First Published February 2019
GETTING CLOSER TO CARLY
Imagine, at just sixteen years of age, having the sure-fire certainty about the path you wanted to take in life, that you finished school and headed to where you could work on bringing your dream closer to reality every single day. Well, country singer Carly Pearce did just that. At sixteen, she left her home of Taylor Mill in Kentucky and set out for Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, where she began singing at Dollywood five times a week. Fast forward to now, and twenty-nine year old Carly, with a number one hit, multiple performances on the Grand Ole Opry, an upcoming appearance at the C2C Festival in Dublin, Glasgow, and London – and the far more important matter of her marriage later this year – can look back on the determination and faith of her younger self with considerable, and justifiable, pride.
Carly’s latest single is Closer To You, and she’s described it as being a new chapter of her life. And Carly has some very special new chapters of her life waiting to be written with her new fiance, fellow country star, Michael Ray. So before we even went anywhere near the music side of Carly’s world, I offered my congratulations and asked her how excited she was about marrying Michael…
“Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I am so excited, yes! I feel like ‘Closer To You’, and the whole new album, Michael is the heartbeat of that. He’s helped me to find myself in so many ways. I feel more inspired than ever, and in my music as well. So we are very excited and very happy, and it’s just a very exciting time for us.”
Moving onto the music side of things, and Carly’s new single, the aforementioned Closer To You which is sure to feature on her next album, I asked how the follow-up to her debut collection, Every Little Thing, was coming along?
“Oh my gosh! I am so excited about this, too. I’ve been working on it so hard, and it is almost finished! It will be out later this year. I’m really excited for people to be able to see the transformation that’s been happening, and the evolution for me, and I think people are really going to like it.”
The words transformation and evolution immediately caught my attention, so I asked Carly if she could tell me a little bit more about exactly what she meant by that?
“Yeah, well I think when I made my first record. ‘Every Little Thing’, a lot of those songs I wrote in my very early twenties. And quite honestly, I was tryin’ to figure out who I was as a woman, you know. So I didn’t know how that album was going to do, and the fact that it was embraced so much has given me, I think, a little bit more of the confidence to dive in deeper [in her songwriting]. I feel more myself, and I’ve learned so much more about myself in these past two years, so much has happened to me. So I feel more steady, and more centered than I ever have. And I think that people are really going to hear that on this record. It’s just a little more mature.”
I’m definitely looking forward to Carly’s new album when it drops, but what I’m also looking forward to even before then, is the fact that she’s going to be performing in Dublin on March 8th, at the C2C Festival in the 3Arena. How did Carly feel when the chance came along for her to take part?
“Oh, I was so, so, so excited! I have heard so many amazing things about the fans over there at the C2C Festival, and the fact that my first time time overseas is getting to play the main-stage at all three shows (Dublin, London, Glasgow) is really awesome. And my family name, the Pearce name, is actually Irish! So that’s definitely an extra little bonus to be able to go somewhere that I’ve dreamt of going forever!”
On the same day Carly will be performing in Ireland, the Country Music Hall of Fame back in Nashville will be launching a new exhibition called, American Currents, which focuses on the modern day stars of country music. And as there’s no doubting that Carly is one of those figures, it will come as no surprise to hear that she was asked to contribute something. Because the exhibition doesn’t open officially until next month, I knew she probably couldn’t reveal too much about it, but I couldn’t not ask! So, I asked…
“Well that’s been a dream come true as well. As a country artist, I have always been wanting to see something of mine in the Country Music Hall of Fame. And for me, something that was really important, was that I had something that had to do with the Grand Ole Opry (where Carly has performed on numerous occasions by now) in it. So my portion of the exhibit will have to do with my love for and my relationship with the Grand Ole Opry. And that’s probably about all I can tell you! [laughs]. But I’m really excited about it!”
As we spoke, and indeed as you read this, Carly is on the Way Back Tour with her pal, Russell Dickerson, another country artist who is very much on the rise. So remember the name, if you haven’t heard of him already.
“It’s the most exciting thing to be able to happen! We have dreamt of doing this forever! And the fact that it’s being so well received is awesome. We’re having a blast. And we’ve only got a couple of weeks left.”
I imagined trying to go back to ‘normal’ life after the exhilaration of being on a tour like that – and indeed of opening for mega-stars like Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Dan + Shay, and Brett Young – must be quite difficult?
“For sure! I think you have to continually try to recreate them. And with every tour I’m on, I just try to learn more, you know. And hope that I can create more highs and more moments to get me through to the next tour after that! [laughs].”
