Interview: Aymen of Holy Pinto Talks Their New EP and Selling Shirts Across America

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Taco Bell, Italian pop music, and foretelling Christmas cards: I got to chat with Aymen from Canterbury’s Holy Pinto about his experiences being a traveling t-shirt salesman, aka a touring musician, and the songs that go along with it. Covering love, fear, and Amanda Palmer was a damn good time. If you’re looking for a rock pop EP with summer vibes and intelligent lyricism, find yourself a great time with Holy Pinto’s Tales from the Traveling T-Shirt Salesman, streaming now.

The record title is encompassing. What made you choose “traveling t-shirt salesman” as a proper metaphor for yourself represented in the record?

I first heard that expression when Amanda Palmer referred to being a musician as feeling like a glorified t-shirt salesperson, or something to that effect! She’s absolutely spot on – merch sales are the lifeblood of a small touring band! I always loved the Belle and Sebastian song title “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner” and I thought that was a really smart and interesting concept that I wanted to explore. I feel like “Travelling T-Shirt Salesman” is my version of that.

I’ve since become pretty fascinated with alternative, travelling-for-work and being away from home lifestyles like pilots/aircraft workers, truck drivers and the like. I love when I get to meet and talk to people who do that kind of stuff, mainly because of the parallels with what I’ve devoted much of my recent life to doing.

“Fragile courage, fleeting love, cyclical fears, and endless nicotine”. I love how you presented themes right in the EP name. What led to this decision?

I realised that a lot of my songs are about love, distance and fears, so I thought it might be fun to include a little blurb in the EP title. I always crowbar stuff about smoking into the songs, at first it was just a silly thing that I’d do to wind-up my old drummer Ryan – he was like, “For God’s sake you’re singing about smoking again”, but at this point – I very often stop and start smoking on tour. At the moment one of my friends turned me on to nicotine gum and I’ve been chewing it on long drives, haha.

I spend so much of my life consuming it, much like many people do coffee, and I guess it’s a big part of my life, sadly? There’s a verse about quitting smoking in “Gold Leaf” so it made sense to me to include it.

How would you say this EP is different from your debut record?

I feel like I can sing a bit better! I was so uncomfortable on that first record but I really, really enjoyed doing singing on this one! I definitely let myself do more guitar riffs and make the music a bit more dynamic, rather than just ploughing through a bunch of chords. I think the songs are a bit of a step up too.

What was the most challenging song to complete on the EP?

I’d say getting the vibe to the verse of “Gold Leaf”. At first it sounded really punk and fast, and we spent a long time working out a way to capture a breezy vibe. Credit to Ryan there!

Also “Bitter Enemies” took me a while to piece together – I had the craziest amount of lyrics and little pieces of music for that song and had to spend ages condensing it. It was also the one Holy Pinto song that Ryan doesn’t drum on, so it was weird for me trying to work out the parts whilst in the studio.

Who/what would you say you’re proving missing a significant other’s touch to in “Gold Leaf”? The significant other, yourself, or the promise of a relationship working while being a traveling t-shirt salesman/touring musician?

The significant other, I think. I guess it’s about feeling bad for being away, and trying to outwardly show that you care and are sorry. I found this line “I still love your music, but you go away too much” on an old Christmas card I got when I was a young teenager. It’s kind of crazy to think that someone thought I went away a lot back then…. I have totally turned the dial up to 11 in my young adulthood.

In “Bitter Enemies”, you explain driving to old Italian pop songs. Did these songs influence the musicality of the record?

This EP has a couple of Latin influences but not Italian pop songs. For example “Bitter Enemies” verse meant to mimic the Cumbia groove. Although, there’s one song – it’s on the album to be released next year – that directly musically references an Italian song I love though! So, with the time lag, yes it’s had an influence.

Last year, I ended up down the rabbit hole of listening to some old Italian pop music because one of my musical idols Erlend Øye moved to Sicily and started doing a bunch of great Italian song covers. I love some of the chord progressions and colourful melodies in some of those songs.

“Salt” is probably my favorite track because I love metaphoric lyrics and the electric guitars pulsing through the song are fantastic. Can you take me through what inspired it?

Thank you so much! It’s a song about an old friendship and nostalgia for those ever-so-romanticised “times when life was simpler.” The end of the song returns back to the present and reflects a few years later when you have a new perspective. A few years ago I actually got coaxed into skydiving and jumping out of a plane, and the endorphins from that gave me a massive victorious “I made it through all this bullshit!” feeling as I was dangling in the air looking down at the world. It was amazing. That section starts with a lyric about that and frames the new perspective.

I wrote the guitar riff in the car when I was completely broken after a nearly-continuous solo drive from Austin TX to Las Vegas. I didn’t have any inhibitions I guess and just started shredding a little, haha. I’ve definitely let myself start playing more guitar. Thank you for the compliment!

Is there a track you feel encompasses most or all of the album themes, or are they all very specific to one theme?

I think “Gold Leaf” ticks the boxes on that – Love, travel, nicotine and the whole bunch. It’s probably my favourite song on the EP, too. The songs kind of dip in and out of the themes at different times rather than being specific to each song, though.

Best/worst aspects of American food on tour.

Something very unexpected, I’ve completely fallen in love with buffalo wings. It’s something America does SO well. With food on tour, the US is actually great for this. There’s loads of good (or crappy) fast food outlets that are open 24 hours and it’s strangely exciting to see those signs displaying the options on the highway. Even if you’re eating junk food, you can cycle between the different types and not get too sick of anything in particular.

We were on Taco Bell’s “Feed the Beat” last year and that was pretty much the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I do love Taco Bell. Pretty much the UK’s only 24 hour food option is McDonalds and it’s pretty damn easy to get sick of that.

Lastly, do you think you’ll always describe being a touring musician as being a traveling t-shirt salesman, or can you foresee this description being long lasting?

I reckon it always will be! Amanda Palmer is really successful and still sees it as such. Merchandising is just such a large part of a musician’s earning. I presume at all levels. For small bands, when you have no show money guarantees or anything, it makes all the difference though.

Tales from the Travelling T​-​Shirt Salesman is out now and can be purchased now on Holy Pinto’s Bandcamp.

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Kayla Carmichael // @kaylacarmicheal 

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