Greg Holden moved from London to New York in 2009. Already trying a recording career, he hadn’t achieved the success to which he aspired. So he deliberately scared himself.
“I’ve always had this thing where I’ve needed to scare the crap out of myself to accomplish something,” said Holden. “And New York is the scariest city in the world.”
Soon after, he released A Word in Edgeways, which benefited from some licensing (the track “Choking on the Concrete” was used in the series Private Practice), but it wasn’t until 2012 that people really began to know Holden’s work — whether they knew it or not.
He penned the track “Home” for American Idol Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips. The tune became the best-selling single for an American Idol alum, moving over five million units. Meanwhile, he was crowdsourcing his own sophomore American effort, I Don’t Believe You. Still, he hadn’t scaled the heights that he hoped to climb.
“I hit a bit of a wall in my career three years ago,” he said. “I didn’t know why I was doing it anymore. I took some time off and went to India. I climbed the Himalayas and, as cliché as it sounds, it gave me a whole new perspective. I was taking life for granted, and I didn’t realize how lucky I was that I lived in a country where I could get clean water and food.”
The result was the AAA hit “Hold on Tight,” the first single from 2015’s Chase the Sun. The song is wholly positive, but its beat borders on aggressive, a sound reminiscent of another European singer-songwriter, Frank Turner. Punk rock influenced a generation of 30-something European singer-songwriters the way that it did stateside, but its European presence is more conspicuous.
“I was in hardcore bands as a teenager,” Holden said. “I never wanted to be a typical singer-songwriter. I wanted anger. Passion. I don’t like many songs that don’t have that. Or any.”
Ingrid Michaelson had nearly as much influence on Holden’s rise as that trip to India. She took a younger, greener Holden on his first U.S. tour upon the release of Edgeways.
Michaelson “took me around the country and I had never left New York,” he said. “She introduced me to people and to lots of fans that didn’t know me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to tap into that. I should have immediately done a solo tour after that one. It’s one of my biggest regrets.”
Chase the Sun is his major label debut. With Warner Brothers behind him, he now has the support that he needs to gain the traction that he’s sought for the last seven years in America.
“Before, my manager and I were filling the roles of booking, publicity, A&R,” he said. “So the pressure has been lifted on doing the work, but I also feel like the pressure is on because I have a whole team to do it for now. I’m no longer just doing this for myself.”
Holden’s second single, also seeing heavy AAA rotation — surprisingly, in the conservative South — is “Boys in the Street.” The song is a coming-of-age tale of a gay boy struggling to live with his father’s disappointment in his sexuality and how the relationship matures.
And while the song is portrayed as personal, Holden isn’t gay.
“I know a lot of people in my life that have gone through those struggles,” he said. “And I had a hard time with my stepfather growing up. I wanted the song to be about that subject, but with my struggle. [My stepfather and I] didn’t get along. We never saw eye-to-eye… So that was easy to tap into.”
It took seven years, but Holden has a full support system from a major label, he has a home in America (he’s moving to Los Angeles after this tour) and he has begun scaling the peaks that he came here to climb.
Greg Holden opens for Jukebox the Ghost at Saturn on Friday, January 22. Doors open at 8 p.m.; the show begins at 9 p.m. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.