Inspiration, Evolution, & “The Power Shift”: An Interview with Greg Holden

Greg Holden’s inspiring anthem “The Power Shift” rises above the politics of the moment to deliver a catchy, upbeat, and meaningful message of hope and change.

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Keep moving forward now; let the people going backwards find their own way out.

Like so many millions of Americans in November 2016, Greg Holden bore witness to a seismic power shift in the nation’s leadership. The election of Donald J. Trump to the country’s highest office is a critical moment in history, and one whose impacts will be felt for generations to come.

I can hear the engine screaming,
but it is way down the road

I’m not gonna sit here and wait
for someone to guide me home

The lights burned out / it is dark out here
Something is going on
But in the end I know I’m not alone
There are millions of us, down in this rabbit hole
Millions of us, losing our self-control
Millions of us, with nowhere else to go
The Power Shift - Greg Holden

The Power Shift – Greg Holden

But Greg Holden’s “The Power Shift” isn’t about the rise of Trump, his supporters, or the alt-right. Rather, it’s about the tidal wave of activism that’s already begun to sweep the United States and beyond; it’s about fighting for equality and empowerment, and having the courage to stand up for what you believe in – even if it feels, at times, like a lost cause. A fiercely resounding call-to-action, Greg Holden’s inspiring anthem “The Power Shift” rises above the politics of the moment to deliver a catchy, upbeat, and meaningful message of hope and change.

(So) Keep moving forward now
Let the people going backwards
find their own way out

Keep looking up my friends
Let the people looking down
on you never forget

Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering Greg Holden’s music video for “The Power Shift” (directed by Gavin Michael Booth), Holden’s dynamic second single of 2018. The Los Angeles-based, British-born artist made an emphatic return with the release of his song “On the Run” earlier this year: At the time, Atwood Magazine declared it “an instant classic,” describing “On the Run” as “an intimate and vibing power-ballad bursting with heartfelt passion and cinematic energy.” In addition to being Holden’s first original music since 2015’s Chase the Sun (Warner Bros. Records), “On the Run” also found him independent of a record label and openly exploring new sounds, styles, and textures. Traditionally a singer/songwriter, Greg Holden is best known for heartwrenching acoustic ballads like “The Lost Boy” and “Boys in the Street,” the latter of which recounts the rocky relationship between an LGBTQ+ son and his father. Holden also co-wrote American Idol winner Phillip Phillips’ 2012 debut and hit single, “Home.”

Greg Holden © 2018

Greg Holden © 2018

Today, Greg Holden is establishing himself as a voice of change in America and beyond – intentionally, or not. Written last year, “The Power Shift” observes the isolation with which so many people experience their oppression, going on to invite listeners to join one another through their common bonds and work together to build a more perfect union. Holden sings passionately in the chorus:

We see your bullshit, all of it
I hope you’re ready for the power shift
We see your bullshit, all of it
I hope you’re ready for the power shift

“I think it’s important that when someone is lying to you, you call them out,” Holden recently reflected. “I was getting tired of screaming into the social media echo chamber and really wanted to put my frustrations into a song that wasn’t so toxic. I’m under no illusion that this is just a song, but it’s better than a tweet.”

Directed by Gavin Michael Booth, “The Power Shift” music video turns words into action: We watch a concerned citizen transition from writing and reading articles online, to reaching out with likeminded activists, connecting with them in person, engaging in discussion, and cultivating plans to facilitate change on a larger scale. There are many ways to start a movement, but everything starts and ends with individuals and ideas: To quote American civil rights activist Medgar Evers, “You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” If you have a vision for a better world, and people come to share that vision with you, then the vision takes on a life of its own – and it can spread like wildfire.

Greg Holden’s “The Power Shift” is a sterling reminder to be active and engaged in your country’s ongoing dialogue; to stand up not only for yourself, but also for your neighbors. Holden’s cuts to our deepest human core, motivating us with an inspired rallying cry. Stream “The Power Shift” exclusively on Atwood Magazine, and dive deep into Greg Holden’s musical resurgence with our interview below!

American citizens: You can register to vote, find out if you are registered to vote, get an absentee ballot, and more at vote.org (more info below)

:: purchase The Power Shift here ::
Stream: “The Power Shift” – Greg Holden

A CONVERSATION WITH GREG HOLDEN

Atwood Magazine: Hey Greg, it’s been a while since we last spoke! Last time we met was a few years ago over wine at the W Hotel downtown. That was fun.

