By Sarah Rodman
February 07, 2020 at 04:06 PM EST
Ethan Bellows

Carly Pearce hit several milestones both professional and personal in 2019, and the Kentucky-born country singer’s 2020 looks even more packed as she releases her self-titled sophomore album Feb. 14 and hits the road to support it.

“As a songwriter you write all kinds of songs, but for me this is the most personal song I’ve ever put on a record,” Pearce says of the track “It Won’t Always Be Like This.” “It’s just about going through so many things in your life and maybe not understanding them at the time, or maybe thinking that you’re never going to get out of something or taking something for granted. And it is through and through my story, but I hope that people can insert their own stories into it.”

When Pearce visited our studios to perform the wistful ballad for EW’s In the Basement series, she also chatted about her current top 10 hit duet “I Hope You’re Happy Now” with Lee Brice, her recent marriage to fellow country singer Michael Ray — who appears on her new album — and her days working at Dollywood as a teen.

On her current top 10 hit with Brice:

“‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ has been my fastest rising song on radio,” says Pearce of the song about sincerely wishing an old lover well. “The story happened to me.” The singer-songwriter was in a relationship that wasn’t working. There was no “bad guy,” just inertia. “I wrote the song from a very real place,” she says. “You have to love yourself enough to let somebody go that maybe you love and that is comfortable but isn’t your forever. To see how many stories I’ve already heard of somebody being on at least my side or at least Lee’s side or both sides of the story, again, we all go through the same things. I just happen to have the microphone.”

On recording with her new husband Ray:

“We actually recorded this song just when we were dating,” she says of the track “Finish Your Sentences.” “It’s something that I never thought in a million years that I would say, that I married another country artist, but it’s just a really awesome thing that we can speak the language of music together and to be able to share this first song together, that is all about the stage of life that we were in, which was falling in love and flirting. It’s one that I’m very excited for people to hear.”

On how her romantic journey is reflected in the new album:

“Getting married and planning a wedding and falling in love, all of those things have really played a key role in this record,” said Pearce. “Falling in love and finding your person really helps to make you feel very confident. I think throughout the last few years, so many milestones in my personal life have happened that have now affected so much of the music that I’m putting out in such a great way. I feel like this collection of songs is the most real version of myself that I’ve ever felt. I’m about to turn 30. It just feels like a very big, life-changing, new beginning for me.”

Big Machine Records, LLC

On the most important lesson she learned working at Dollywood:

“I’ve learned so many lessons,” says Pearce, adding with a laugh, “The higher the hair, the closer to God. Working nine to five is fun. But I think more than anything, Dolly to me is the ultimate person that I want to align how I act in this industry. She always created amazing music. She was true to who she was, but she was an amazing businesswoman and she still is, and she’s grown her empire into this massive worldwide entity that all still feels very hometown, tiny, small town, heartfelt, real, and raw. If you can combine all of that, I think you’re doing something right. So my biggest motto is always ‘What would Dolly do?'”

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