An introspective singer-songwriter, Riley Pearce often writes about his difficulty coping with change and his love-hate relationship with nostalgia. With family spread across the globe and his own stretches of living in a number of different cities, Riley’s lyrics reflect that all too human need for connection. His honest songwriting, and relatable storytelling has resonated both in Australia and overseas, with over 2.3 million monthly streams.
There’s an ease to the music Riley makes. That’s testament to how effortlessly he became a songwriter. Watching his Dad in cover bands inspired him to pick up the guitar. By 17, he was busking at local farmer’s markets—playing Dire Straits and Jack Johnson covers but sneaking in a few original folky compositions about what he saw around him or the relationships he had formed. “I loved the culture there because you’re playing and people are going about their day. So you appreciate it when people stop and listen,” he says. “There’s something nice about making the soundtrack to someone’s day.”
Riley attended the University of Western Australia, where he studied marketing and finance, then shifted to the music business, which inspired him to make even more original music. “My grades took a hit,” he says, laughing, “but I did graduate!” With that mix of talent and business acumen, early songs such as the gorgeously escapist “Brave” landed on influential music blogs, and pivotally, on Spotify. And that’s how he built his loyal grassroots following. “I’m always so amazed when I play a show, and someone is like, ‘I’ve driven three to four hours to see you play. Your music means so much to one person. It’s the most humbling and amazing thing. A little nugget of inspiration to keep me going.”
If the title of his debut album, The Water & The Rough, seems at once peaceful and restless, that is by design. It’s an unintentional concept album, if you will. Written before and during the pandemic, it possesses a depth of experience delivered through wafting melodies and quietly introspective lyrics. The first half is about an almost naive optimism for the future, while the second wrestles with the unforeseen obstacles that life throws at us.