Carly Pearce wouldn't have bet on "Every Little Thing" being her breakout hit. In fact, she tried to stop it from happening.

The song, Pearce tells Taste of Country, best defines her artistry and holds a very special place in her heart. "But you're told in Nashville, especially as a female, that heartbreak ballads don't work and can't break somebody," she says.

"So when J.R. Schumann at SiriusXM the Highway chose it as a Highway Find (a new artist program), I fought him on it. I was like 'No, no, no, no ... this is a song that people are going to have to really be ...' — kind of the way I feel like 'The House That Build Me' was for Miranda (Lambert). She put that song out after she was established."

They call it the sacrificial single. It's this idea that you lead with something uptempo and mainstream and then hit them with the best song on the album. The Band Perry did it by releasing "Hip to My Heart" before "If I Die Young." Cam released an uptempo song before "Burning House" became a hit. It's just an unstated rule that radio is slow to take a chance on a ballad from a new female, no matter how strong the song.

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In so many ways Pearce says she had to un-learn the rules to find commercial success in Nashville. She started as a performer at Dollywood at age 16 and moved to Nashville a few years later. Learning how to be a unique artist and not just a stage professional was among her first hard lessons. It was a long, agonizingly slow journey for the vocalist — one that she now understands she needed.

"For so long I felt like I needed to be 18, 19, 20 years old because that's what the entertainment industry tells you," Pearce says. "I'm 27 and feel like I absolutely am right on time. I feel like I needed to grow up. I needed to grow up as a songwriter. I needed to grow up as a singer, a performer. I needed to grow up as a woman."

The Every Little Thing album (Oct. 13) is a more complex, mature album than most from a debut artist. There's no bubblegum pop, although nothing is quite as raw and orchestral as "Every Little Thing." "If My Name Was Whiskey" is a ballad that aches. The song tells the story of a woman who is forever second best — something she knows both sides of well.

"I think there's probably three guys out there that I could have easily married and wanted me to but I couldn't, you know," she says. "Because I was too wrapped up (in her career)."

Every Little Thing is packed full of heartbreak songs, but each tastes a little different. "Hide the Wine," a song Pearce says will be her next single, is about taking precautions to avoid making the bad decision you're craving. "Doin' It Right" let's a guy know that if he's trying to torch their relationship, he's doing it right. The songs reflect the heartbreak she went through in her 20s. But she's unlearned those rules too, now saying she's optimistic about love.

"Oh yes, I very much am in love now!"

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