Carly Pearce Says She Wants to be Known as a Country Purist

This isn’t the first time Carly Pearce has professed her desire to want to be considered a country music “purist.” In 2019 as she was leading up to the release of her second record, she said flat out, “I really wanna be a purist. I really wanna be a country artistI was in Nashville for eight and a half years before I got a record deal. I wanted so desperately for people to care about my music that I was writing from a place of desperation.”

That time though, she was referring to being a purist in the future tense. Like so many artists that show up to Nashville, Carly Pearce wanted to be country, but got forced into the sausage making process on Music Row. When she professed wanting to be a purist in 2019, this was the first sign we had from Carly that she was ready to stand up against that system.

But when we finally heard Carly’s 2020 self-titled record, it sounded much like her first one—maybe a bit more country compared to the rest of the mainstream, and probably a fine contemporary country pop record. But it certainly didn’t live up to the “purist” label, which frankly, takes the “traditionalist” stamp, and edges it one step closer to Mark Chesnutt.

But then came Carly Pearce’s 29 EP released early this year, followed by the full-length 29: Written in Stone released in September. It still may be a bit of a stretch to call 29 a “purist” record, but it’s most certainly country, and good. Three records into her career, and Carly Pearce has been able to gain control of her career, and release the music she wants. Now, there’s no turning back.

Carly Pearce will be up for two major awards at the 2021 CMA Awards Wednesday night (11-10). She’ll be vying for Female Vocalist of the Year, and Album of the Year for 29 (awkwardly, just the EP, not the full-length album). But she is already a winner this week. ASCAP is doing their annual country music awards virtually as well, and Carly Pearce’s song “Next Girl” won an award for being one of the most performed songs over the last year.

Speaking with American Songwriter about the award, she said, “I didn’t move to Nashville to be a songwriter. I moved to Nashville to write songs for myself and be an artist. And I’m grateful to be able to do that. I’m grateful that people care about what I have to say. Music was the only thing that made me feel understood as a kid. There was no other option. Some kids wanted to be doctors, dancers, actors—I dreamt of being a country artist.”

Born in Taylor Mill, Kentucky, Carly Pearce was playing bluegrass at the age of 11, and dropped out of school at 16 to move to Dolly Parton’s Pigeon Forge. It was there that she landed a job playing bluegrass music six times a day, five days a week for crowds at the tourist destination. She performed on a few bluegrass compilations albums at the time as well. Carly Pearce’s musical acumen was formed deep in the roots of country music.

“I feel like I’m just getting started,” Pearce continues. “’29′ is the album I’ll always look back on in my career and say that was the turning point for me in the way I want to be looked at in country music. I hope when people look at my music and my little legacy, I hope they say, ‘She was a country music purist.’”

One problem for country music recently has been not giving enough support to women, and not being able to develop the careers of women in the mainstream. But the other problem is that once they do develop, women performers often fly off to the greener pastures of pop like Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and others have, or veer more into the pop lane like Maren Morris.

That is why investing in performers such as Carly Pearce that have pledged their allegiance to country music is so crucial. These are the artists who will be with the genre for the long haul, not use it as a stepping stone, and leave country music holding the bag and with no return on their investment when they leave the format. Another way Carly Pearce has proven her loyalty is performing on the Grand Ole Opry over 80 times, which resulted in her being inducted as an official member in August.

“Purist” still feels like a strong word when regarding the music of Carly Pearce, since it’s such a loaded term. But if she continues to put out records like 29, then she likely will be regarded as on of this era’s most country-sounding performers in the mainstream, and a staunch supporter of country’s roots. And in an era when pop dominates, that will certainly render Carly Pearce a memorable performer.

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