INTERVIEW: Riley Pearce

Interviewed by: Tom Munday
Image credit: Tanya Voltchanskaya

A friend of a friend…it’s certainly one of the more clichéd ways to begin any kind of conversation, let alone a conversation based article. However, just this time around, it’s entirely appropriate. For that is how I knew local heavyweight solo singer-songwriter Riley Pearce before this interview. We’d always chatted at the odd barbeque here and there, sharing small talk over recent events and career paths.

However, I knew I could engage with him beyond this somewhat-awkward-but-still-friendly barrier. Cutting out the middle men (mutual friends, in this case) interviewing this up-and-coming local-scene icon seemed like the perfect opportunity. But enough of that “small-world/Perth” stuff. Pearce – noticeable via brunette locks and wide smile – is steadily ascending up the ranks.

Coming straight for Chet Faker and Vance Joy’s levels of prowess, the twenty-something Dalkiethian is a WAM nominated indie-folk-pop muso – originating from Holland, Melbourne AND Perth – known for eclipsing the long, sunburnt stretch from Indi Bar to Fly by Night. The singer’s rise to prominence includes multiple solo and band performances, supporting Lisa Mitchell and Josh Pyke, debut EP We Are Fools, and latest single Roskie.

Late last year, Pearce became one of ten Grand Finalists in the Telstra Road to Discovery talent development program. The Music sums his stylings up best: “Listening to Riley Pearce is quite simply, relaxing. It’s like sailing on a summer’s day, going for a stroll in the park or eating Cadbury’s new dairy milk with Oreo Chocolate – mesmerising”

I, catching up over the phone, chatted with Pearce about his latest album; that which inspires, and the trials and tribulations of navigating the music scene as a youngster.

What was your first foray into music? When did you realise you wanted to pursue it as a career?

Well, my family was full of musicians. My dad played guitar and sung occasionally. Then, my uncle also played guitar, probably better than dad [laugh], and play in the odd band as well. That’s probably how I got introduced to it. I started guitar lessons in year 1 and then did that all through high school.

I probably realized I wanted to pursue it as a career after I left high school. I did a Commerce degree at UWA and played through that. I was starting to work on my music more. I was more interested in my music than I was my commerce degree so I decided that this was what I want to do and pursued that.

Who are your greatest musical influences? How do they factor in to your style?

Well, probably, Ben Howard is a massive influence on my music. I suppose I am naturally drawn to artists who play guitar and sing. I’m a massive fan of the Jezabels because I like the darker, more atmospheric way in which they write their music. I’m a big Coldplay fan, I just think they can’t go wrong with songs and I think Chris Martin is a great songwriter. Yeah, that would probably be mine.

You started out in your very early twenties, what were the recording and touring processes like at such a young age?

Well, the idea behind releasing a CD was because I had been doing a lot of busking and I wanted to give people something. I didn’t know about the whole recording process so I went into the studio and sort of left a lot of it up to the guy that was recording me because I really didn’t know anything about it.

It was pretty intimidating, in that regard, but its was also like a great learning experience. It’s pretty exciting when you start to see songs that you’ve written in your bedroom finally become something that you would be happy to hear on the radio and something a lot bigger in production.

What were the advantages and disadvantages of busking and songwriting early on?

One time, I might have been in ether Year 11 or 12, I was busking in Fremantle Markets. This guy came up to me with a harmonica and started playing alongside me and then afterwards he took out $5 from my case, thinking it was his share. He was only there for one song but I had become very intimidated by that. Luckily, all the other store holders were on my side and tried to get the guy back.

It is very intimidating, especially when you have to learn to take a “No” from people. I think a lot of the time people are so used to playing music and getting all the attention. In busking you sort of have to realise people aren’t there for you the are there for the day. You have to, rather than get angry at people who don’t look or don’t pay anything, just be happy when they do and be thankful when they do pay attention and when they enjoy your music.

You recently released your debut EP, We Are Fools, what was the process behind this album’s conception?

So that was the one I wanted to release just so I could give people something when I was busking and then turned into something a bit more than that. I started getting involved in the whole business side of music as well and getting interested in booking gigs, booking for a tour and everything behind that. Getting the EP up and running was basically deciding which four song I liked the most. I really wanted to make sure I had one which would be the driving track of the EP which ended up being We Are Fools.

You recently released your new single, Roskie, what influenced you to create this particular track?

I was over in Montana for six months on exchange and the song is pretty much that trip summed up. That name of the place I stayed in was called Roskie, that was the title of the building. So that’s what I decided to call the song in the end.

You’ve played many live shows over the past few years, what have been some of the highlights of your touring experience?

I really enjoyed doing the solo tour with Kim Churchill, which was a lot of fun because he’s just such an incredible musician. He plays solo, and plays drums, guitar, and mouth organ all at the same time. It was pretty impressive to see such a professional. I played a band gig supporting Lisa Mitchell and Josh Pyke. That was probably the first real big gig that I’d done. That was pretty exciting, like we got treated like we were stars. At the event they had a dressing room for us with food and drinks backstage. So that was pretty cool [laugh].

Pearce can be seen next at The Bakery on April 12th.

For more info, check out his website.