Greg Holden: I remember, yeah! It was fun – I drank a little too much; got a little too loose.

We had a good conversation though as a result. So to start things off today, I want to quickly look back at your last release, 2015’s Chase the Sun. Have you had time to reflect on that album? With the benefit of time, how do you look back on it, and on that period in your life?

Holden: I don’t really look back on it, but I think it’s still a good record. I’m a little bummed that it didn’t do better than it did. That’s okay; that’s how it works… I mean, it was a cool experience. It was a good record; I toured a lot on it, and I feel good about it. I mean, I don’t own it anymore – it’s Warner Brothers’ album now, not mine – which bums me out – but that’s the nature of the business. I still love playing the songs live, and people still connect to them. I’m very proud of it. It was a chapter of my life which has now passed.

Chase The Sun - Greg Holden

Chase The Sun – Greg Holden

I remember you saying that this was the one that felt really like your debut - like you had fully found your voice. And you’ve had to find a new voice now.

Holden: I think I’ll probably be saying that for the rest of my career: No, this is the first album! No, this is the first album! And I think that’s just the way it works, because hopefully you always evolve and you keep making new music and new sounds. I think you always feel more confident about the one that you just did; the old one is the old one. It’s human nature. As a writer, you probably get better every time you do it – and so you’re more proud of the newest thing!

It’s inspiring that you keep looking forward, because I don’t know that that’s necessarily true for everyone. I think a lot of people look back on what they did and feel the need to recreate that, or get that feeling back again.

Holden: I mean, sometimes I do wish I could get the feeling back. The problem is that the older you get, the more you do it, the more experience you get, also the more used to it you get – in many sense, and I’m guilty of it, the more jaded you get. So it’s very difficult to keep that old feeling that used to be there alive. You have to sort of look at it from a different angle.

Over the past couple of years, the songs off this album seem have stood the test of time. “Boys in the Street” continues to be a LGBTQ+ anthem. What is that experience like, having contributed something so special to that community and the world?

Holden: It’s funny, because I don’t really see it as an anthem, but that’s because I wrote it – but I appreciate you saying that. I’m grateful for the reaction that the song continues to have. I’m grateful that it’s affecting people; and I think the way I think about it stops right there. I don’t try to think about it any more than that. I’m just grateful that… no one’s tried to kill me yet, I’m glad that it’s having a positive reaction, more so than a negative one.

I’ve seen so many of your own social media posts about traveling the world these past few years. You're one of those few artists who shares the rest of his life so fully and openly with fans, and it seems like for you, being a musician is so much more than just making music, but it’s sharing your experience with the world.

Holden: Yeah, for sure! For me it’s like, music is something I do that fulfills me creatively, but it’s the travel part of it that really drives me and inspires me. So I think I can’t do one or the other; I’ve realized over the last couple of years of having a lot of time off and a lot of time to dwell on things and look at how my career is doing, and not travelling, I’ve realized I actually need that part of it. At the same time, I like to try and share it with as many people as possible because I am blessed that I get to do that: So why not share it?

In addition, the world has changed quite a lot over the past couple of years. The first thing I notice about your new music is this sense of growing up: Chase the Sun was a very personal record for you. “On the Run” and “The Power Shift” both evoke this sense of things being greater than yourself.

Holden: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think that I go through this back and forth of singing about myself and then singing about the world. I think it’s like, as soon as I start getting too heavy into one, I start going backwards and trying to get back into the other one. I don’t like singing about myself too much, but I also don’t like trying to tell people how the world is too much, either – so it’s like this see-saw of, should I sing about me or should I sing about something else? And it’s this constant back-and-forth of trying to find a balance between the two.

I think “On the Run” was a lot more self-reflective of how I’ve been the last ten years, and who I haven’t been so good to, who I have been good to, how I could’ve been better to myself… this constant conversation, I think. And then “The Power Shift” was just… me being pissed off: The f*cking nightmare that is the internet – or the world.

I like the interplay between the two! Your team was so excited to share “On the Run,” and yet at the same time I was told the next song was the “whoa” moment. Why did you return with “On the Run,” and how did you know it was the right time?

