about “Next Girl” is that even though the lyric is pretty heavy, the production is so fun that it makes you feel strong. I wanted everyone who listened to it to feel empowered by it.
5. People love to read things into lyrics. How literal are the stories you tell on this album and how autobiographical?
These are my stories, for sure. People will twist and turn things to make their own narratives as to how much is truth and how much is for the sake of the song, but that’s the fun in songwriting. That’s for me to know! 🙂
6. How difficult was it to make yourself this vulnerable and know that you’re going to have to answer questions about these songs over and over and perform these songs live?
I came out of the gate with a super vulnerable song, “Every Little Thing,” and it was a breakthrough for me, so this music truly is no different than anything I’ve ever done. As an artist, it is my duty to make the most authentic music I can. I think I’ve hit a new bar with these songs which makes me so proud. I dug deeper.
7. In “Messy,” you sing “heartbreak isn’t sexy,” but it’s very real. How do you hope this album helps anyone who is going through what you’ve gone through?
Heartbreak has so many layers. So many layers that often feel like a rollercoaster ride. I hope that in sharing my stories and take on what has happened to me, that it empowers anyone who is going through a struggle that it is okay to not be okay. It is okay to feel in control one minute and out of control the next. We have to love ourselves fully and give ourselves grace to feel. It is the only way we can truly heal.
8. “Liability” pretty much accuses your ex of gaslighting you.
“Liability” is all about the lies we tell ourselves. I think in relationships, it is so hard to differentiate what is truth and what is you trying to fantasize what you want the truth to be. You know I had to have a sassy song on this collection, so we had fun playing around with the idea of dealing with one of those types of relationships where you just want to see how far they’re gonna go.
9. ”Show Me Around” is such a beautiful tribute to busbee. What part of him do you feel you carry around with you?
I carry so much of busbee with me. Not only did he teach me so much about my voice, songwriting, etc., but he taught me so much about life and about owning who I am. I think me laying my heart out there for the world to see is much to his credit. I think he would be so proud of me.
10. How was working with Shane and Josh different from working with busbee?
I think the biggest difference was that they moved to Nashville obsessing over the same ‘90s country music that I did. busbee’s background was more in the jazz/pop world — so I really felt like this new chapter and venture for me was us being on the same page.
11. Lee Ann Womack sent flowers to congratulate you on 29. As someone who reveres so many of the strong female artists from the ‘90s, what did it mean to have that sign of support from her?
I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to have your heroes like what you’re doing. Lee Ann has always been such an influence of mine, but especially on this new collection. She’s become a friend, and it’s so fun to have your heroes be everything you always hoped they’d be. It would be a dream come true to collaborate with her.
12. You turned 30 last April. That’s often an age that brings a feeling of empowerment. What has 30 felt like for you?
30 was challenging! I had to walk away from a lot of things in my life that I thought would be there forever. Through those challenges, I feel like I truly found myself. I think now as I look ahead to the rest of my 30s, I will look back on 29 and 30 as the years that absolutely shaped me into the woman I was meant to be.
13. What kind of boost did winning a CMA Award give you in terms of feeling the support of your peers and the industry?
It gave me so much confidence that people cared about what I have to say. As an artist and as a songwriter, that’s all you really ever want. The 5-year-old girl who grew up in Kentucky dreaming of one day being on the CMAs— that’s all she ever wanted.
14. You performed at Dollywood as a teen. Dolly Parton is more vital than ever — donating money that helped fund a Covid-19 vaccine, speaking out that Black lives matter. In what way has she been a role model for you?
She is a role model to me in every sense. I always say she is the “quadruple threat.” An amazing singer. Amazing songwriter. Amazing business woman. Amazing heart.
15. You’ve been supportive of Tiera, who is just one of a number of talented young Black women artists in the genre like Brittney Spencer and Reyna Roberts. We’re at a pivotal time in country music. How can artists like yourself help the promote these young artists?
Kelsea Ballerini was so key in supporting me early on, just as Taylor Swift supported her early on. I think we have to continue to pay it forward. I remember how excited I was when Kelsea or Kacey [Musgraves] or Maren [Morris] would tweet about me in the beginning, so it’s so fun now to be able to do that for someone else.
16. You found a new love with your pup, June. A lot of us have gravitated toward our pets during the pandemic. How has she helped you through your difficult time?
June has become the companion I never knew I needed. She came into my life in the midst of the darkest time I’ve ever had, and I think because of that we are tied together forever. There’s nothing quite the love of a fur baby!
17. What’s your new pandemic skill?
I’ve reacquainted myself with my cooking skills!
18. What movie or song always makes you cry?
“You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” by Patty Loveless.
19. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
I have the most intensely double-jointed arms you’ve ever seen.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
God is going to blow your mind in every way. Stay in faith with Him, and know He is working all of it together for good.