Carly Pearce: The Cover Story

Written by Holly Gleason
Carly Pearce: The Cover Story
Carly Pearce; Photo Credit: John Shearer

Carly Pearce understands disappointment. She knows what it’s like to want, to burn with desire and watch other people walk off with your dream. She has embraced the notion of just keep going, doing, imagining, working towards goals and especially refusing to relinquish the vision that brought from her grandparents’ home to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home to Dollywood, where she sang three-to-five shows a day.

For all the Cinderella sparkle of her whirlwind courtship with fellow country traditionalist Michael Ray and subsequent marriage, the honey blonde with the blinding smile didn’t have the world lay down at her feet. It’s what makes the almost churchy piano ballad “It Won’t Always be Like This” and the way we can trip over our own tears on the way to happily ever after.

       “…I had big wings, but didn’t have a sky
            Just a front row view of everybody flying high

            Wish I could’ve told myself back then…
            The heart won’t ache forever, no matter how hard it gets…”
            — It Won’t Always Be Like This

“Oh, my gosh, we are human beings,” says the woman whose voice is equal parts shimmer, powder and ache. “It’s why I never want to shy away from troubles. I want to (be able to) be unapologetically not okay if the situation calls for it.”

Pausing for a moment, remembering writing the song, she seems to be drawing on the feeling in the room. When songs that lay one bare are created, there’s the heightened vulnerability of people seeing you at your rawest, at your most failed. 

Picking up the answer, her voice a little more quiet, Pearce explains, “I’ve never cried during a writing session. But I just sat there that day, felt everything there was to feel – and I absolutely went for it in my heart and in my truth.”

Carly Pearce; Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records
Carly Pearce; Photo courtesy of Big Machine Records

Obviously, her happy endings temper the struggle. People joke about how it’s all rosy in the rearview. But as someone who took the long road, stayed true to her music and watched as opportunities seemed to pass her by, Pearce wants to stand as an example for all the other women, young and old, who are standing by their dreams.

“That whole second verse is watching all my friends get deals,” she recalls.  “I knew what it needed to be, and I wanted people going through it to know how it feels… I spent eight years in Nashville, spending the majority of my time crying in the car, wondering why I couldn’t get it done. I feel like we’d all be lying if I didn’t say, ‘I went through Hell..,’ but sometimes that’s part of it.

“The amount of of time I spent chasing it, taking meetings, hearing, ‘You’re so special…,’ ‘You’re such a great singer…’ And then ‘good-bye.’ Or deal memos, talking every day, then never calling back.”

Stories above Manhattan’s busy streets, Pearce is in New York City for promo. An early workout, a mid-morning content capture, a business lunch, a bit of glam, a phoner interview before getting in a car to gladhand with the radio station, then a show at trendy Chelsea Ballroom. What makes the grind sweeter, she will share the bill – and come out to sing Keith Whitley’s tender “When You Say Nothing At All” with new husband and fellow real country embracer Michael Ray.

“Music will never go away for me,” she says laughing about the work. “All I can control is the narrative and what I put out, so those things I’m going to work incredibly hard for. I want to be the flagship artist of my generation – and I want this music to be the flag drawn.”