Opportunities, heartbreak, second chances—Carly Pearce is thankful for every little thing. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter grew up as a musical marvel in the one-stoplight town of Taylor Mill, Kentucky. She was fronting a bluegrass band at age 11 and by 16 had shipped off to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for a full-time job at the iconic Dollywood theme park after convincing her parents to homeschool. She performed six shows a day, five days a week for one year at Dollywood before spending the next year at Country Tonite performing everyday with one day off each month.
“That time really made me understand how to sing when I was sick and in different climates, what it means to put on a show over and over, how to work with people,” Pearce says. “I was hooked at that point.”
Eager to launch her career as a solo artist, she moved to Nashville and began meeting songwriters and producers; within a few years, she scored a developmental contract with a major label. After watching iconic vocalists like Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes pave the way, Pearce was in. Eight months later, the deal fell through. “I remember that being a really dark moment for me,” she says. “But I knew that I didn’t want to move home or quit. I knew that this was just a trying time.”
Pearce scrambled to stay afloat—professionally, financially, emotionally. In between nannying and several odd jobs, she played rounds at The Bluebird Café and The Listening Room. She even took out a loan to record an EP, which Pearce shopped around Music Row herself. “Many people in the industry told me I was old news, told me to move home, told me to give up. In those words, to my face,” she recalls. “I left so many meetings trying to stay composed with a smile on my face but found myself sobbing as soon as I got in my car.”
In 2014, she was cast in a music video for Pretty Little Liars actress Lucy Hale, who was breaking out as a Country artist. Pearce’s proven tenacity from an early age once again gave her the courage to ask about joining the tour, ultimately landing a spot as a backup vocalist. “People told me, ‘You will forever be labeled a backup singer if you do this,’” Pearce says. But her gut told her to open her mind, to embrace life’s twists, and to say yes. She joined Hale’s tour and, sure enough, started regaining confidence.
Along the way, she found a collaborator and champion in hit producer busbee, an industry anomaly who writes Country singles (Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.,” Maren Morris’ “My Church”) as deftly as pop hooks (Pink’s “Try,” Timbaland’s “If We Ever Meet Again”).
“It became very apparent that Carly has something to say—she has an amazing voice both literally and figuratively,” busbee says. “She was made to communicate and connect with people through song.”
After crumbling in an instant, Pearce’s world began to fall back into place but this time with a more solid foundation. After signing a new developmental deal with busbee and BMG. She found mentors in then-Opry general manager Pete Fisher, CMT’s Leslie Fram, Spotify’s Jon Marks and SiriusXM’s JR Schumann. She recorded a duet with the Josh Abbott Band called “Wasn’t That Drunk,” charting at Country radio for the first time and was invited to tour with Hunter Hayes, Eli Young Band and Kelsea Ballerini.
Reinvigorated, she teamed up with busbee and Emily Shackelton on a song that’s uncomfortable, almost, in its vulnerability: the haunting ballad “Every Little Thing.” Through snapshots, Pearce relives a soul-shattering breakup, wondering how to move on, how to let go, and how to remember—all at once. She knew “Every Little Thing” was special but believed it was too intimate, too sparse to be a radio hit. Schumann felt otherwise: “Are you ready for this song to change your life?” he asked her in November 2016, right before naming it a SiriusXM “Highway Find”.
While she wasn’t entirely convinced at the time, Pearce is more than grateful for the extra push. “The night it came out, it had wings of its own,” she says. “It felt different than anything I’d ever put out. It shows that if you are authentic and you write from a true place, people will connect.”
Currently working on her debut album, Pearce is entering her first radio tour with more than 50,000 downloads and a brand-new record deal with independent powerhouse Big Machine Label Group. “I’m a testament of the underdog who spun her wheels in town for eight years but never gave up,” she says. “I’m so thankful that I’ve had to claw and cry and kick and scream and lay down at night sometimes going, ‘What did I do wrong? Where did I go wrong?’ It’s making everything so much sweeter.”