Carly Pearce may have been riding high in her career but 2020 saw her private life fall apart when her marriage to fellow Country singer Michael Ray ended in divorce after only eight months.
Already grieving the loss of her producer and friend Busbee, Pearce channelled her personal struggle into a new collection of songs, the 7-track release ’29’, which is released today. Featuring the hit single ‘Next Girl’, ’29’ is honest, bold and captures the experiences of a woman who has been forced to adapt to a very different life than the one she’d imagined for herself.
I caught up with Carly ahead of the release earlier this week to talk about her honest songwriting, discuss adapting to life without Busbee, and to find out about her dog June’s recent discovery that she loves cake…
You’re releasing ’29’, which is such an incredible body of work and you just get better and better. Tell me the story behind the EP…
Thank you. This is the first project that I’ve written everything on. This is also my first body of music without Busbee and so I’m just so proud of the direction that I took with this music. It’s the music that I always wanted to make moving to Nashville, just loving the females in the 90s and just doing my own version of that. As a whole, this has been just a crazy year for me with a lot of loss and a lot of hard things. Hopefully when people listen to this, they can hear that journey and put their own journey into it and see that you can get out on the other side.
The lyrics on these songs are so honest, especially the title track. Was it difficult to be this honest?
You know, that’s been a question that seems to be a big one. I came onto the scene with ‘Every Little Thing’, which at the time in my life when I wrote that song that was the most honest I thought I could ever be. I feel like the two songs that have really changed my life… ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ I wrote that as an apology to an ex. I’m really doing nothing differently. Things have more weight to them now and obviously people know what I’ve been through so I think that’s an added layer. I think as an artist, it’s my duty to myself and to my fans to just continue to write what I know, which is what I’ve always done and that’s what I did during this.
‘Show Me Around’ is my favourite track on ’29’. I’m used to hearing emotion in your voice but on this track, it’s another level. Tell me about putting that song together…
Oh, I just got so many chills even thinking about it. I wrote that song for Busbee. It was an idea that I got while sitting at his funeral. I knew that I needed to write a song for him. I wasn’t really sure when it was going to happen. I didn’t really think it would happen as quickly as it did. I wrote that song in April. I was sitting at his funeral and Barry Dean, who’s a songwriter, was giving a speech about how he felt like Busbee was looking at heaven like he would Disneyland, and that he was finding all of the special places to show his three daughters and his wife and all of us when we got there. I wrote ‘Show Me Around’ on my phone and I was like, ‘what an amazing way to think about the people that we’ve lost, that we miss. That they are getting heaven ready to show us when we get there’. It just, for me, will forever be such a special song.
This is the first collection of songs you’ve recorded without Busbee. Did you have to press reset and find out who you were as an artist without him?
I think I definitely had to think about where do you go without him? I got so comfortable working with him in every sense. He was so much more than just a producer for me. What I did is I went back into the records that made me want to move to Nashville, which were Patty Loveless, and Lee Ann Womack and the Judds and Wynonna and Faith and Trisha and I was just like, ‘this is your opportunity’. I feel like people would tell me, even when I worked with Busbee, ‘oh, you’re reminiscent of the 90s’ or ‘oh, you’re like traditional country music’. I feel like I had an opportunity to make from ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ onwards, be no question and not one song sonically that didn’t represent that. I feel like I did that with song one to seven. You have no question who I am.
Did you think about holding these songs until you could put out a full album or are they simply just songs you needed to get out there?
I think all of us as artists are trying to figure out what does music look like in 2021. For me, I have an amazing record label president in Scott Borchetta with Big Machine. He and I are friends. He was one of the first people that I played some of these songs for. He called me and he was just like, ‘you need to get this stuff out. This is what you’ve lived. This is current to your life right now and we need to figure out how to make that happen’. It’s kind of cool to be able to give you one collection now and maybe give you a collection in the fall. We haven’t set anything like that but I certainly have written quite a lot that is ready for the next phase. It’s just fun to be able to put music out.
I saw a performance on YouTube of ‘Didn’t Do’ and I fully expected that to be on this collection. Will you be releasing it in the future?
Yeah, I think that song’s special. What’s funny is I wrote it maybe a month and a half ago, and just the storm of fans finding it from one YouTube performance is pretty crazy (laughs). That’s how I know it’s special. I promise it will be on the next (project).
I couldn’t help but notice on Instagram over Valentine’s weekend that you and your mum were baking cake, and that June (Carly’s dog) was very much enjoying it! Is this a new hobby?
I love to cook and I learned that from my mom. Something that we’ve figured out over the last like year and a half is that we really like to bake. We made a cake at Christmas so she started this thing where she said what if we start to make a cake for every holiday, and this one, I’m quite impressed with how well it turned out. I learned about fondant and edible wafer paper and edible paint and all these things but it’s such a fun thing to be able to do with my mom. June, I figured out, REALLY likes cake and that she’s not lady like when she eats it (laugh).
I’m a keen baker and your cake looked amazing so I need to up my game….
Oh my gosh, no way! Now I’m embarrassed.
The last time I saw you here in the UK was when you rocked the stage at C2C. I know touring isn’t a possibility right now but when it is, will you be coming to the UK to play these new songs for us?
Oh, yes! Actually right before COVID I was planning a little trip over there. What I’ve always said about fans in the UK is that they love album cuts and they love artists and they love songwriting and they love the whole project. So THESE songs I’m like, ‘get me over there to play this music for you!’
We need just you and a guitar or a piano, so we can hear the whole collection from start to finish acoustically….
That is my favourite way to do it so… DONE!
It’s tough to plan much for this year but what are you hoping to do?
Hopefully just to be able to play a few shows, I would love that, and just continue to work on music. I mean truly, it’s been nice to be able to have this time to do that and just trying to to soak up as much of this stillness as I can because I know as soon as the floodgates open we will never be home (laughs).
Carly Pearce’s ’29’ is available to stream and download now. Watch the lyric video for ‘Should’ve Known Better’ below: