Aymen Saleh once was told to “start small and build from there.”
Taking that advice literally, Saleh — performing under the moniker Holy Pinto — traveled to Monowi, Nebraska, to perform an acoustic set at the Monowi Inn. With a population of one, there wasn’t a more appropriate place for this 28-year-old transplant from Canterbury, England, to “start small.”
Holy Pinto performs honest indie music driven by pop-punk and emo sentimentalities. It is the kind of upbeat, sing-along music that fits on an alternative radio station playlist but also plays well in a beer-soaked DIY punk basement.
Holy Pinto’s guitar riffs are catchy, the lyrics relatable and the vocals inviting.
Molded by Saleh’s experiences traveling abroad, the music reflects the internal conflict between the musician’s desire for a grounded life with normal relationships and his drive to tour and perform, which makes such a life difficult.
When Holy Pinto began performing in Canterbury, it was as half of a duo that included Saleh’s friend Ryan Hurley playing drums. During their years at the University of Manchester, they made the rounds touring England.
In 2015, Holy Pinto released the debut EP Stenography — four raw, catchy songs that laid the groundwork for the band’s indie-pop-punk sound.
A year later came Congratulations, the band’s debut full-length. The album caught the attention of Soft Speak Records, which exposed Holy Pinto’s music to U.S. fans. The producer also suggested the band make its way overseas to the United States.
Saleh and Hurley jumped at the chance. Saleh was excited to immerse himself in the American DIY music culture, which he says is significantly more active than the DIY scene in the United Kingdom.
“We don’t have basements in the U.K., just foundations on all of the houses, so no basement shows,” Saleh says.
After the debut’s release, followed by some touring, Hurley left the band for a more stable career path, although he later joined Saleh for certain shows and worked on recordings.
Saleh, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics, could have followed his friend, but he continued carrying the torch.
“There’s only one thing that can get me out of the bed in the morning, and that’s music,” Saleh says.
Left alone to shape the future of Holy Pinto, Saleh converted his van into a touring and living space by removing the back seats. He extensively toured the United States before making Texas his temporary home.
But soon, he felt restless.
“I was really bored and I’m not good at being alone,” Saleh says.
In Texas, he reconnected with two Milwaukee musicians he met while performing at a music festival in Florida. Erik Atwell and Alex Meylin of the Milwaukee rock band Telethon invited Saleh to stay with them at their home in Bay View.
Thanks to his familiarity with such Milwaukee bands as The Promise Ring and Maritime, Saleh envisioned the city as a place he could call home. So he happily accepted the offer.
He moved to Wisconsin in January — just in time to endure his first Wisconsin winter.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life,” Saleh says.
Now, with Milwaukee as his new home base, he plans to embark on multiple tours.
Currently, Saleh is touring Europe on a performance schedule created shortly after the June release of his latest EP, Tales from the Traveling T-Shirt Salesman. The EP, which was recorded in Manchester at Hidden Tracks Studio, features the single “Golden Leaf,” which Saleh paired with a music video shot during his intimate performance in Monowi. In the song, Saleh seems to be apologizing to an anonymous friend or lover about his selfishness and emotional distance — most likely a reference to his touring schedule.
Saleh has a full-length album ready for release, but he isn’t sure the time is right for the world to hear it.
The future, he admits, freaks him out a bit, but as long as he can release new music, travel the world and perform — even in front of just one person in Monowi, Nebraska — he’ll be happy.
“I just hope to grow a little bit with each release,” Saleh says. “I don’t expect the world.”