Holden: Well in all honesty, I’d made that song with Butch Walker a year prior to releasing it, and it was a song that was done and finished, and I liked a lot, and I was like, “Why is this not out? Why is it sitting on my computer?” And it was a nice balance of the seriousness of Greg Holden songs, but also the sort of less depressing subject matter. I figured I should just try this and put out something that’s just a little bit less intense, and just feels good; the song has a good groove – it feels fun enough… So let’s see what happens if I put this one out, because the last few songs I’d put out before that were “Boys in the Street” which is heavy, “The Lost Boy” which is heavy… I needed to come out of the gates with something a bit more refreshing; a bit more optimistic.

I definitely appreciate the anthemic style of it. Not immediately succumbing to the anger of these times.

Holden: Right! I saved that for the second one.

I can feel the tables turning,
and if you open your eyes

You will see your castle burning,
oh what a pleasant surprise

How does it feel
To be the one in need
Reaching out your arms
when you realize that you’re on your own

With the millions of us, you put into this hole
The millions of us, you thought you could control
The millions of us, with nowhere else to go
(Who) Keep moving forward now

(laughs) Exactly! It's still there, make no mistake. You know what, that had to be said too - because you are engaged and active, and your artistry can’t ignore that aspect of your life. So it was more a question of when, than a question of if.

Holden: Yeah, when and how, also. I think people don’t want to be yelled at, and I also don’t want to yell at people. So it’s really tough for me try to find a balance between, well that, basically. It can’t be like, “Listen to me: I’m angry!” It’s so childish to think that people might be into that. So I’ve always tried to make it a little bit more accessible, and not as finger-pointing as like, say, some of the old Bob Dylan records that I’ve always been so heavily inspired by.

I don’t know; in the past, it didn’t really feel forced or anything. I just wrote it one afternoon and I didn’t really thinking about it. As I started thinking about songs I might be able to release, that one felt right for the time. I wrote that song last year… as power was shifting in the wrong f*cking direction.

What’s great about “The Power Shift” is that this song is not going to only exist for 2017-2018; it has a universality to it that will outlive the moment. Was it difficult writing about your experience in a politically mired landscape?

Holden: Yeah, because I feel like I could do that, and it would be very easy to do that. The problem is, then I’m just another person yelling into an echo chamber, and it’s not really going to get me anywhere. It’s going to be sort of just all the way on one side, which is part of the problem, isn’t it? No one’s really opening a real dialogue. So I could have just written a song that said, “Fuck you, Trump!” but, I don’t know, I think it’s a little tacky to do that.

I think people don’t want to be yelled at, and I also don’t want to yell at people. So it’s really tough for me try to find a balance

I recently had a conversation with Frank Turner. Swell guy – smart as hell! We were having the same conversation: He released a song called “Make America Great Again,” which was appropriating that phrase. His new record is called Be More Kind, which is very much trying to bridge the gap while also saying, “What the f*$%?!

Holden: Oh yeah? Love him! I actually have a song called “I’m Not Your enemy” that I wrote last year, too. I actually wrote it on the day after the election day with my friend Garrison Starr. We wrote it on tour, because we were on tour in Germany when the election happened. We were both a mess that day – her particularly, because she’s gay and she was just like, “Oh god – what does this mean for me?!” So we wrote a song called, “I’m Not Your Enemy,” and the chorus is like: I’m not your enemy, just an unfamiliar friend. You might not recognize me from before the war began. And it’s kind of trying to find a middle ground, because I think the problem with America right now – or American politics even, is that there’s no middle: You’re either way left, or you’re way right. You can’t even have a conversation, so how the fuck is it going to get better if you can’t even talk to someone on the right. I think everyone’s just yelling at each other; no one’s actually looking at solutions. Everyone’s just screaming at each other.

Frank Turner Reappropriates the Horrifying Phrase “Make America Great Again”

And you have the benefit, as we discussed earlier, of being someone who travels so much. You see a lot more of the world and of this country than others do. How has that shaped your perspective?

Holden: Yeah, I do. I mean, it gives you a bunch of different opinions, because you get to have conversations with taxi drivers in Germany, or people in London… And you start seeing a lot of the world and seeing how people are looking at America right now; understanding their opinions. Seeing more peoples’ opinions is what keeps your mind open. You start to be more aware of the rest of the world. Sometimes in America, it’s very easy to be tunnel-visioned to American interests.

