Kentucky singer/songwriter Carly Pearce is still in a state of semi-shock. The previous evening she performed songs from her week-old debut album ‘Every Little Thing’ at a listening party in a downtown Toronto club. Accompanied by only her tour guitarist Nick Scallorn, Carly tore things up with unplugged versions of the hit title track plus four or five other nuggets that she co-wrote, showcasing her considerable vocal skills. What astonished the singer was the crowd’s reaction, as many of the front row fans hung off every word and provided impromptu harmonies, moving her close to tears.
“I really wasn’t expecting that”, says the singer, who is curled up on a Green Room couch in a Toronto Harboufront entertainment complex. “I was just happy to see bodies in there when I first walked out, let alone have everyone singing along with me. It was really cool. I’ve always wanted to do this so it’s very overwhelming for me to hear people singing the songs that I worked so hard on to get on an album. People are embracing Every Little Thing, the song, and now that the album is out people are starting to embrace that too, and that’s special.”
The term embrace may be a tad mild in terms of describing the response to the title track. The song has bulleted up the country charts in Canada and the U.S., where it has broken into the Top Five with a bead on the premiere spot. If it should reach that pinnacle, Carly would be only the third female performer in 17 years to have her debut single go to Number One. (“No pressure there,” she laughs.) What’s surprising is it breaks the rules when it comes to the country/pop formula that currently defines the charts, as her soul-bearing song is a throwback to a more traditional form of country.
“How funny is that, that just a simple heartbreak song is a rule breaker?” she asks. “I never in a million years thought this song would get me to where it is today and that it would actually take off in the dead of summer. I’m just so proud of it, and it’s honestly my favourite song on the album. It was never intended to be anything but a song for me to get over something.
“I think I am really, really wanting to be a country artist. I believe that my music and the brand that I’m creating is country, but it may be appealing to people who love pop and modern country, the Florida Georgia Lines of the world. I hope that I can appeal to all of them, but as the voice of the females of country.”
It’s somewhat surprising that Carly’s fresh take on country is driven by producer/songwriter busbee, who is renowned for his success in the field of pop, having worked with the likes of Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. He lends a deft touch with the opening acoustic guitar on the small-town gossip song “Everybody Gonna Talk”, before bringing in reinforcements for the rousing chorus, while the low-key instrumentation on “I Need A Ride Home” builds upon a stately piano refrain. The first line of that song, ‘I need a ride home, to that little town where I’ll always be 16 years old’, resonates strongly with the singer.
“My grandparents were really close to me and they’ve both passed on,” Carly begins. “I was their only grandchild and I will forever miss that time of my life. I understand now as an adult what those molding years as a child and as a teenager are all about. I chose to be on a porch for the album cover shot because I want people to go home with me on this record. Everybody that knows me knows that Kentucky and my grandparents and that time of my life are why I am who I am. It’s really important to me to always have that and I hope one day I can drive through Taylor Mill Kentucky and I see a sign that says ‘Taylor Mill, the Home of Carly Peace.’
“Everybody Gonna Talk came from my mother not liking a particular guy I was with, but I’m from the south and I wanted to do things the Pearce way because the Pearce women are really fiery. I just wanted to say to her ‘No, you’re going to talk and you’re going to have an opinion no matter what I do.’ Of course she ended up being right.”
Carly really shows her fiery side on the aptly named “Catch Fire”, in which she implores her beau not to waste his time on ‘sweet formalities’. (“It’s just a fun, sexy, flirtatious song with a real swamp vibe that showcases strength and being strong enough to tell a guy what she wants,” Carly says with a sly smile). Whether it’s a playful little number like this, a poignant ballad or a semi-rocker, Carly’s voice is always the highlight and she switches gears seamlessly from one song to the next, recalling some other female country greats.
“Well, I was exposed to people like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn from a very young age,” she says. “My grandmother listened to Tammy Wynette and my grandfather loved Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, and maybe that’s why I started to dive into bluegrass. I found people like Alison Krauss, then I dug a little deeper and found Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood. I feel like all of these females that I listened to wrap up into the sound that I want, that of the late 90’s early 2000’s women of country. I want to align myself with the country elements that make you think you might be listening to the female performers from that time period.”
Carly pursued her passion for music early on, as she left high school and worked shows at Dollywood
(Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee) at a mere 16 years of age. She recalls some tough times from those early days, staying in a ‘Grizzly Bear decorated condo’, getting and losing a record deal, getting and losing a publishing deal and even cleaning Airbnb’s for a while to stay afloat. These were lean times, to be sure, but never count out a fiery Pearce woman.
“I think when I moved to Nashville and lived there for eight years, I struggled and watched the town turn and stop emailing me back, telling me to move back home and things like that. I can recall a couple of nights of true broken-hearted feelings. I was mad at other artists because I felt like I deserved to be where they are. I decided there was no way for me to control anything but the music, so I started to look at it as a business and a brand, and I tried to push myself to be a better singer and artist. That’s when I started to regain the confidence and grow up and realize that I could do it.”
The second single is the album’s lead-off track, a spry number called “Hide The Wine’, a measure the singer takes in order to better resist lustful temptation. Carly is a wine buff, professing her love of Cabernet, and there’s a t-shirt on her website shop that offers a grape-infused regimen: Wine. Write. Wine. Workout. Wine. She breaks the seal of another beverage on ‘If My Name Was Whiskey’, a song that Sirius XM released before she even had a record deal. When she trots these numbers out on stage every night the memories come flooding back to her.
“Oh yeah, I even close my show every night with the Dolly Parton song ‘Nine To Five’, because I did work nine to five at Dollywood,” she says. “That always takes me back to that time in my life. I Need A Ride Home takes me back to Kentucky and my grandparents. ‘Doin’ It Right’ takes me back to the stupid guys that we wrote that song about when we had too much wine. Behind each song there really is a story.”
Carly will join Brett Young on his Caliville Tour this fall.
Other Country Stuff:
B.C. born and Oakville raised Vanessa Marie Carter is about to release her first single on Universal Music. The song is called ‘Bless my Heart’ and was written by Nashville-based Hilary Lindsey (Jesus Take The Wheel, Blue Ain’t Your Colour). Vanesa won last year’s Sirius XM Emerging Artist Showcase at the Boots and Hearts Music Festival in Oro-Medonte.
Born and bred in Stony Plain Alberta, Mark Times’ self-title debut EP will drop on November 3. Creating his own brand of neo-traditional country, Mark’s first single ‘Staring Down The Barrel’, whets the appetite for his first multi-track release.
Finally, Open Spaces can’t wait for the release this week of ‘Walk Between The Rain Drops’, a full length disc by local Toronto favourite Thelonious Hank, led by the venerable Ted Hawkins on vocals and percussion. For many years Ted provided the beat for Scotty Campbell & His Wardenaires, but he’s also guested behind notables such as Prairie Oyster’s Russell deCarle and The Mavericks’ Raul Malo. If you want stone cold country, you need to look no further than this disc.