Last year was a great year for singer-songwriter Carly Pearce, but with her first headlining tour, a sophomore album and a wedding all on the horizon, 2019 is looking just as good for the 28-year-old Northern Kentucky native who grew up just outside of Cincinnati.
Pearce dropped out of high school when she was 16 and took a chance on a job as a singer in a country show at Dollywood, a theme park in Pigeon Forge, TN. She proceeded to move to Nashville and chased her country music dreams for nearly a decade until 2017 when “Every Little Thing,” an emotional breakup ballad Pearce released independently, went all the way to No. 1 on country radio.
“I honestly wrote [‘Every Little Thing’] for myself…but it was the most special thing in the world, to have something so painful end up being so beautiful,” says Pearce in a recent phone interview. She performs with co-headliner Russell Dickerson at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, at House of Blues
. “I was able to share that each night with fans that maybe are going through a heartbreak or are going through a hard time…I’m a living example that sometimes the things that hurt us the most bring us to the most joy.”
The single caught the attention of Scott Borchetta, CEO of Big Machine Records. Borchetta signed Pearce to Big Machine, where she would join the likes of Taylor Swift, Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line.
She released her first full-length, Every Little Thing
, in 2017.
Upon signing her, Borchetta told Pearce that she reminded him of himself when he started Big Machine because she ran her own business and didn’t want to wait for anyone else to make her dreams come true.
“I think I gained his respect from the beginning, and I think he views me as a partner, not as his artist that he controls. That’s a really beautiful thing that a lot of artists don’t get to experience, and I’m really grateful to him for that,” says Pearce of Borchetta.
With the help of Borchetta and Big Machine, last year proved to be a year of dreams coming true for Pearce.
The highlight of her year, Pearce says, was winning Breakthrough Video of the Year at the CMT awards for “Every Little Thing.”
“That was by far the craziest moment of my life,” Pearce says.
The single also earned Pearce her first ASCAP award, honoring her as a songwriter on the track.
Performing at the Macy’s Day Parade was another item that Pearce checked off her bucket list in 2018.
“I’m getting to do things that I used to think if I could just do one of them it would be cool, and I’ve done damn near all of them in one year,” says Pearce. “I’ve watched the parade my whole life, and to be a part of something that iconic was truly crazy. It took me a minute to even understand that that’s what I was doing.”
In December, to top off her fairy tale year, Pearce got engaged to fellow country music star Michael Ray while on a romantic getaway in Tulum Beach, Mexico. The couple made their relationship public in July with matching Instagram posts shot backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Opry is the backdrop of many nights that Pearce holds close to her heart. In 2015, she stepped into the circle as an independent artist, joining a small group of country artists who reached this milestone without the aid of a record label.
Pearce hasn’t forgotten the Opry’s early nod to her, and plays there the majority of her nights off to show her gratitude.
“The Opry is my favorite place in the world. It’s the heartbeat of country music,” Pearce says. “I want to invest in the Opry, because I feel like we, as a country music community, wouldn’t be where we are without the Grand Ole Opry.”
Ray shares Pearce’s love for the Opry; the pair shared the Opry stage for a cover of Johnny and June’s “Jackson” in August.
Pearce’s fiancé is the muse for the first single off her sophomore record, “Closer to You,” a poppy number that finds Pearce crooning about a lover. The song is currently climbing the country charts.
“This relationship [with Ray] has just given me so much joy and confidence and honestly, been an inspiration for my next record. [‘Closer to You’] just felt like the right song and the right opening to the next chapter of my life and of my musical career,” Pearce says.
The new album is an evolution, but also a continuation.
“A lot has changed for me this year,” Pearce says, “I hurt someone; I broke someone’s heart, and I learned a lot about myself. I fell in love. I was very overwhelmed this year with my career. So there’s gonna be all kinds of songs on there. It’s just me telling my story. And it’s not all love, but a lot of it is love.”
Pearce promises to get just as personal as she did with “Every Little Thing,” only this time, the tables have turned. The most personal track on Pearce’s sophomore album is an apology to the one she hurt.
As for the style of the new album, Pearce says that there will be no drastic changes as she has no aspirations to explore anything outside of the country genre.
“You have your whole life to write your first record; you have twenty minutes to write your second record,” Pearce says, admitting to feeling some pressure to strike while the iron was hot. But she says she's still taking the time to perfect the record, which has challenged her.
“I think it’s harder to write about being happy,” Pearce says with a chuckle. “I don’t have a problem writing sad songs. It’s harder to be happy. It’s hard to emote any emotion, but for some reason, hurt is a little easier for me to tap into. I think I’ve always been the girl that really likes sad songs, and I really like to be sad.”
And yet, Pearce is all smiles these days, and her fiancé is a big reason why. Pearce confirmed that the two have already been into the studio together.
As 2019 kicks off, Pearce will kick off a co-headlining tour in Cleveland with longtime friend, Russell Dickerson, whom she met nearly a decade ago at a Nashville club the pair was playing in hopes of being discovered. They quickly became friends and made a pact to join forces if they ever “made it.”
Pearce and Dickerson both got their first record deals and lost them around the same time. The two also had their first No. 1 singles from releasing independent singles within a month of each other.
“That’s why we called it the Way Back tour. It's because we really do go way back,” says Pearce, “It’s a beautiful thing we’re doing — having success at the same time.”
Carly Pearce, Russell Dickerson, Logan Mize, 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $27-$37, houseofblues.com