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 Chase the Sun, 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 Chase the Sun. 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.”
Phases began, as big things often do, with a daydream.
But unlike most pennies cast into wishing pools by starry-eyed kids, this particular vision came through loud and clear, specific and fully formed, to the minds of people who were looking for a sign. Call it serendipitous, written in the stars or what you will, but the four longtime friends, collaborators, and members of Phases know: when the universe speaks, it’s in your best interest to listen.
After over a decade of intertwined pasts making music, the Los Angeles-based quartet of friends Z Berg, Alex Greenwald, Jason Boesel, and Michael Runion were able to check off a major bucket-list box when they formed a band together in 2009. Releasing an album as Jjamz in 2012, they returned to LA in 2013 after touring to an uncertain future. Creatively confused and encountering some interpersonal turbulence, the fate of Jjamz seemed doomed. Feeling like it was a hopeless case, Berg announced that she was moving to Nashville to pursue a folk music career and change of scenery.
“In my mind, we were not going to make another record and I just had to get out of LA,” says Berg. “I felt truly displaced for the first time in a city I’ve always been in love with. So I said to the universe, ‘If you want me to stay, give me a reason.’” The trio of gentlemen carried on in an attempt to reanimate what had felt like a creative dead end, and began writing material with both a fresh, lightened tone and a new, unassuming intention that they found reinvigorating, and perhaps subconsciously hoped the changes would convince their singer to stay.
“We weren’t sure what it would yield,” says Runion of the free-flowing, highly creative sessions. “We thought, ‘Let’s just keep doing this until the dust settles.’”
Adds Boesel: “‘Tread water, I hope there’s a ship that’s gonna grab us!’”
The new upbeat sounds, heavily influenced by Greenwald’s recent experimental solo recordings made in his Laurel Canyon home on an outdated version of GarageBand, made their way to Berg, who was still looking for a sign. “I hadn’t been able to write for this band after the first record,” she says. “When they played me this new thing they were working on, it sounded like the opposite of my fucking folk music, and like something I wanted to do. It sounded like weird, future spaceship music, from a very old spaceship. I thought, ‘Alright, whatever happens, let’s at least work on this and make songs for fun, without thinking where they go or who they’re for.” (Who could have known that the ship Boesel was waiting for was from space?)
Around this time, Boesel was sitting in his kitchen when he was struck by the aforementioned thunderbolt. The daydream was vivid and simple: The quartet, including Berg, would make six demo songs, play them for the esteemed A&R man and producer Mike Elizondo, he would sign the band to Warner Bros. Records, and together they would release a new album. “That was it,” says Boesel. “At the very least that would be a goal to make us finish the songs, since we were taking a while to bring it all together. And Elizondo came into my mind as the individual who should hear this music and advance it somehow; he was the only person I even considered.”
And so the reunited band set out to do just that. Greenwald was nominated to produce, navigating a wholly unique path through his computer’s long un-updated apps and plug-ins. They wrote and jammed in his home, taking full advantage of the three-story ceilings to make big and weird sounding constructions, trading instruments and using unfamiliar equipment like the OP-1 portable synthesizer. Visually compelling movies were soundlessly projected on the walls and much “MarioKart” was played. The fun had returned.
“We did a lot of hanging out,” says Greenwald. “The sessions were very conducive to putting something on the projector and talking about sounds. We got a big kick out of watching a lot of Tron and Total Recall.”
“For us to work involves another six hours of us not working,” says Berg.
Once the resulting half-dozen songs were finished, they made their way to the intended target. And just as the dream had promised, Elizondo was instantly sold, signing the band to Warner and even booking them in his studio to record an album and co-produce. The universe had answered.
“I played Elizondo these songs and right on the spot he said, ‘I would like to sign you and produce this record,’ says Berg. “That was the hilarious joke, the universe’s sign. It was exactly how Jason had described it, in an amusingly prophetic way.”
“It was like in Finding Nemo when the fish are struggling and then suddenly they get into the jet stream,” laughs Boesel.
Fully energized by the plentiful positive thinking and collaborative spirit, they went into the studio immediately to write more songs. Elizondo’s wildly eclectic resume and ability to marry disparate musical elements cohesively gave the band exactly what they needed in terms of a sounding board. Together, they identified this new outfit’s optimal vibe as “if Blondie made Thriller,” creating a weird, delicate world unique to itself, blending decades and influences from each member in equal part.
