Singer and songwriter Greg Holden has made a name for himself as an independent artist for the past several years, releasing two albums, 2009’s A Word in Edgeways and 2011’s I Don’t Believe You. His song “The Lost Boy” — a poetic rumination inspired by a Dave Eggers’ novel about a Sudanese refugee — 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. Holden also earned recognition 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.
Soon the Scottish-born, England-bred, New York-based artist will also be known for the passionate, purpose-driven rock songs on his major-label debut album, Chase The Sun, due in the spring of 2015 from Warner Bros. Records. Produced by Greg Wells (Adele, OneRepublic), with songs Holden wrote either on his own, or with co-writers Tofer Brown, Richard Harris, Garrison Starr, and Ace Enders, the music sounds modern, yet timeless. With a back-to-basics approach, it brims with tough, vibrant energy that thoroughly showcases Holden’s lean, literate songwriting.
Much of Chase The Sun was inspired by a life-changing, seven-week trip that Holden took to India and Nepal in February 2013 that renewed his drive to be an artist. He had nearly given up on the music business altogether a few times. The first was after Holden spent a significant amount of his own money (in addition to $30,000 crowd-funded through Kickstarter) to make the Tony Berg-produced 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.’”
Holden’s trip gave him a new perspective. “The fact that I can make music for a living is a miracle,” he says. “I saw a lot of poverty in India. I travelled through the northern State of Bihar, which is the poorest region in the country. It was devastating, but incredibly inspiring. I came back home with such a different view on life.” Upon his return, Holden began to write the songs that appear on Chase The Sun, including the first single, “Hold On Tight,” which contains the following chorus: “I don’t take my life for granted /
I’m gonna hold on tight to what I’ve been handed.”
“’Hold On Tight” was sort of the driving force for this album,” he says. “It was the first song where I felt like I finally knew where the record was going. It’s about looking at life as something we should feel grateful for, not be complaining about. My last album was brutally honest, but I was very much pointing the finger in the wrong direction and projecting my problems onto everybody else, and I realized that was not a good way to be. Chase The Sun is about looking at my own shit and realizing how lucky I am, how lucky we all are.’ I really want to people to think when they listen to my songs, maybe take on a more compassionate way of thinking, and start considering others besides themselves. That goes for me, too.”
Along those lines, Holden examines the impact of materialism on several of the album’s tracks, though from different angles. On “Give It Away,” he encourages his listeners to stop worrying about possessions as well as things beyond their control in a sincere way, whereas “Wonderful World” takes a more sardonic tone when he sings: “What a wonderful world that we live in / Now that everybody’s getting rich / If it’s a wonderful world that we live in / Then why is everybody getting sick.” “It’s about the way I see the world when I’m in a shit mood,” he says. “I think reality TV and documentaries about the food industry were major inspirations for its message,” he says. “It’s a sarcastic celebration.”
While the album’s title refers to chasing something positive and staying focused on moving forward, the album track “Go Chase The Sun” is a song about feeling left behind. “It’s about feeling as though there’s this club you don’t really want to be in, but all your friends joined it, and now you’re standing outside smoking a cigarette waiting for them to finish for the day and come drink with you,” he says.
On an album full of memorable songs, perhaps the most poignant is “Boys In The Street,” which Holden originally wrote for a compilation album being released by the LGBTQ organization Everyone Is Gay. “The instruction was to write ‘the gayest song ever,’ but I don’t really write happy, upbeat songs, I just can’t do it, so I wrote about a father and son who didn’t see eye to eye. The story explores the father’s lack of understanding towards his son’s sexuality. There is no bad guy, and no finger pointing. It’s a story with a message that I felt compelled to write about. When Greg Wells heard it, he said, ‘We have to put it on the album.’ I didn’t even know if it was good, but everyone who heard it cried.”
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 Dylan, I was struck by how little he gave a fuck. I loved the rebellious attitude in his lyrics. I always wanted to rebel, but the fear of discipline at home was always looming over me,” 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. 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 debut 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 Chase The Sun. “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.”