Coastal, Winter, & Driving: Riley Pearce’s Breathtaking Debut Album ‘The Water & The Rough’

Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang
Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang
Australian singer/songwriter Riley Pearce dives into his beautifully tender and intimately vulnerable debut album ‘The Water & The Rough,’ a breathtaking alt-folk record of raw human connection.
Stream: “The Water” – Riley Pearce

Both sides are gonna let you down, so put your faith in something real – something you can feel,” Riley Pearce sings in hushed tones at the very start of his debut album. It’s a bold way to start a conversation, but after nearly a decade in the music industry, Pearce is ready to put himself out there in a big way: To take risks, be brave, and share himself, his depths, and his world through song. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to find, but I guess I’ll find out,” he admits later on in the same track. “I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I’ll keep an eye out.” Beautifully tender and intimately vulnerable, Pearce’s The Water & The Rough is a breathtaking alt-folk record of raw human connection. It’s a collection of one man’s insights, observations, and reflections,  and yet it so effortlessly taps into the universality of the human experience.

Put your faith in something real,” Pearce sings. The unspoken park? Put your faith in me.

The Water & The Rough - Riley Pearce
The Water & The Rough – Riley Pearce
Both sides are gonna let you down
So put your faith in something real
Something you can feel
Everybody’s got a truth to shout
You’re gonna learn
Come on in and wait your turn
I can take you to the front door
I can show you the water
I can fill up the cup
But I can’t make you drink
I don’t know what I’m supposed to find
But I guess I’ll find out
I don’t know what I’m looking for
But I’ll keep an eye out
You, you’ve got it figured out
Tell me what’s your secret
I, I want to know where I stand
So I know how to keep it

Released June 10, 2022 via Nettwerk Music Group, The Water & The Rough is a majestic and sweeping record of soul-stirring emotion and sonic wonder. It’s a very long time coming for Australian singer/songwriter Riley Pearce, who’s been on our radar for the better part of the past ten years. “The haunting soundscape Pearce has managed to produce reflects and supports the dream of many: To be brave,” Atwood Magazine‘s Hannah Maire wrote of the artist’s 2015 breakout single, “Brave.” “This song has the potential to deeply resonate with anyone who has lost or fears losing a loved one.”

While “Brave” was not the artist’s first release or formal introduction (2013’s debut EP We Are Fools is no longer available on most streaming platforms, but its title track is still accessible on SoundCloud), the song captures so much of what fans have come to love about Pearce’s artistry over the ensuing years: A heartfelt passion and radiant acoustic warmth that permeated each of his five EPs, and now resonates more than ever throughout The Water & The Rough.

Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang
Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang

Needless to say, Pearce’s debut LP is a long time coming. “The album was largely written over a year spent in Melbourne in 2020,” he tells Atwood Magazine. “My partner and I moved from the other side of Australia, and it was a move we’d spent a long time building up. For me it was a chance to be in the heart of the Australian music scene and really try to be part of where all that creativity thrives. Obviously with the pandemic, that plan got derailed a bit, but we spent a locked-down year in Melbourne and this album is about the build up and jumping wholeheartedly at the dream for all these realisations to come from the new changes in circumstances.”

“My vision 100% changed over the course of recording the record,” he adds. “I had written about 50 songs in 2020 and then that got trimmed to 25, maybe 15 made it into the studio and then it got cut to 12. It probably wasn’t until the halfway point of our two weeks recording the album that the vision really popped. My partner was pregnant and had her 12 week scan on the weekend in the middle of our recording. I drove back up from Margaret River for it, listening to how the songs were sitting and trying to piece it all together better in my mind. There were 3 songs that I absolutely loved but just took the story of the album in a different direction, so I had to make the decision to cut them out – who knows, they might make it to your ears one day, but that was such a positive turning point for the record.”

“This is the most intentional and cohesive body of work I’ve put together. It’s got a bit of everything I try to put into my songwriting. A lot of real intimate songs, some super raw tracks, and other more uplifting full band feel songs. I had a song titled ‘The Water’ already and a lyric in the song ‘Stone on Stone,’ ‘when the water hits the rough,’ so it stemmed from that. After the album revealed that it told its story in two halves and pairing that with the rough surf coast wild winter nature of where we recorded, the title fitted so perfectly.”

