For Carly Pearce, the last few years have been full of extreme highs and lows. On one hand, the country music singer landed her second No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart with "I Hope You're Happy Now," a collaboration with Lee Brice that went on to win Pearce her first Country Music Award and Academy of Country Music Award. On top of that, she was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry last month, an event that she called the "greatest moment of my life." But she also experienced two major losses: the death of her producer busbee, who died of brain cancer at the end of 2019, and the end of her marriage to fellow country singer Michael Ray last year. Perhaps those events are what culminated in her decision to evolve her February EP, 29, into a full-fledged album, out Friday: 29: Written in Stone.
"I'm very much a situational writer," Pearce told PopCulture.com in an interview last month. "I kind of have to be going through or living something if I'm going to write about it. So I definitely felt just inspired to kind of keep going and keep writing." She said although she never intended to write a concept album, 29: Written in Stone "takes you on a journey of so many things."
"I think more than anything, it's the realization of, maybe life not turning out the way you thought it was going to, kind of wrestling with that and being mad and being upset and going through all of those stages of grief," she said. "And then it's kind of getting over the mountain and coming to a place of strength and ultimately moving on. And I think that for anybody that's going through something unexpected in their life, I hope that they can listen to this album and now see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that there's good that can come from really bad pain."
To get to the light at the end of the tunnel, Pearce said she had to "dig really deep" to write the music that ultimately made its way onto the album. She explained that she "had to make a decision of what I was going to do. And if I was going to fall in a hole and die, quite frankly, or I feel like sometimes when you can use your pain for purpose, it can really help."
She recalled the times fans have empathized with her, "coming up to me and telling me, in a time where it should have been the most beautiful time of your life being a newlywed [...] They told me that it looks like a weight has been lifted off of me now that they see me now. And it has. And I think that I'm stronger for it."
"I obviously don't wish what I went through on anybody, but I also now can see I went through that for a reason and I think I'm now getting to see the beautiful side of ashes being restored, if that makes sense."
One song on Pearce's new album, "Dear Miss Loretta," is an ode to the legendary Loretta Lynn that explores the heartache Lynn sings about as Pearce experiences it firsthand. The track features the great Patty Loveless, who Pearce said asked if she could join her for it after hearing Pearce sing the song at the Opry. "I was like, 'Yes, Patty, you can sing on whatever you want to sing on,'" Pearce quipped. "And she even sang more than I thought she was going to, or that I asked her to, and it just made it so perfect. And I really do feel like when you listen to our voices together, it sounds like I'm singing with my big sister."
Speaking of collaborations, Ashley McBryde is also featured on the album in "Never Wanted to Be That Girl," a heartbreaking duet that laments the moment of realizing that you're not your significant other's primary partner. "I've only asked two artists ever in my life to write. One was Luke Combs when we wrote, 'I Hope You're Happy Now.' And the second was Ashley," Pearce said. "I feel like Ashley and I were cut from the same cloth, much like Luke and I were cut from the same cloth. And the way that we approach music and the way that we sing is so similar. She loves the same kind of music that I do. And so I just am really excited for people to hear this song and excited to see just the reaction, because I feel like people wouldn't expect the two of us to collaborate and come together. And I'm excited for that."
29: Written in Stone releases Friday, Sept. 17. Click here to listen to the album.