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CARLY PEARCE: SHOOTING FOR THE STARS

Carly Pearce couldn’t be happier. Her 75th Grand Ole Opry appearance is behind her, and “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” her commanding duet with Lee Brice, has become her second #1 at Country radio. Now, the woman who honed her craft doing six shows a day at Dollywood, self-financed the EP that contained “Every Little Thing,” which SiriusXM’s The Highway launched, and realized her dream with the help of the late uber-producer busbee is on the brink of a career built to last. After joking a year ago, “I just wanted to make another album,” Pearce became the go-to tour mate for Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts and Luke Bryan while establishing a classic-country break as her vocal signature.

After leaving her Taylor Mill, Ky., high school to chase her dream in Pigeon Forge, Pearce was relentless in pursuing a career in music. Her approach echoes Tammy Wynette’s resolve and sobbing vowels, Dolly Parton’s sparkle and pure tone, and a bit of Dottie West’s wide-open passion for life and songs that capture a bit of smoke. Still, Pearce is very much her own kinda country—and that should serve her well as radio starts to thaw for female artists.

You must be so fired up.
Oh my gosh! It’s such a weird time to have a song working, with everything going on.

You wrote “I Hope You’re Happy” with Luke Combs and sang it with Lee Brice. That’s a lotta big-time male energy to be around.
The process of Luke and I writing it, figuring out he wasn’t going to be able to cut it—since the song is as much his life and his stuff as mine—was [challenging], because Luke is such a great singer, and it’s written for that kind of range. But I believed in the song so much once I heard the demo. Lee was the only choice.

How’d that go?
Well, I can say it now: busbee had his first seizure during Lee’s vocal. Dan [Huff] came in under the table and helped us pull it together. So it was very emotional on a lot of levels—it was the first time I didn’t have busbee with me. Lee sang the song like Luke; it was on the demo, so he just went there. What I love about Lee’s voice is it has this tone, and the way he approaches a lyric makes him so special, and it just wasn’t there. So Clint [Higham], my manager, tells me I have to tell him. I was so scared. When Lee called, he said, “Hey, Mama! I hear you need me to fix some things.” I inhaled very slowly and said, “Actually, I need you to go do the Lee thing. Go sing it like you would.”

It was very quiet. And it wasn’t sung bad; it just wasn’t what makes him great. I had to risk pissing him off, but we laugh about it so much now. I was freaked out saying that to him, but he’s such a great guy and musician; he wanted it to be what we wanted.

Losing busbee had to be hard.
So difficult. And it forced me to look at how country I am. He opened the door for me to get back on track, but this COVID crisis has forced me to have a lot of conversations with myself—about my music, who I am. A lot has happened since “Every Little Thing,” and I needed to mourn my friend, and also to close this chapter. I need to rip the Band-Aid off. In the five years we worked together, busbee would say, “I want you to fly.” So now, it’s up to me to do that.

How have you been spending your downtime?
I’m pretty focused on my writing, not that I wouldn’t be every day regardless. But it’s really intentional, and there are a lot of ideas coming; they’re waking me up at night. I’m really blessed with my team, from management to my record company president and the promo team, [as well as SiriusXM’s] J.R. Schumann; they’re all so behind me. I feel all their excitement in a way I haven’t since “Every Little Thing.”

What do you hope, or want?
I think you have to share all sides 
of who you are; you have to get
real. So much of this is all a show—but when people aren’t speaking their truth, aren’t who their social media says, the fans know.

I want you to think of the Opry, think of the women whose voices mattered, whose careers meant something, and think of me as part of those things. Dolly’s one; Tammy; Alison Krauss, who has such respect as a vocalist and a musician; Lee Ann Womack; Patty Loveless; Faith Hill, who went pop, but that voice was always so real; Shania Twain...

I’ve had a slower build, which can frustrate. But I believe in slow and steady. I never want to chase something because it’s easy. I want to build music that lasts. Depth is what I do best, and I may never have this amount of time to give to putting everything into the music. I miss the stage so much, but I’m going

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