Riley Pearce: student musician on the rise

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

If you were pegging someone from the MSU student body to achieve musical success, Riley Pearce probably wouldn’t be your first choice, probably not your second choice, either. A transfer student from Perth, Australia, Pearce played his guitar with the wrong hand for two years before realizing he was holding it backwards. He has another setback as well: “I don’t know how to read music,” he admits, adding “that’s probably something I should learn.”

Despite the marks against him, Pearce could be on his way to bigger things.

Pearce is attending MSU for his final college semester in marketing and finance, but he doesn’t plan on heading to Wall Street after graduation. “I plan on devoting at least six months to music,” he said. The senior had already completed the necessary requirements for graduation from his major and only needed a few last elective spots to reach his credit total, leaving him a relatively easy semester to focus on music. “I wanted to use it [the semester] as time to write songs,” he said.

If his musical performing career doesn’t take off, Pearce plans to seek a career in the music industry. So far, however, things have been going well for him as an artist. “It’s good to have that business side” as a backup plan, he said, but it is also more directly applicable as a musician, as he believes what he has learned in business classes has helped him in the musical world: “It helps with marketing, helping me get better gigs.” Despite the usefulness of his degree, he would still like to get a manager and booking agent when he graduates, hoping to spend less time trying to book shows and worrying about his finances, allowing more time for songwriting and practice.

The self-described folk/roots artist released a self-financed EP titled “We Are Fools” last June in Australia, which attracted enough attention to get him a bit of radio play. While he has yet to replicate that success in the United States, he has been well received at his many shows around Bozeman. Ron Gompertz, the owner and musical director at Wild Joe’s Coffeehouse, knew he would ask Pearce back for another show early into Pearce’s first show there, after seeing how quickly the crowd responded to his songs. He has several more shows scheduled around town in the near future, as well.

Much of Pearce’s music is influenced by what he listens to. “Ben Howard is a monster influence [on my music],” he says. Of Monsters and Men and Kings of Leon are some of his other favorites which can be heard influencing his own songs. Pearce is more than simply a regurgitator, however. “I’m a massive Jay-Z fan as well,” he said, which you wouldn’t know from listening to his work.

Pearce only plays the guitar at the moment but has big plans for the future. He recently posted a video of himself on his Facebook page, holding the guitar flat across his lap instead of the more traditional pose. This style of playing can make it easier to play with by picking, instead of strumming. Pearce also plans to teach himself how to play the piano and drums, which would make him more useful if he joined or formed a band.

Playing a wider range of instruments will also help Pearce later this year, when he plans to begin recording a second solo EP.

With one EP already released, a second one on the way, some radio play behind him and good gigs in the future, the sky could be the limit for Riley Pearce.

Riley Pearce is on Facebook at, where he regularly posts about upcoming shows, and his EP “We Are Fools” can be found on iTunes. Pearce will be performing at Norris Hot Springs on March 21st and an encore at Wild Joe’s Coffeehouse on April 19.