Music

Carly Pearce Talks Exploring a Dark, Upsetting and Emotional ‘Place’ on New Release: ‘We’ve All Been There’

The newest Carly Pearce music — “My Place,” a track released April 5 to tease a forthcoming album — is an unsettling experience.

The melody is slow and languid, filled with lengthy notes that highlight her smoky vocal tone. But the defining instrument is a relentless resonator guitar. Ilya Toshinskiy plays a dark parade of 16th notes, a foreboding part that casts a gloomy melancholy over the whole proceeding. It appropriately backs a post-breakup piece in which a woman sifts through the emotional clouds that still linger and pricks at the difficult sense of incompletion that dogs her as she obsesses, momentarily anyway, about an ex.

“It’s hard to pick favorites on records,” Pearce says, “but I do think that this is my favorite.”

That evaluation is easy to understand. The song is personal, its sound is unique, and its story has plenty of depth while still drawing from familiar country precedents. It does what the most successful commercial country songs do, ferreting out its own space in the genre while sounding like it fits instantly within a segment of the existing format.

“In country music,” co-writer Jordan Reynolds says (“Speechless,” “10,000 Hours”), “you can use a similar feeling and a similar device over and over again, because it’s just true.”

Reynolds hosted the writing session for “My Place” at his place, a studio in East Nashville, on Feb. 21, 2023. Pearce was scheduled to play the Grand Ole Opry that night, and the appointment started late, putting a certain amount of pressure on the writing trio, which included Concord Music Publishing signee Lauren Hungate. Fortunately, Hungate was ready for any worst-case scenario.

“I’m like a song doomsday prepper — I prep sometimes a month before the session,” she says. “I had prepped a bunch of ideas for her and sent them to my publisher, and my publisher picked ‘My Place.’ She was like, ‘I think this is your best one for it.’ And so that was the one I led with when I went in there. But I was so nervous that I had, like, five other ideas just in case.”

Hungate’s “My Place” idea emanated from her husband, who she characterizes as “super-super country.” She recalls a conversation when he took issue with something — “You know, baby, that ain’t your place” — and she thought “It ain’t my place” had song potential if it used a bit of wordplay.

Pearce, meanwhile, arrived at the appointment having recently dreamed that she had split with the man she was dating. As they talked about the breakup in the dream, Hungate presented her “My Place” idea, which included the hook and half the lyric for the first verse. Reynolds began playing a haunting passage, and Pearce came up with a syncopated verse melody.

Lyrically, that stanza walked a line between Rhett Akins’ “That Ain’t My Truck” and Toby Keith’s “Who’s That Man,” noting a series of items on the outside of her ex’s house with a “that ain’t my…” lead-in, while recognizing that someone else has taken her place. The melody took a turn at the chorus with the phrases landing more on the beat.

“It ain’t my place/ To question if there’s someone filling my space,” it went, with that second line leading the listener to think of the social media site Myspace, which is an “ex” in its own way. “Trust me,” Pearce says, “we were like, ‘Well, we just got to say it. We got to do it.’ ”

In verse two, the singer’s drive-by goes inside — first imagining a few items inside the house, then projecting into her ex’s mind.

“You’re questioning, you’re battling these insecurities of all the ‘what ifs’ and the realization that this person has moved on,” Pearce says. “Does he ever think of you? And what does she look like? And what do they talk about? It’s just kind of that laundry list of all these really vulnerable insecurities that go along with somebody moving on.”

After the second chorus, they slipped in a bridge, pondering whether the new woman is enough to erase the singer entirely from the guy’s memory. “I think we wanted one more angle to twist it [and] dig the knife in just a little bit deeper,” Hungate says. “That’s another question that you don’t get to answer, just another painful thing.”

It speaks to the deepest pain of rejection. Making a difference is one of the strongest motivations most people experience. To disappear from his mind is to make zero impact. “You don’t want to be forgotten,” Pearce says. “You do want to matter.”

Reynolds built a significant part of the demo before the two women left, and he came up with 16th notes on a resonator guitar as a means of creating some movement in the song. But the effect also created a contrast with the legato melody. “You’re still thinking about the voice, but it keeps the verse really interesting,” Reynolds says. “There’s space in it, but it’s like there’s two voices kind of talking to each other.”

When Pearce met with co-producers Shane McAnally (Old Dominion, Kacey Musgraves) and Josh Osborne (Midland) for preproduction, she insisted on framing the final recording around the arrangement that Reynolds had developed.

“It reminded me of Lee Ann Womack-y type of stuff, and I was like, ‘Nobody ruin this, because this is such an interesting time signature and interesting thing that we’ve got going on,’ ” Pearce remembers. “I didn’t want it to get too big. I wanted it to live in the world that it lives in.”

Dobro player Josh Matheny and fiddler Jenee Fleenor shaded the track primarily with long notes, many suspended at the end of phrases without resolution. Other instruments pop out with a note here or there, lending more color to the sound without creating further weight. Osborne provided harmony during overdubs, enhancing the bite and lonesomeness in the lyrics.

“He covered such a special part,” Pearce says. “It felt almost like what Don Henley did for Trisha Yearwood on ‘Walkaway Joe.’ It’s not overcomplicated.”

Pearce’s collaboration with Chris Stapleton, “We Don’t Fight Anymore,” remains the radio-focused single and is ranked at No. 17 on the Country Airplay chart. But “My place” provides an extra hint at the quality of her next Big Machine album, hummingbird, due June 14. And after seeing the reaction from the handful of times she has played it live, “My Place” is considered a potential future single as well.

“I think it has that kind of universal appeal — we’ve all been there,” Pearce says of “My Place.” “As a songwriter, there’s nothing I could possibly hope for more than to give people a song and watch them react so positively. This is such a special song, and I am just so excited to have it out and see where it goes.” 

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