I love the ‘80s influence in your new music. You totally amped it up: You got synth-friendly in a really cool way, and I love the distinction in musicality between the last record’s songs, and your new tracks.

Holden: I feel like I was listening to a lot of bands like that. I was listening to The War on Drugs and The Killers a bit more. Also I worked with Butch Walker, and he had a bunch of synths in his studio, and we just fucked around and that came out! “On the Run” was the first song that sounded like that, and it sort of paved the way for the rest of the stuff. And honestly, I’m finding synths and stuff like that to be more inspiring these days. I don’t sit down with am acoustic guitar anymore; it’s very hard for me to feel emotion with that, because I’ve been doing it for so long. There’s no emotion that’s sparked when I’m sitting there, whereas if I’ve got some washed out synth on my keyboard, it helps bring something; I don’t know what it is. And then of course, it just sounds exciting. Obviously there’s a lot of bands out there that sound like that now, so it’s very easy to get pulled into it and good with it. I don’t know; I think it’s a cool sound sonically at the moment, so I’m enjoying being a small part of it. It’s just something fresh. I got a little bit sick of the whole singer/songwriter thing, and I just wanted to try something a little bit more exciting.

I got a little bit sick of the whole singer/songwriter thing, and I just wanted to try something a little bit more exciting.

Once you’re labeled a singer/songwriter it’s sometimes tough to shake that label or identity.

Holden: Yeah, it is – well, honestly I don’t find it difficult, because I don’t care so much. I don’t really mind if I end up sounding different. The difficulty is when I end up going and playing solo, which I have been doing on some recent tours – so I don’t really have a choice, but to be that guy. But it’s nice, because then what happens is I have a record that sounds one way, and then I have a show that sounds totally different. It challenges me – some of these songs are very produced, and putting together setlists for my solo shows was actually quite challenging, because I hadn’t ever had an acoustic version of some songs. Most of the  time, you have an acoustic song, and then you add a band – so you always have that original acoustic version. This way, I’ve been working backwards, and it’s been really interesting!

You have to really know your songs inside and out to be able to manipulate them for those two different venues as well.

Holden: You discover whether it’s actually a good song or not, or whether you just polished a turd. (laughs)

Greg Holden © 2018

Greg Holden © 2018

Regarding being a singer/songwriter or what-have-you, you never really were one for labels. Last time we spoke, your attitude was very much, “let people think of me what they’ll think of me; I know what I’m doing and who I am.” So there’s something to appreciate there, too.

Holden: I started to realized, especially now that I’m not with Warner Brothers anymore – and I think, when I was on Warner Brothers Records, as much as I loved all of the members of staff there, I did feel this pressure to give them what they wanted – even though nobody was actually saying it, they weren’t not saying it either with their lack of enthusiasm toward certain things, or lack of action toward certain songs. So I did feel this pressure to give them a hit, essentially. That was very difficult for me, because it’s not really the way I sit down to write a song, is to think, “Oh, I need a hit.” That’s not the way I do it, so it’s been an interesting couple of years just trying to shake that off, actually.

It's not easy to be an independent artist, though you've known that life before.

Holden: I have, and it comes with its pros and cons. I mean, right now I have BMG. They’re not technically my label, but they’re a great support system, a great resource, and they’re wonderful people. They definitely are helping me… I’m not totally alone in this, which is nice.

Right, and you also have an established fanbase - certainly a larger one than you did four years ago! I mean, you toured like a maniac.

Holden: (laughs) I did! I really did, and then I just took two years off. My European summer tour was my first tour in two years, and actually it was quite scary going into it.

I have seen so many different things from the European tour! What’s the response been from audiences, and how does it feel to be back “On the Run”?

Holden: (sighs) Nice pun. It feels great! I mean, honestly I was nervous about how it was going to be; I really was walking into this tour worried that, once again, Am I going to keep making music? Do I even enjoy this anymore? Do people even give a shit? And then the first show was in Hamburg, and it was beautiful, and lots of people showed up and sang all the words… I just needed a little positive reinforcement and it reignited the flame, so-to-speak. Two years is a very long time to not play shows, considering I’ve been playing shows for fifteen years all the time.

How do you feel like that changed you as a musician or an artist?

