After then-22-year-old Carly lost her developmental record deal with Sony in 2013, she took a job scrubbing toilets and changing sheets at an Airbnb. It wasn’t exactly the future the Kentucky native envisioned when she dropped out of high school at age 16 and moved to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., so she could perform at Dollywood. But here she is, 10 years after leaving Kentucky, thankful that she quit that stinkin’ day job cleaning toilets.
Carly, who was named to the 2016 CMT Next Women of Country class, signed a new record deal with Big Machine Label Group in January. After hearing Carly’s new song, “Every Little Thing,” which soared to the top of Sirius XM’s The Highway, Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta literally flew across the country to sign Carly to his label.
As Carly gears up to release “Every Little Thing” to country radio on February 22, she sat down with Nash Country Daily to talk about 10 little things that have made her who she is today.
1. You were part of CMT’s 2016 Next Women of Country class. As a woman in the industry, I imagine you’ve heard the word “no” a lot. Is CMT’s Next Women of Country all about saying “yes”?
“Oh yes, for sure. I think being able to be included in that class of women was amazing. CMT has been so amazing to allow all of us new female artists to have a place to kind of have a community and to be able to build each other up and learn from each other and strengthen each other and also realize that there are a lot of really empowering women in the genre that just haven’t, for whatever reason, gotten to have their moment. I just think it’s been encouraging to get to be a part of that and to see how many talented women we have in this town.”
2. You came to a lot of people’s attention, including mine, through your 2015 duet with Josh Abbott, “Wasn’t That Drunk,” a song that peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard chart. Every time Josh performed that song, you got to perform it with him. You got to go do Jimmy Kimmel Live and the radio station tours.
“It’s been amazing. If you just kind of dig deep into my story, I’ve had a lot of opportunities. I’ve been in Nashville eight years and just have had a lot of things come my way that maybe in my brain weren’t the way I thought I was going to get to where I’m at right now, but I continue to say yes. Just took my blinders off a few years ago and just said, ‘I’m going to chase whatever comes my way.’ The Josh Abbott Band situation, they messaged me about a song. We had only been Twitter friends. He had seen me play in Nashville at a thing called Whiskey Jam. That song was never meant to be a single, but it got [such a big reaction] that they changed their whole marketing plan and promo plan to build around that song.
“So I devoted a lot of 2015 and 2016 to that song and, in return, got to go into radio stations and got to go on tour with him. Josh is the king of the Texas scene, and I got to play in front of more people than I’d ever performed in front of and really understood what it meant to put on a show. The Texas crowd is really different from the Nashville crowd, so I had to work a little harder to make them listen to me and buy into me. Getting to do national television, it’s just all of these experiences as a new artist that was unsigned at the time, you don’t get to do that usually. I just became a sponge and said hopefully this is leading me to be able to branch out on my own and let people see more of what Carly Pearce is.”
3. When you were 16, you left high school and your Kentucky home and moved to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. You started performing at Dollywood five times a day, five days a week. Is that like musical boot camp?
“I always joke and say . . . this is just for my dad so that he feels better about the fact that I never went to college and that I got my high school diploma in the mail, but I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I always knew that I wanted to move to Nashville, and I think that Dollywood was a good college for me for a few years of understanding what it meant to have a real singing job where I had to learn how to sing sick, I had to learn how to put on a show every day, I worked with other artists. It was really a boot camp or a college or something like that where I learned a lot of valuable lessons that I use even today.”
4. You moved to Nashville at 19 and then signed a short-lived publishing deal. Did you ever think about giving up after that? What was your thought process when you were 19, 20, and you had moved here and maybe things weren’t working out as you had expected?
“I have a crazy roller-coaster ride story. I had a publishing deal. I then had a developmental record deal on Sony. My situation there just ended up being unfortunate that the A&R lady that was working with me got fired, so I got let go. Of course there were moments that I wanted to quit music. My condo has seen many tears and heard many prayers at night. I’ve always known I wanted to do this, and like I said a little earlier, when you open your brain to still staying in the game and waiting it out and fighting and really understanding that this is a business. I just started to be open-minded to taking opportunities that were coming to me and really can see where every single opportunity that I said yes to that maybe somebody told me not to do or I thought maybe I don’t really want to do this, but it has all kind of connected the dots and led me to where I am now. So I’m thankful for the journey.”
5. What was the worst job you had between the point when you lost your contract to today?
I mean, cleaning toilets in Airbnbs and cleaning sheets is pretty horrible. I would say that’s pretty terrible. People were nasty. Just parties, bachelor parties and stuff. I just was disgusted at how people left them. Leave your Airbnbs clean, y’all.
6. Let’s talk about something that’s not so terrible, your single “Every Little Thing,” which you released late last year independently, has had so much success. It went to No. 1 on on Sirius XM’s The Highway. That’s got to be a huge confidence booster.
“It’s reminding me of the power of a song. I only had two or three days to prep to put this song out once I found out it was going to be a Highway Find. I wrote this song from a very personal place of a heartbreak that I experienced and never really thought anybody was going to hear it. I certainly didn’t think that it was going to be something that would be my debut into the country genre. I thought that maybe my fans would have to buy into me a little bit to understand the artistic side of this song. I joke and say I’ve put out a lot of songs and been a part of a lot of things, but this song, as soon as it came out, it felt like it had its own wings and it was kind of out of my control.”
7. Has the impact the song has had on other people surprised you?
“It’s about a relationship that was four or five years ago, but I wrote it last year. I think about a year ago I wrote it. It’s interesting to have this song come out, and those feelings were so real, but now, so much life has happened and I’m thankful that that relationship didn’t work. It’s been amazing just to hear different stories of people that are going through that or even people that are attaching the song to something much greater like a death or being a widow or something like that.”
8. After “Every Little Thing” gets played on The Highway, what happens? Scott Borchetta just knocks on your door and says, “Hey, Big Machine would like to give you a record contract”?
“You know what’s crazy is the night that the song came out, his staff was kind of already on the move, and within 24 hours, he was on a plane back from L.A. to see me play at the Opry. Before any of the success really had happened, he really was invested and excited about it from the moment that he heard it, so it made me understand. Obviously, when you sell a lot of units independently and you get the buzz around it that I feel like this song has gotten, other people come to the table, but he was there from the beginning. So I felt like he was buying into and excited about Carly Pearce, not just ‘Every Little Thing’”.
9. “Every Little Thing” is going to country radio on February 22. Are you ready for that?
“Are you kidding? I’ve waited my whole life for this.”
10. As far as a new EP or album, what’s in the works? Are you writing? Are you in the studio?
“So, my producer is busbee. Many of you may know him from [co-producing] Maren Morris’ record [Hero] and the new Lady Antebellum song [“You Look Good”] and he’s worked with Keith [Urban] and he’s kind of killing it. I’m actually the first artist that he’s developed, especially in the country world, that has kind of done something. We’ve been working together for almost two years now. We are about to cut the first five songs for my record, and hopefully the album will be out sometime this year. We’re working really hard and getting really excited.”
main photo by Jason Simanek