Interview: Carly Pearce Knows a Thing or Two About Silver Linings
Carly Pearce still believes in love. She an optimist, although she admits she wasn't at times over the last 12 months, and you'll hear it across the seven songs on her new 29 EP.
It's hard to blame her — every sunny day seemed to come with a rogue rain cloud.
You don't even need to go back to last summer for an example — try last fall. After Pearce and Lee Brice were nominated for a CMA for Musical Event of the Year, they were poised to take the stage for a national broadcast performance of "I Hope You're Happy Now." Then, she fell and knocked several teeth out on Halloween. They'd win the award, but Brice contracted COVID-19 days before the show, forcing her to pivot to a performance with Charles Kelley instead.
"But then it was like my face had healed just enough for me to be able to step on stage and then I get to sing with somebody who's my buddy and who I love," she explains, smiling — genuinely smiling — at the memory during a Zoom call.
Few, if anyone, noticed her other big snakebite from last year: "I Hope You're Happy Now" hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart on June 19, 2020, the same day on which Pearce filed for divorce from Michael Ray, her husband of eight months. When asked if she ever throws her arms up and thinks, "Why can't I have nice things?!" she lets out a laugh.
"I will say, that was my decision, because I just ... I knew it was happening and I knew we were waiting and I just quite frankly was like, 'You know what, I'm calling an audible and having my Tammy Wynette moment," she shares. "I'm gonna have the No. 1 song and file for divorce, that's what I'm going to do.'"
"When you go through something like this when you're young ... and you are married to someone else that's in the public eye and you are deemed as perfect and then you're not, forever when you Google me, that will be a part of the Google. For me, there was a lot of shame in that."
The 29 EP was born out of that divorce and the death of her friend and producer, Busbee. She didn't intend to write a concept album, but recognized that the narrative was not only helping her, but helping her fans as she released songs like "Show Me Around" and "Next Girl." "Messy" was the final song written for the project, and when she finished, Pearce says she called her labelhead Scott Borchetta and told him this chapter of her life was finished.
To that end, she hopes to have more new music for fans sooner than later. Don't expect another single from 29, but do expect some of the songs she leaked, but didn't release, to show up on albums or on the radio later this year or next.
As for falling in love again? Toward the end of a long conversation about love, life and country music, Pearce says she believes she deserves it, and she'll be a better partner for whoever is next. She'll also be wiser.
“I really wanna pull a Miranda whenever it does happen again and go, ‘Hey guys, got married. Here he is,'" the now 30-year-old singer says.
Was releasing this album a relief? Is it a celebration?
I think a celebration. Just of everything that has happened to me — just a true example to myself, and hopefully to music fans, that you can get through dark times.
Was making this album fun?
I loved it. In a lot of ways I feel like musically I was able to tap into a side of myself that — I'm always careful how I say this, because I don't want anybody to ever think that I'm not grateful to Busbee. I'm so unbelievably grateful for Busbee and would not be here today to be able to make this music if it weren't for him — but Busbee was a pop producer from the Bay area and he did not quite understand when I spoke of Patty Loveless or Lee Ann Womack or the Judds or people like that, he didn't quite understand that language in the way that [producers] Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally do. I feel that the reason that I wrote all of these songs for the first time is because I was able to tap into the core of why I wanted to move to Nashville and sing country music. This project, I feel like, from start to finish, there's not one song I wouldn't tell you this is exactly who I am as an artist.
Where these songs harder to write, record or talk about afterward?
They were all hard to write. Hard to record because I had such an expectation in my brain about how I wanted them to sound and some of them were just hard to come out of my mouth without being emotional. I think what's great about the music coming out now is I'm a few steps removed from it, so I'm able to speak about it in a way that feels OK and feels like I got to the other side of the mountain. I'm almost in a phase of being proud and excited.
In some of the lyrics, there's some insinuated embarrassment or shame. It's the first part of the chorus on "Should've Known Better" ("I gave you my heart / You let it go to waste / You made me do the leaving / And you made me take the blame") and then on "29" ("The year I was gonna live it up / And now I'm never gonna live it down"). Why did you feel that?
I would say there are two parts for that. I think in the beginning of relationships, you want to assign blame to yourself and — hindsight's always 20/20 — and you wanna go, "Why did I not know?" For me, there was just this ... I was mad at myself. I was mad at myself, I felt like I should have seen it.
And then "29," I remember walking around my parents' town during quarantine and I was on the phone with one of my girlfriends and I said, "I think have to write a song called '29' and I'm gonna name a project after it and it's gonna be the year I got married and divorced.' She was like, 'Wow! Okay, have fun with that.' When you go through something like this when you're young and you think, "Oh, I waited so long to get married. It's totally gonna be great" and you are married to someone else that's in the public eye and you are deemed as perfect and then you're not, forever when you Google me, that will be a part of the Google. For me, there was a lot of shame in that and there was a lot of, "Oh, well I'm never gonna live this down." What's beautiful about the healing process is you realize there doesn't have to be so much shame in things that just don't work out.
I'm struck by how well you're able to keep it together on a public, forward-facing level when there was likely trauma and disaster just behind you.
It's so hard. I am so grateful for quarantine. I truly ... I could still be married at this point. I think it's very easy, especially in what we do, to zip your dress up, put your shoes on and go pretend. Not to say that we are pretending, but there is a difference between Carly Pearce and Carly the person. I can differentiate them pretty well when I need to, especially if I don't really want to really deal with what's happening at my heart level. I can tap into whatever everybody else thinks is going on. I'm really grateful for quarantine because I think it allowed me to have the time and the space to deal with the inevitable. But as artists, I think that's kind of the hardest part. That's why I decided to come out with what happened to my face. It feels so much like a weight lifted off my shoulder this year of just being like, "Here, I'm not Facebook and Instagram perfect. Here you go."
If not for the pandemic, you think you could have looked past things and would still be married?
Maybe ... maybe. I dunno, you know. I can only speak for myself, but it would have been much easier to clock in a few days every couple weeks of reality and go back to not, you know. It's a lot easier to not face what's real, especially when the whole world is watching, watching both of you.
If I'm a Carly Pearce superfan, is it okay for me to love your last album?
[Laughs] I'll still sing those songs. My intro may be different, but I'll still sing them. Those were all part of my story and I want people to love my music and I want people to love the journey. I think everybody goes through a journey. For me, those are yearbook moments for me.
I'm proud of that one. I wish I could remove one track off of it for the rest of my life, but I'm definitely proud of that music. I was also proud of the sentiment. Like falling in love is the most wonderful experience than anybody could ever feel and I'll always look at that album like, I fell in love.