by Sayaka Matsuoka
Pentley Holmes grew up in a family that focused on sports—particularly boxing—more than talking. He says he was the weird one out, and still kind of is.
“I was always more outwardly emotional and I think that’s why I’m able to play music,” Holmes says. “That’s why they would think I’m weird.”
Holmes is the nephew of the heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, who held the WBC heavyweight title from 1978-83. His left jab was legendary and he’s one of only five boxers ever to defeat Muhammad Ali.
But Pentley, who is soft spoken and shiftily avoids eye contact as he speaks, doesn’t seem like the fighting type. He says he used to experiment by coloring his hair red and blond and people used to call him gay. He sips a cup of tea as he reminisces at the Green Bean in downtown Greensboro, just a few hours before his July 12 show at Little Brother Brewing across the street. He’s reserved but smiles as he talks.
“I knew from a young age that I could become something great if wanted to,” Holmes says. “I grew up knowing that my uncle didn’t even graduate high school and he made it to a point where everyone in the world knows his name. I’ve always known that I can do it too.”
The musician’s stop in Greensboro was part of a seven-state tour spanning from New Jersey down to Atlanta. He’ll be circling back to North Carolina with stops in Charlotte later this month and Raleigh in early August.
During his set, framed by matte-black windows in the front of the brewery, Holmes closes his eyes and rocks back and forth as he strums his guitar. He mixes a few fan favorites by Hozier, Weezer and Johnny Cash in with his original repertoire.
His voice undulates as he plays and ends with a bit of twang that sounds like he could have been raised in the South instead of in New Jersey.
Find tour dates, music and more at pentleyholmes.com.
Nevertheless, Holmes’ palatable combination of folk, pop and soul is the perfect complement to a musty, summer Carolina night.
Copies of Holmes’ debut album, Rip Out My Heart, which shows a sketch of an adolescent Holmes on his knees and offering a bloody heart to a girl, lay splayed across the coffee table in front of his stool.
The drawing is reminiscent of something you might see on someone’s Tumblr or on a shirt at Spencer’s—it’s a bit emo, and that’s exactly what Holmes is going for.
“I used to be in the BMX scene and I listened to a lot of emo music,” Holmes says.
He says that bands like Taking Back Sunday, Modest Mouse and the Honorary Title heavily influenced and shaped the kind of music he makes today.
“I love old-school soul beats with emo apologetic lyrics,” he says.
Music, he says, has been a way for him to convey his innermost emotions.
“I journal every day,” says Holmes. “That’s my songwriting process; I write about everything.”
He says that writing down his thoughts, no matter how mundane they may seem, ends up fueling his music later.
“Lonely,” the first song on the album, was written using three pages of notes from his journal.
“You think you’re gonna try and call me again,” Holmes croons over soft chord progressions. “I showed you my heart and you stole it away… I know you’re lonely.”
And as the evening wears on, his quiet and awkward nature from earlier in the day gives way to a confident, warm musician.
Holmes has embraced and even found comfort in his weirdness. And in the end, isn’t that what we’re all after?