The first time I met Greg Holden was about 3 years ago. After only first hearing his music a few months prior, I was fortunate enough to see him in concert at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, and I was blown away by his performance, veteran stage presence, and, after his set, his generosity to meet and greet any fan that hoped to get a word with him – including yours truly.
Holden, currently closing out a tour with A Great Big World and Jukebox the Ghost, hasn’t changed much in that time. His voice is a little rougher, and his songs are bigger and – you could certainly argue – more meaningful, but he is still as generous as ever with his time.
We caught up with him before his recent show in New Jersey – read on to see what he had to say about his life in New York City, the recording of his new album, and what Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World are really like.
You recently celebrated your 5-year anniversary in New York City — Do you have any big takeaways from the last 5 years?
I think the most important thing was not to have too many expectations for the changes you expect in life. I had this big dream of New York being this grand thing, and then it just becomes life, and you get used to it. But it has certainly been an adventurous five years – a lot has happened, a lot has changed. It just feels like home now.
Did you have a set of goals when you set out for New York?
My goal was to live in New York and be a musician, and I achieved that goal very quickly — and now it’s like, “ok, what’s next?”. So it’s been more about figuring out what’s next and what I want to do with my life in a bigger sense.
We spoke on the phone and I talked to him about what I was expecting, what I wanted from my new album, and we kind of gelled as human beings first – on working with Greg Wells
Earlier this year you recorded your new album with Greg Wells, who was worked on a number of big name, high profile projects — Did you seek him out specifically for this album? Was there a relationship there beforehand?
No, I was working with a label at the time and we were looking for producers for the record, and his was one of the names that came up. I actually hadn’t heard of Greg, but we spoke on the phone and I talked to him about what I was expecting, what I wanted from my new album, and we kind of gelled as human beings first and then I kind of looked at what he’d done as well and it seemed like the right step to go in. My last record, I made it with a very, um, left-of-center producer, and this time I wanted to go right, and see what would come out of it. And it was a really good partnership.
Do you have a release date for the new album?
No release date yet. I just signed a new record deal with Warner Brothers and we’re about to put together a new plan to put it out — probably be January of next year.
Were you looking for a new label when Warner Brothers came along?
Yeah, I was looking for a label. I’ve spent most of my career avoiding labels — I just didn’t have the right vibe… the things that labels were offering wasn’t anything that I was concerned with. I think for this album, as soon as I went with a more popular producer, and my songs are a lot bigger now, I wanted to try it out, wanted to see where I could take this instead of staying completely independent. I want to remain independent as best I can but at a certain point, you have to give up some of that control, and trust that they know best.
You’ve been very critical of Spotify in the past — Do you think there’s a better streaming service model out there?
The streaming thing is still something that we are all yet to see if its gonna work for lesser known artists. I still don’t really agree with Spotify, still don’t completely agree with it’s model at this point, but I got to a point where I realized that I was cutting off my nose to spite my face. So people couldn’t hear my music because I was being stubborn. So it’s like, “you know what, I should just suck it up and put it on there”. Hopefully the model will get better in a way that it will help more artists get paid properly, because right now it’s not. Who knows, this is such an unpredictable time for the music industry that we don’t know if this model is just going to crash and burn or if it’s going to be the future of music. In ten years we’ll look back and be, “oh, ok, that did work”. Like iTunes — when iTunes first came out, everyone was like, “that’s never gonna work”, and it did.
You’ve been involved in a number of charity efforts recently, from your single “The Lost Boy” to the sale of the photos from your trip to India – Have you always been active in charity efforts? Was there something that prompted this kind of activity?
I’ve always been charity minded, I just never was in a situation where I could give anything. And now — and it’s like i’m giving my own money away all the time — I’m trying to do it in a way that’s not preachy, and to use my art to do it as well. In the last couple years I started questing why I was doing music and why I was writing these songs, and was there a more positive thing that i could be doing, while trying to become a successful musician. My mindset changed a little bit, I’m certainly trying to find more ways to do it.
They’re now these superstars, hanging out with the most famous people in the world and they’re still just Ian and Chad. – on how the A Great Big World duo hasn’t changed at all
Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World have been friends of yours for a long time — Do you have any good dirt on them? Something to ground them if they ever got too big for themselves?
The most amazing thing about Ian and Chad is they haven’t changed a bit. They’re now these superstars, hanging out with the most famous people in the world and they’re still just Ian and Chad – it’s so hilarious. I almost wish they would be more diva-ish. Unfortunately I don’t have any dirt on them, they’re still squeaky clean.
(Words and Photos by Josh. Interview date: 6/21/14)