One of the things Carly has said about the tour with Russell, is that on it, she’s being reminded that, “Every dream I’ve ever had is coming true. That’s one hell of a cool realisation to come to. What, I wondered, does it actually feel like when you do realise that’s happening?
“It’s kinda hard to put into words! This really is all I’ve ever wanted to do. And the fact that I’m able to do it, when so few people ever are, is really crazy! And crazy is the best word I can come up with to describe it [laughs]. I’m just so thankful, and I will never take this life for granted.”
So what other big career dreams does Carly still have? She’s done so much already, of course, in playing the Opry so often, and having a #1 record. But what else does she really want to achieve?
“Well, being a Grand Ole Opry member, definitely. I want country music awards! I want to be somebody that you’ll think of who really was one of the women that changed country music, and made an impact. So whatever that entails. And I want to have my own headlining tour, of course, yeah. I mean, Dolly, Reba, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, those are the women that really stick out for me when I think about the ones who changed country music.”
Carly began 2019 with another appearance at the Opry back on January 5th. Now playing the Opry is always special to every artist who gets that opportunity, no matter how often they play there. As Carly had already mentioned, the Opry holds a special place in her heart. So what does the Opry mean to Carly?
“It is the heartbeat of country music. To understand that anybody who has ever mattered or made an impact in country music has played that stage, is so special. And as I further my career, it’s something I want to continue to do. I just want to be one of those artists that cherishes and pours their heart into the Opry. I want to make sure that people understand that without the Grand Ole Opry, a lot of the timelessness of country music would not be there.”
When she plays the Opry, does Carly get more excited or more nervous than she would before a regular show somewhere?
“For sure. Because there’s just that ‘something’ about the Grand Ole Opry. Garth Brooks told me you’ll never not be nervous to play the Opry! And I think that’s a good thing. So I think if we can continue to understand how precious and special that stage is, then we can continue to help it live on.”
Before signing to her current label, Big Machine, Carly had been with Sony, where unfortunately, as so often happens, for reasons not connected to the music at all things just didn’t work out in the end. So did that experience cause her to be extra cautious when Big Machine came on the scene?
“I think what makes my relationship with Big Machine so special is I feel like Scott Borchetta (founder of Big Machine) understood that I was an artist, but also a partner. He viewed me that way. He didn’t view me as an artist that he was trying to dictate to or control. And the fact that ‘Every Little Thing’ was already out, he saw that I had done so much work on the front end, so I had so much respect in his eyes. So all of that made it very easy. I felt very respected, and I think as a new artist, that’s all that you could ever hope for. And a lot of artists don’t get that.”
Does Carly agree that Big Machine’s approach to their artists in that regard is responsible for a lot of the label’s success to date?
“150%! Scott Borchetta does not sign people just to sign them. He signs them because he believes in them and knows that they’re true artists. He allows you to truly be a partner.”
From the age of just sixteen, Carly’s focus has been laser-like in chasing and building her career in music. So I was guessing that such attention to detail, and doing everything for a specific reason, was very much a part of Carly’s overall personality. And so, probably applied to her tattoos, too! At least four are visible in the photos on her Every Little Thing album…
“Yeah! Well, the feather that you see in my logo, in the Carly Pearce name, I have a tattoo of a red feather on my arm and it has to do with my grandfather, who was very, very dear to me. He has passed on, and I wanted to keep his legacy going with the Pearce name and also the feather. So you’ll see a lot of feathers in my stuff. Also, I have the state of Kentucky tattooed on me. I’m from Kentucky and I’m very proud of where I’m from, and wouldn’t be the woman or the artists that I am without that. I have a butterfly on my wrist for my grandmother, very similar to my grandfather’s story. And I actually got, ‘She believed she could, so she did’, tattooed on my wrist after I lost my first record deal, because I wanted to make sure that everytime I looked down and thought about quitting, I couldn’t! And then of course, I have ‘Every Little Thing’ tattooed on my arm, because why not?! [laughs]. It changed my life! [laughs].”
Carly will be hitting the road with another of country’s modern day mega-stars, Jason Aldean, later in the summer, and she’s also been nominated for an iHeart Radio Award in March. So one way or another, 2019 is lining up to be all-go! What else is in her diary that Carly – and her fans – can be looking forward to?
“Well, I’m getting married, which is REALLY exciting! [laughs]. That’s happening! And then I’m going to be putting out the new album, that’s going to be really exciting, too, and there’ll be a lot of things that go along with that. I think people are going to see the next phase of me as an artist and as a person. And that’s going to be a very exciting thing for me!”