Singer and songwriter Greg Holden has earned recognition as an independent artist for the past several years, though he is perhaps best known for writing the massive hit “Home” — the debut single for American Idol winner Phillip Phillips that sold five million tracks in the U.S. and earned Holden an ASCAP Pop Award. He’s also found success with “The Lost Boy” — a poetic rumination inspired by a Dave Eggers’ novel about a Sudanese refugee that hit No. 1 on iTunes in Holland and raised over $50,000 for the Red Cross. Within two weeks of being featured on Sons of Anarchy, “The Lost Boy” sold 30,000 downloads in the U.S. and debuted at No. 36 on Billboard’s Rock chart. Soon Holden will also be known for the passionate, purpose-driven rock songs on his major-label debut album, like the anthemic “Hold On Tight” and “Save Yourself.” Those songs, plus Holden’s powerful voice led Warner Bros. Records to sign the Scottish-born, England-bred, New York-based artist earlier this year. His future is wide open.
But Holden’s career almost didn’t happen. He nearly gave up on the music business altogether a few times over the course of the past few years. The first was after he spent a significant amount of his own money (in addition to $30,000 crowd-funded through Kickstarter) to make his Tony Berg-produced 2011 album I Don’t Believe You, watched his label go bust, and was left unable to promote it. The second was when he went into debt after “The Lost Boy” charted overseas and he set out on a sold-out tour of Holland. “I borrowed petrol money from my drummer so we could drive around Europe in his car,” Holden recalls. “That's how bad it was. I was driving to my sold-out shows thinking, ‘I'm coming off this tour and I'm giving this shit up. How can I afford to keep doing it?’ I was ready to call it a day.’”
Fortunately, “Home” became a success and Holden embarked on a life-changing, seven-week trip to India and Nepal in February 2013 that renewed his drive to be an artist. “The trip gave me a new perspective on how lucky I was, and the fact that I can make music for a living is a miracle,” Holden says. “I came home from India and wrote most of my new album almost immediately.” The chorus of the album’s first single “Hold On Tight” is as such: “I don't take my life for granted / I'm gonna hold on tight to what I've been handed.”
“My last album was brutally honest, but I was very much pointing the finger in the wrong direction,” Holden says. “I was projecting my problems onto everybody else. I guess I just realized that was not a good way to be. This new album is about looking at my own shit and realizing ‘I'm lucky. We're all lucky and we don’t know it and we should.’ I really want to make people think with my songs. I’d love for people to take on a more compassionate way of thinking and start considering others besides themselves, myself included.”
Given his thoughtful, inspired songwriting, it’s not surprising that Holden’s earliest musical influence was Bob Dylan. Holden was 17 and working at McDonald’s when one of the managers gave him four of Dylan’s albums thinking maybe Holden would like them. “When I heard his albums, I was like, ‘I want to do this,’ He just didn’t give a f**k. I loved how he rebelled. I always secretly wanted to rebel, but was too scared of being disciplined,” says Holden, who was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and spent his teenage years in Lancashire, England, raised by his mother and a “very strict” stepfather. “I started playing so I could write my own music,” he says. “I didn't learn covers or anything like that. I picked up a guitar and immediately began writing songs. As soon as I decided to write, I knew I wanted to do it for a living. It was about expressing myself because I never felt like I could in any other way.”
Holden’s path to the present found him moving to Brighton where he spent two years playing in a punk band, followed by two years in London after he decided to pursue a solo career. (He worked at the Apple Store “teaching old people how to send emails and cute girls how to use Facebook.”) Holden also made a handful of trips to New York City between 2007 and 2009, where he recorded his independently released album, 2009’s A Word in Edgeways. “The first time I came to New York it was like meeting a girl,” Holden says. “I was totally smitten and couldn't stop thinking about it.”
He has made the city his home since 2009 and its grittiness and urgency bleed into the songs he has written (either on his own, or with his co-writers Tofer Brown, Richard Harris, Garrison Starr, and Ace Enders) for his major-label debut, which is due from Warner Bros. Records in Spring 2015. Produced by Greg Wells (Adele, OneRepublic), the music is modern, yet timeless, brimming with tough, vibrant energy that thoroughly showcases Holden’s lean, literate songwriting.
“I want people to listen to this album and think, ‘Where the hell did this come from?’" Holden says. “I would love them to really pay attention to the words in these songs. I’m hoping that if they do, they will have some kind of meaningful reaction. That's what I would love.”