When I’m out there, I hear it calling
Pulling me forwards towards it
What am I hoping to see
A man that I’m hoping to be
Breathe in, breathe out
If I don’t catch it now
I might not get another chance
Do what you can just to keep moving
You gotta do what you can
Just to keep moving

Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang
Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang

In premiering his 2021 EP Love and All That Stuff, Atwood Magazine praised Pearce for his genuine and raw performance: “The artist has always poured his full self into his art – and like some kind of fine wine, he’s only getting better with age.”

The same can certainly be said of The Water & The Rough, which explores not only Pearce’s personal growth during a time of turbulence and change, but also his (and in turn, our) relationship with oneself and with one’s surroundings. From the smoldering, transformative title track “The Water” and its atmospheric, expansive, and emotive counterpart “The Rough,” to beautifully sweet standout tracks like “Keep Moving” and “Us,” to touching narratives like “8 Hour Drive” and “Nostalgia,” Pearce’s debut album is a welcome space into which all may come and dwell awhile, resting in its hopeful, optimistic outlooks and its gentle ebbs and flows.

The song “Furniture,” previously featured as one of Atwood’s Editor’s Picks, is an appreciation of that deepest kind of love: An intimacy that goes beyond anything that words or actions can convey. It’s the love you feel from being together in one another’s presence, without lifting a finger or saying a word. It’s the love you build over a lifetime together. “Don’t I know you, swear I’ve seen you every day this week,” Pearce sings. “I remember: You’re that girl that kisses me to sleep. Fancy seeing you around these parts…” From his beautiful words to his stirring music, Riley Pearce wears that longform love like a big, enveloping hug in a moment of tender, tranquil serenity.

“I’m incredibly proud of the whole thing, and it brings back some amazing memories every time I listen back,” Pearce beams, ultimately highlighting the final track, the duet “Call It” featuring Jacob Wylde as a personal favorite “because it was a live track and really captured a specific moment… it always feels special to me.” He further cites a line from “Us” as one of his favorite lyrics: “I’d like to think I would’ve turned around, any minute now, but I didn’t.

You were there all blue
I get swallowed in the things I do
I couldn’t see it
I’d like to think I would’ve turned around
Any minute now
But I didn’t
I have no telegraphic tendencies
I live in my mind
I live in my mind
A little to blind to codependencies
I left you behind
I left you behind
It’s not you and me
It’s us
I need to remind too much
It’s not you and me
It’s us
I need to remind too much

Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang
Riley Pearce © Cedric Tang

The Water & The Rough is a magnificent album of raw alt-folk warmth and intimate connection.

A moving body of work in itself, Pearce’s debut also sees his own talents realized to a greater extent than ever before – something his fans have been waiting for, for many years now. As far as full length albums are concerned, The Water & The Rough is an undeniable triumph.

“I hope listeners find little parts in the songs that resonate with whatever they’re going through in life,” Pearce shares. “I can never get too attached to the meanings I put on the songs. Once they get released it’s amazing to hear all the stories of how a song has connected with someone. That’s always my favourite part.”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Riley Pearce’s The Water & The Rough with Atwood Magazine as the singer/songwriter goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his debut album!

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:: stream/purchase The Water & The Rough here ::
Stream: ‘The Water & The Rough’ – Riley Pearce

:: Inside The Water & The Rough ::

The Water & The Rough - Riley Pearce

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“The Kindling” is an instrumental piece about the feeling before starting a big adventure, or something akin to a hike, the small fire that burns within you before setting off on an adventure, when your eyes are filled with a childlike wonder and sense of anticipation at all the possibilities of a new place and what could unfold.

The Water

The Water” is a summary of the entire album story and having big expectations for something for it to fall flat. It’s also very much about how it took me to move across the country in an attempt to be part of a music community and how everyone is trying to be part of something is only to realise that community is something you can build yourself around the values that you hold high and it doesn’t matter where in the world you are.

8 Hour Drive

The idea for “8 Hour Drive” came to life during late 2019, myself and Garrett Kato toured Europe & the UK for 6 weeks and the shows were a mixed bag of being amazing and truly inspiring and leaving us questioning why we played in that town. I was writing postcards back home to my fiancé and trying to “take her with me” as much as I could. It’s so incredible driving in Europe compared to Australia and all the different cultures you witness. Looking back on it now in a post pandemic world and it really has changed how I view that trip. It was such an amazing opportunity that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time now that I’m missing travel and shows. This track is a summary of my experience.