“This band has always been totally collaborative,” says Berg. “Alex and I came from bands where we wrote everything ourselves. Now we write everything together. Any new experience is very exciting for me, and we wanted to take advantage of group creativity. The songs sound fun because it was fun. I had never written songs about anything fun before in my life. ‘I’m in a great mood, let’s write a song about it!’”
“We wanted the songs to be fun, danceable, and engaging,” says Greenwald. “That’s how the tracks started, and then in the studio the things we added had to maintain that level of excitement.”
“We set a certain standard for what we wanted to hear and then went wild,” says Runion.
And go wild they did. Songs like “Betty Blue,” “Silhouette,” “I’m In Love With My Life,” and “Cooler” sparkle with heat and light, each infused with elements from each member’s bag of tricks, propelled and popping with life. It’s a seamless blend of sunshine and sugar, but it also hums with darker electricity from the boogie nightclubs of bygone eras, all the while sounding completely and urgently modern.
In fact, the band’s name even came to them in another moment of serendipitous synchronicity, as their manager, upon hearing the completed songs for the first time, excitedly relayed how she was instantly whisked away to her teenage years spent dancing in an ’80s club in The Valley called Phases. It was the universe tapping them on the shoulder yet again; the name was a perfect fit, as it also worked to signify their transition into the next mode of their career.
Phases is the result of four friends listening to the universe and working tirelessly to make their dream a reality. For all the serendipity and magic involved, the real through line was a year of the hardest work and most prolific collaboration any of the group had ever experienced. The result is a party album culled from all the best moments of its players’ favorite decades, a cosmic validation of shared creativity, and turning past struggle and strife into excitement and pure joy. Without the trust in their own abilities together and apart, without each domino falling into its right place, without simply believing in the power of a daydream, who knows what the universe would have had up its sleeve?
“I’m just trying not to question it,” says Berg.
“For me, it comes back to, ‘Let’s just get out of the way,” says Runion.
“But it’s also like, we are the way,’ says Boesel. “We are the thing that’s moving, let’s not jump off this moving vehicle.”
ABOUT EDMOND DANTES
The members of Edmond Dantes met while teaching at Boise Rock School. Since playing their first gig together in 2012, they have released two mini-albums, Etta (2013) and Juno (2014), and 6:13 – The Soundtrack to Almosting It (2015). All three releases were top Boise sellers.
In 2015, Edmond Dantes scored the film Almosting It, a major motion picture featuring Terry Kiser, Lee Majors, Jane Merrow and Will VonTagen. Barring one Count Basie song, the entire movie soundtrack was comprised of original songs by Edmond Dantes. Edmond Dantes has been featured on Tender Loving Empire’s “Friends of Friends” compilation and the Idaho Ho Ho with Moxie Java compilation.
Edmond Dantes is a frequent collaborator with the Idaho dance community, specifically the performance art organization LED. Edmond Dantes has played Treefort Music Fest three times, including a main stage performance in 2014.
In addition, Ryan and Andrew (the core members of Edmond Dantes) also like cheeseburgers.
Alive After Five is made possible by sponsorship support including: Boise Weekly, 6 On Your Side, 94.9 The River, Idaho Business Review, Boise Green Bike, Capital City Development Company, Downtown Public Parking System, Pepsi, Food Services of America, Deschutes Brewery, Sockeye Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada, The Traveler Beer Co, Tecate, Palm Breezw, House Wine, Ste. Chapelle, Sawtooth Winery, The Riverside Hotel, Boise City Arts & History Department and in-kind support from The Record Exchange, Boise Office Equipment, Go Listen Boise, Century Link Arena and the Boise Centre.
Parking is available in the Downtown Public Parking Garages where the First Hour is Free. Bring a chair, and please no outside food AND beverages or pets allowed in the Grove Plaza during the event. Should the event be cancelled due to bad weather, the bands will play at Liquid (405 S. 8th Street, Boise).
The event is organized by the Downtown Boise Association (DBA) and is a fundraiser for downtown cleaning services, beautification projects and marketing. The Downtown Boise Association mission is to be the steward for the promotion and operation of Downtown Boise as an attractive, safe and vibrant place to work, shop, live and play. Alive After Five is a downtown marquee event that attracts thousands to downtown throughout the summer.
A full schedule of bands with links to the band websites and weekly food vendors can be found online at downtownboise.org