If 2020 had gone as the world had envisioned, Carly Pearce could have easily found herself out on the road, shuffling furiously in her high-heeled boots from here to there, simply too busy to pay much attention to the telltale signs that her marriage to Michael Ray was on the verge of falling apart.
“Who knows if I would even be divorced?” questions Pearce aloud in a revealing interview with American Songwriter. “It’s easy to go through life and pretend that everything is fine, but what 2020 did was give me time to hide and grieve and heal. I truly believe that God’s mercy was over my life. And it was this time that I used to make absolute sure that when I did come back with music, it was exactly what I wanted it to be.”
That music is now here, in the form of Pearce’s new EP titled 29.
“As an artist, you have this mentality that the show must always go on and you can’t take the time to feel,” continues Pearce, who finalized her divorce to Ray in September of 2020. “I realized I couldn’t do that. The ladies in country music that I have always looked up to made you feel like they were your friend. I don’t know how not to tell my stories in my music, just like they did. And 29 tells my story.”
Already bolstered by the musical warning shot of Pearce’s current single “Next Girl,” the exquisite seven song collection continues to lift more of the black veil off of one of the most life-altering periods of Pearce’s life. Set for release (February 19,) 29 arrives with an even more potent transparency into the journey that essentially took the Kentucky native from elation to sorrow to heartbreak to redemption over the course of mere months.
“It’s the most personal music I have ever released and maybe the most personal music that I ever will release,” explains Pearce, who snagged four 2020 CMA Award nominations, including the prestigious Song of the Year and a win for Musical Event of the Year, both for her chart-topping hit “I Hope You’re Happy Now.” “I hope that people can resonate with the messaging of these songs in how you can feel like your entire world is falling apart and you can feel like things didn’t turn out the way you thought they were going to, but you can also appreciate the moment where the pain finally opens up to an even brighter and better scenario.”
And while Pearce now finds herself on the other side of the pain, 29 essentially chronicles the times in which Pearce questioned her individual reality, a questioning that can be heard loud and clear in “Should’ve Known Better,” an unforgiving rampage on one’s intuition which Pearce co-wrote alongside Jordan Reynolds and Emily Shackelton.
“’Should’ve Known Better’ symbolizes the beginning of the grief,” recalls Pearce of the first song she wrote for the EP. “When you are dealing with some tough things in your life, it’s easy to ask yourself, ‘why didn’t I know that this was going to happen?’”
It was also a song that once again reunited Pearce with the talented Shackleton, who also claims songwriting credits on “Show Me Around” and Pearce’s career-altering single “Every Little Thing.”.
“Emily [Shackleton] sang at my wedding,” Pearce says. “She flew with me to Los Angeles to say goodbye to (Pearce’s late producer) busbee. Emily was the first person I told in the music industry that I was going to file for divorce. She is like my sister. We have shared a lot of life. It’s so nice to create music with people who love you as a human.”
And yes, there was another loved one who played a key role in the making of 29, a woman whose influence seemingly serves as a constant thread weaving all of the songs of 29 together.
“My mom was a key part, quite frankly, of me not dying over the last year in a half,” says Pearce, who quarantined with her parents at their Kentucky home during a portion of the pandemic. “My mom is a strong woman and she raised me to be a strong woman, and she was a voice of reason for me at a time when I didn’t want to face a lot of this stuff. She reminded me how strong I was and reminded me that this wasn’t the life I would have wanted.”
Photo by Allister Ann