Walking Gold

“Walking Gold” is about how my partner is such an incredibly positive person, always bringing light into every room, and making people feel heard and loved, she’s such a great listener. Whenever I’m in a funk, she’s always able to bring me out of that space. I’m always trying to improve on different aspects of myself and she’s always there to help guide me and support me in everything I do.


“Cloudships” describes my love for the weather after a cold winter. Spring breathes new life into the world and on the first nice sunny day of spring, everyone emerges outside, everyone is in nature, everyone is happy and appreciative and soaking in the sunlight and seeing the world in a new light. It’s such a wonderful feeling and I tried to capture that in this song.


“Nostalgia” is about a camping trip I went on with my little brother back in 2019 when he visited Perth, he’s been in the UK for the past 5 years and we haven’t been able to see each other as much as we would’ve liked. We went up to Jurien Bay – a small fishing town a few hours north of Perth. We used to come up here for holidays as a family when we were kids but I hadn’t been there for at least 8+ years so all these memories flooded back. Jurien Bay is where I first started busking. I’d play songs at the local market and my little brother who would’ve been 5 at the time would sit on a seat holding my music in front of me and I’d buy him a packet of footy cards for his efforts.

The Rough

“The Rough” is about the rough lockdowns in Melbourne. It started to occur to me that a lot of what makes Melbourne such an incredible place to be was that it was such a lively place. I think COVID sucked a lot of its soul out of it, and did so to us both too. I know a lot of people had it pretty tough, a lot of people lost work (myself included), and this was just a song born out of frustration.

Keep Moving / Do What You Can

“Keep Moving” and “Do What You Can” is about when I found solace in running last year. We were only allowed outside for one of 4 reasons and running was basically the only exercise I could do. Often I’d go to basketball courts or workout in a gym it’s often a big part of my routine that helps me stay healthy and productive but with the lockdown I turned to running. I’ve never been a big runner but I found it really peaceful and I loved it, it was such a nice escape. I’d keep trying to beat my time, set little checkpoints and even run to songs at certain bpms to try to help, but then on other days I’d run with no music, no watch just for the love of it and to breathe in the cold air and see the view at the top of the hill.


“Furniture” discusses months of lockdown in a small apartment and how it can definitely bring out the best and worst in people or even still just turn you crazy. The days all blend together and your interactions with one another grow weirder and weirder. You have your own way of talking to each other, own sense of humour and it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just strange and this song is more an observation of what life was like in that absurd time for us and spending so much time in that apartment we were becoming part of the furniture so to speak.

Stone on Stone

“Stone on Stone” describes when I spent a lot of time in 2020 having monthly talks with my old man over Zoom about all different aspects of his life to better understand him as a person. A lot of people always say we have a lot of similarities, some good – some bad. Lockdown was also great for self-reflecting, there weren’t as many distractions and nowhere to hide there’s nowhere to hide. The pandemic was a very trying time for a lot of people and it’s no doubt a real test of ones true character. Through chatting with Dad every month on these calls, dissecting his life, I was often wondering if when I get to his age that I’ll be as proud of the life I’ve lived and the morals I’ve held tightly to?


“Us” is all about putting someone else’s needs before your own. This song is the inverse of Walking Gold. I am so involved in my music sometimes I get tunnel vision at the detriment of my lovely fiancé Alex. Alex was miserable in Melbourne and it was a side of her I’d never seen. She’s usually such a spark that from the moment we moved there she had full time work and full time study all from home without ever getting a chance to make friends or make the city feel like home. I really regretted how I handled the situation initially, I definitely didn’t think about her nearly as much as I should’ve and this song is my realisation and apology for that.

Call It

“Call It” is about when I kept avoiding having the “let’s move back home” chat with Alex, I knew she was miserable here in Melbourne and wanted to move back home where her family and friends were. Her dad had just had his 70th and we had a little zoom dinner and wine with them and I couldn’t help but think, we should be there, who knows how much time her folks have left (morbid but the thought did cross my mind). It was inevitable and I have no doubt that, that was the right move for us to make. I remember both of us in tears as we talked it all through in what was a super honest chat between us both. As much as the whole move east felt like a failure and a flop, it was a serious character building exercise for us both and I like to think we’re definitely better off from it.

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:: stream/purchase The Water & The Rough here ::
Stream: ‘The Water & The Rough’ – Riley Pearce

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The Water & The Rough - Riley Pearce

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? © Cedric Tang

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