"It was right song, right time, right situation" In conversation with Carly Pearce
Probably the biggest new female artist in country music over the last few years, Carly Pearce hit the big time in 2017 with 'Every Little Thing'. Since then she's gone on to big things, recently playing the O2 in London as part of C2C Country To Country 2019. We had a chance to head backstage to the labyrinthine corridors of the O2 to speak with Carly about what makes her the success she is.
Hi Carly, How're you doing? And how're you enjoying the UK?
I'm good. It's my first time in the UK. It's funny, people are like, I'm so jealous that you're going to Dublin and London, I'm like, I'm gonna see the airport, a car, my bus, and the arena. So you don't actually see very much.
I was reading about your journey into music and Nashville. One of the things I was wondering is how much of it is about hard work and persistence versus just being really talented.
There are hundreds of thousands of people in Nashville that are talented. I think what makes you be able to get a shot is persistence, hard work, and also differentiating yourself. Why should people care that you should have a slot on the radio or a slot on a tour, or what makes you unique? You have to kind of figure that out. And timing .
And what do you think it was about the moment when you made it through?
I think it was right song, right time, right situation. I had a song that moved people. I had a song that stood out on the radio and was different, in a time where there were no female artists, other than Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris. And for whatever reason my song cut through at that time. Do I think five years prior would it have worked? Probably not. Do I think it would work now? I don't know, but it worked then.
And do you think that makes Nashville a hard place to make it through? That there are so many talented and driven people, but not all of them are successful.
There's a reason there's only a top 40 chart. There are very few people who get to do this on this level.
What was the moment when you thought it was going to happen for you?
You're going to laugh. I don't think I believed it was happening for me until 'Every Little Thing' went to number one. So a year into having a record deal; I was trained so much to believe that I wasn't good enough for it. Ten years in Nashville being told no. Most people go into an incubating time at a record label and have a few years to develop, but I had a song that was moving so quickly that I was literally out the door on my radio tour within three weeks of signing my deal. So it was a very jarring thing that took me a really long time to figure out, oh my gosh this really is happening for me, this isn't a dream that you're having!
What was that was I like them when that happened, your first number one record? Could you believe it?
No. Sometimes I still don't believe it. It was very surreal, very much one of those moments where you go "wait what?". And to be one of only three women in the last 15 years to have their debut single go number one that's hard to compute too, and part of history.
Did that set the bar quite high for you?
It did. I think really that's what I have to make sure, I'm doing is putting out the most vulnerable artistically me, good music in the way that 'Every Little Thing' was. And that song taught me so much about vulnerability and so much about really not being afraid to say how you feel and say the truth. That's always my bar.
You've worked with busbee, so do you think it is about making the right connections with the right people as well as being persistent?
I think each part of your journey is setting you up to hopefully ring the bell, and busbee was a huge part of mine. I met him in 2015 and didn't get a record deal till the end of 2016. I didn't have a single go number one till 2017 but was in Nashville in 2009. So it's all part of it.
I know you write or co-write, most of your songs but you didn't write all of them. What's your process for choosing a song?
Best song wins for me. I don't have to write everything and I don't think that I'm capable of writing the best song 13 times for a record. I try to listen outside. I try to have the songs that I know I want on the album that I've written and then I go find the other songs that have told my story better. 'Hide The Wine' is a perfect example. Most people think I wrote that song, I did not. I did not write 'Closer To You' either but they told my story perfectly.
Someone like Elvis Presley didn't write any of his songs yet people these days seem to expect country music artists to write their own songs. But you can make them yours by how you perform them and take control of them.
Reba didn't either. I don't know if I'm allowed to say this but I will, I think some artists mess up by thinking that they have to write their whole album and they don't make the best album.
It's difficult to write in a 10 or 12 great songs.
And some people really do it. But I think there's a whole community of people in Nashville that write songs every day in the way that I want to perform every day so why not utilize them
You played the Opry over 50 times, so why is that so special?
It's almost 60 times now! It's the heartbeat of country music. It is the most amazing stage that I think any artist can ever perform on. And for me country music is where my heart is and I want to make sure that I honor where it started.
Is it different every time you you kind of go back there or is it kind of like a second home?
It's like a second home but I still get the butterflies every time because I know who's walked in that circle and walked through that building and the importance of it.
Is anything you've recorded that you wish people would ask you about but they never do? A particular song that you don't get asked about very often?
Hmm. I've never been asked that. The ones that I feel are standouts get asked about - 'If My Name Was Whiskey', 'I Need A Ride Home' - those are two that come to mind for me that I think are really special. What's interesting is 'You Know Where To Find Me'. That's the track that Busbee and I wrote the very first time we met. We wrote it with Emily Shackleton who happened to write 'Every Little Thing' with us, so that's a special one.
And how do you approach co-writes? Do you know what the song's gonna be about when you go in there or do you kind of just write about themes with people?
I think the beauty in songwriting is you never know what's gonna happen. You never know what the day is gonna bring. You never know how people are feeling and what you think may happen could be the complete opposite.