Carly Pearce likely won't forget about the last year of her 20s.
In September 2019, the country singer joined several artists in grieving the death of beloved music producer and songwriter Busbee, otherwise known as Michael James Ryan. And after much thought and consideration, Carly decided to end her marriage to fellow singer Michael Ray in June 2020. To top it all off, the coronavirus pandemic prevented the Kentucky native from doing what she loves most: performing in front of thousands of fans.
But through all the pain and disappointment came new songs that Carly is quick to describe as "honest, raw and strong." Her fans can now hear them thanks to the release of her seven-song collection, 29.
"I remember feeling like I was going to have to climb a mountain at the start of this project," Carly exclusively shared with E! News. "The first song I wrote for the project, I definitely was at the bottom of the mountain. But as I finished it and as I stand here today, I'm on the top of the mountain."
That trip, however, wasn't always a smooth ride. Busbee's death after a battle with Glioblastoma was a huge loss for Carly. After he helped discover her in 2015, the pair worked together on countless projects including the No. 1 hit, "Every Little Thing." As a way of coping with his passing, Carly wrote the track "Show Me Around."
"I think it gave me a perspective to look at death in a way that was more uplifting than anything I've heard," she shared. "He was such a pleasant person that people loved so much. He has three daughters under the age of 10 and I just wanted them to be able listen to something and feel like their dad was close to them."
As for her divorce from Michael, Carly couldn't help but address the defining moment in her life story. But instead of creating a bunch of songs strictly focused on heartbreak, the country singer set out to also offer sounds about hope and healing.
"I went into this project accepting that this had happened to me, but I chose to look at it as a time for refinement instead of defining me," she recalled. "I think that you will hear in my music that if you are going through anything—yes, mine was a divorce—but you'll be able to find some light at the end of the tunnel with this music. Because I went through this, I'm better for it."
Throughout the ups and downs of life, Carly has been fortunate enough to receive support from her girlfriends in and out of Nashville. In fact, Karen Fairchild, Lindsay Ell and Kelsea Ballerini persuaded her to be open and honest in this latest body of work.
"I feel like those three really pushed me to take this as an opportunity to be a voice in things that people may not want to talk about," Carly explained. "When you're 29 and divorced, that certainly doesn't sound pretty. They really helped me to realize this was so much bigger in a good way than I could realize in the midst of it."
Today, the artist has reason to celebrate! At this weekend's 2021 ACM Awards, Carly is nominated for Female Artist of the Year and Single of the Year thanks to her collaboration with Lee Brice titled "I Hope You're Happy Now."
And through every personal lyric and song comes a lesson listeners may be able to hear. For Carly, she hopes her fans continue to see the positive in what life has to offer.
"We all struggle. Life doesn't always turn out the way we thought it would," Carly reflected. "But we all have hardships but it's what we do with those hardships. When you listen to this music, I hope it brings you hope that there is beauty in the hurt and beauty in the struggle. Dig deep and find it."
The 2021 ACM Awards air Sunday, April 18 at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Originally published Friday Feb. 19, 2021 at 5:00 a.m. PST