Written by Andrew Sheldon
for Lehigh Valley Marketplace
There’s always a moment of breathlessness when you meet someone and they tell you that they play music, as was the case when I met Pentley Holmes one summer outside of a now-defunct Easton music venue.
You see, once they say that, you have no choice but to ask if you can hear something—and that first listen is like the moment you decide to take a leap into a lake that you’re sure is colder than you can imagine. You press play and you plead to the fates, “Please don’t let this be horrible.”
When I got my hands on Pentley Holmes’ record, I pressed play, I pleaded, and a few moments later, I was rewarded with Rip Out My Heart. Recorded live in a studio, there’s a blend of soul-pop and folk-rock in his original material that feels singular to his voice—the culmination of a lifetime of varied influences. It’s the kind of album that makes you want to roll the windows down and drive along Route 611.
My first true experience with his music was seeing him perform with his band, The Lucid Dreamers, at Pearly Baker’s. A three-piece, Pentley oscillates between rhythm and lead guitar while his band manages a balance between a laid-back groove and completely cutting loose. Speaking with Pentley, it’s clear his music is a personal extension of himself. Even his speaking voice is slow and deliberate; he’s never in a hurry. I recently had the opportunity to sit with Pentley and talk about his relationship with music.
Last time I saw you, we were talking about the first show you ever went to, which was actually a performance by Bethlehem natives Slingshot Dakota. I know you’d already been making music at that point, but how did that change the way you thought about music?
It was the first time I’d actually seen live music. At that time in 2005, I was actually making rap beats. I had always known sampled sounds, but I’d never experienced them being created. Slingshot Dakota was the only band around with a woman, so I heard female vocals blending with male vocals and thought, “What is that?” I actually heard it before I saw it and so I went over and thought, “This is awesome.” It made me want to create
You started approaching music differently, but did it also change how you heard music?
It changed it a lot, actually. People grow up listening to a lot of the same music. For me, it was rap. I’d always wondered how sound was created and, once I figured it out, I wanted to start listening to actual bands.
I followed Slingshot Dakota for a while, which naturally led me to other kinds of music that were associated with the scene and helped me explore and figure out what kind of music and sounds I liked.
Talk me through the process of going from building beats from samples to writing music and melodies around chord progressions.
The thing with beats is that you can mess around all day and you’ll come up with cool stuff, so it was difficult. But the songs kind of write themselves over time. The whole process is like you’re just discovering the song.
So, tell me about the songs on Rip Out My Heart. There’s a sense that they all come from this place that’s informed by all the genres of music you’ve come to appreciate.
The album is about picking yourself up and getting back into the swing of things—a lot of it is about heartache. So, because the songs are really personal to me, they kind of wrote themselves. I never put an extended amount of effort into them because they needed to come out of me.
That’s really interesting because I know you recorded it live in a studio, so that immediacy is in the recordings, too. Is that something you did intentionally?
The band was actually playing lots of shows, so I’d bring them the songs as I wrote them. That actually gave me more inspiration to finish the songs. But the songs were well-rehearsed already, so we felt it was best to play them how they’re felt and heard. We tried to capture that.
Standing back and looking at the progress from your first EP to this record, what are your thoughts?
Well, I think it’s easy to see the music’s changed. When I first started, I was trying to be that singer-songwriter because I enjoy singing sad songs and I like that kind of music. It’s not because I want to be sad all the time, but you can really express certain emotions that way.
Now there are drums and bass, so there’s something that’s a little more upbeat.
That leads me to the question I’ve been waiting to ask. You describe yourself as “soul-pop and folk-rock” and I think that’s a perfect way to describe your sound. Where does that come from?
When I first started, I considered myself a folk artist. There’s still that influence in there now, but not as much. Then the band started doing soul covers like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, and I wanted to put a lot of that in there. That’s why soul comes first.
I think the soul comes from the way that I sing, but that’s just naturally how I sing. Even when I sing other people’s songs, I still put it in there. It’s been a change, but I’m excited to see where it goes.
Pentley’s album Rip Out My Heart by Pentley & the Lucid Dreamers is available to stream on Spotify and for purchase at pentleyholmes.com.