Holden: I mean, I was at home; I wasn’t just doing nothing. I was writing songs and learning how to produce a bit more. I was working… I just wasn’t touring. I guess I just didn’t realize how important it is for me to be onstage, playing music. I thought for a second that I could just be a stay-at-home producer/writer… And then, I think I started to really miss the travelling and miss the shows. Then when I got out on the road, I remembered, “Oh yeah! This is my favorite part!” Like a realization.

What I always find fascinating about the life of the musician is that it’s a duality: It’s two juxtaposed lives that don't work together always. No two artists are the same, but you're cooped up making music, often in a very intimate setting and possibly alone or with one other person… Or you're out in front of tons of people, sharing that music with the world and completely in the spotlight. The two are totally disparate lives, and yet you kind of encompass both.

Holden: Oh man, I never really thought about it like that! Yeah, it’s like a complete whiplash every time, right? I never really thought about it like that… What are we doing?! That’s so true… Yeah, I have no idea. It’s a weird thing. I’m just that I gave myself the opportunity to come back out again and realize how much I loved it, because there was a moment, for a second, where I didn’t think I was going to. So I’m glad that did.

You mentioned how you weren't sure you were going to come back to touring and live performance. I know your first show was only on July 20th. What was it about that experience… What was it about that crowd, and being up on that stage, that told you, “Yeah, this is right for me”?

Holden: Just how vulnerable I’d been and how insecure I’d been about it all, and then when I got onstage and saw people smiling and singing along, and I was just all by myself onstage. I got a little emotional, because I was just like, “Oh shit, this is that feeling that I’ve been craving, that I thought was gone. And here it is.” And that just reminded me to be more present.

What’s the reaction to “The Power Shift” and “On the Run” been like?

Holden: It’s been great! They’re both singalongs, so it’s been a team effort (laughs).

And as I understand it, you have a full record coming out in the future?

Holden: Yes, I do! I mean, it’s not necessarily a full record yet: Basically, I’m producing it, so I guess I’m going to decide what it’s going to be when I get home from tour. I certainly have enough songs to make it a full-length record, and that is the hope – to put something out before the end of the year.

That’s so impressive that you’re producing yourself!

Holden: Yeah! Well, it just feels like that’s a good way for me to evolve as a musician and a writer, because I’ve started thinking about production a bit more. I’ve always loved it, but I’ve never really committed myself to it at this level. “The Power Shift” was me in my room, and that was a little scary, but it was also challenging, and I feel like I grew from it. Also, I realized that paying a producer $60,000-$80,000 is a stupid idea in 2018; why not just do it myself? It’s a terrible business plan, and I realized that after what Chase the Sun and the record before that cost me. Not that it’s about money, but…it’s a business, and I’ve got to keep it alive. I realized that like, by touring $50,000-80,000 out of a record, there’s no way in 2018 you’ll make that money back unless you end up blowing up! So I have all the gear at home; I’ve been doing production for ten years on and off, so it makes sense. It’s the obvious next step for me!

Greg Holden © 2018

Greg Holden © 2018

I'm really excited to hear you behind all aspects of the work. I think that's an exciting thing to do. You really will own the music in every sense after that. So lastly, let’s talk about your big move. You moved away from us in New York!

Holden: I did, and every day I still wonder if it was the right move. I miss New York dearly!

What's your experience been in California?

Holden: The experience in California has been very different. It’s been great. I don’t know if I necessarily love L.A. as a place that much; I think that it’s full of creative people which is great and very inspiring, and helps me to find ways to be more creative. Obviously the weather is perfect, and I have a nice house out there, that I have room to work in and am inspired in. In New York, I was just squished into my studio apartment and I never really wrote anything. I always ended up coming to California to write, because it’s the only place you can sort of open the doors and breathe for a second, and actually create something without feeling like the walls are caving in on you. So in a creative aspect, LA has been much better for me. In terms of a city where I want to live, I’m not entirely convinced yet. I’d love to figure out a way to be bicoastal.

Gotta make it happen!

Holden: Eh, I need to sell a few more records before that happens! (laughs)

But lofty goals are not something we should strive away from.

Holden: Exactly, exactly. New York is still, to me, to the greatest city in the world!

Greg Holden, thank you for your time, thank you for the music – the new songs are great, and we’re all looking forward to more!

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:: purchase The Power Shift here ::
Stream: “The Power Shift” – Greg Holden


American citizens: You can register to vote, find out if you are registered to vote, get an absentee ballot, and more at vote.org (more info below)

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Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com