Butch Walker: musician, rocker, Georgia boy. Composer of dozens of songs that stick in your head; Choruses you want to sing (or shout) along to; Purveyor of authentic stories of exploits and predicaments and romance that are filled with optimism; Architect of albums that have few boundaries, embracing hard rock and ballads, pop rock, Americana and singer-songwriter. Or, as Butch says, “I think it’s all just rock & roll.”
Stay Gold is Butch’s 8th album. The last one, 2015’s Ryan Adams’ produced Afraid Of Ghosts, was a cathartic record that dealt with a devastating personal experience, the passing of his father. This one’s a celebration. In Butch’s words, “After coming out of the AOG album cycle and tour where, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, I spent a lot of time on stage bawling my eyes out, I felt a very calm sense of peace. Like I’d done what I needed to do to get it outta my system. Every song that came after that was almost a nostalgic, celebratory … for lack of a better word – “jam.” And the songs just kept coming to me (snaps fingers three times), which was good cos that’s not always the case!”
You’ll find that the stories on Stay Gold are very well fleshed out, something Butch credits to “growing up on some of those dudes – Elton John and the (Bernie) Taupin lyrics, Springsteen and Joel. I love that stuff. I had a buddy, Matt Marston, who was actually dating my sister back in the early 90s. He was a songwriter and ended up being a pretty big unsung influence on me because – well, there’s no escaping the fact that I had a hair metal band in the late 80s / early 90s and it was a lot of fun but it wasn’t always very broad, lyrically. I certainly listened to people whose words blew my mind, like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and others, but I couldn’t cop it. I didn’t even understand how to go about it. And this guy, Matt, opened my mind. He could paint these vivid pictures and stories … so, I asked him how he did it. He told me, ‘I just kind of pay attention to my surroundings, sitting on the subway or the bus and I see a guy over in the corner reading the paper, he’s maybe like fifty-five-years-old, sixty-years–old, and I’m wondering what his story is.’ For some reason, the light bulb went off in my head. I gotta give it to that guy, Matt, for helping me figure it out.” That long ago ’eureka moment’ still informs Butch’s writing and the material on Stay Gold is clearly his most articulate to date. When asked if the stories are real or imagined, he replies, “All the songs are half true.”
The new album kicks off with the title song, a straight-ahead rocker, loaded with swagger and lyrics that call out native GA locales. It’s a tale Butch says is “about being from a shit-dead-end-town and not having a glimmer of hope. I wanted this record to somehow spin all of those negative stories into a positive light.” The title comes from a borrowed catch-phrase – ‘Stay gold, Ponyboy’ – from the S.E. Hinton novel (and later, a Coppola film), The Outsiders. “It became a positive send-off, to tell somebody to not give up hope, ‘Stay gold’, ya know?”
The freedom one senses from a Butch Walker album is a big part of the attraction. He makes them exactly the way he wants to and never does the same kind of record twice. And he’s able to do that for two reasons: First off, on the financial side, he’s produced and/or co-written with the likes of Avril Lavigne, Weezer, Pink, Fall Out Boy and Taylor Swift, which pays a lot of bills. “I love helping other people make their music. It feels good to get outside of my own box.” Secondly, in artistic terms, he’s with a label that gives him a lot of elbow room, Dangerbird Records. “Jenni (Sperandeo) and those guys over there have been great. They let me do the creative part, they do the business part and it’s awesome!”
Having ace players on Stay Gold, like keyboardist Roger Manning Jr. (Jellyfish, Beck, AIR), drummer Mark Stepro (Ben Kweller, Keith Urban, Panic! At The Disco) and Suzanne Santos (HoneyHoney) on backing vocals and violin, adds to the considerable strength of the recordings. “It’s been fun to listen to it in the car. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t listen to my records after I do ‘em. And it’s a blast to drive down the PCH and listen. I wanted to make that kind of record.”
Greg Holden is an accomplished musician with a myriad of talents, but his unending perseverance, selflessness, and sincerity stand out.
The British-raised, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter has garnered recognition as an independent artist for the past several years and is likely best known for writing American Idol winner Phillip Phillips’ hit debut single, “Home,” which sold over five million copies in the U.S. and earned Holden an ASCAP Pop Award. His music has also been featured on notable television shows including Sons of Anarchy, Private Practice, and One Tree Hill. In addition to earning praise from industry staples such as Cher, Tom Hanks, Josh Groban, Sara Bareilles, Michael Bublé, Zane Lowe, TIME, NPR, and more, Holden has racked up critical acclaim in the press, with BuzzFeed hailing his “soaring, purpose-filled songs that carry real emotional weight,” Paste lauding his “clear vocals” and “expressive lyrics,” and Nylon applauding his unique ability to “actually touch the lives of another person with raw, emotional lyrical poetry.”
Despite his impressive accolades, Holden nearly gave up on the music business in the early days of his career. After self-funding his Tony Berg-produced sophomore album, I Don’t Believe You (2011), the label due to release it folded, thus the promotional efforts for the record. He then went into debt during a sold-out tour of Europe, so much so that he basically called it quits while on the road. Most artists would have thrown in the towel at this juncture, but Holden persisted through these setbacks, leading to the well-deserved, massive success of “Home.” He then went on to self-fund his third studio album, the critically acclaimed Chase The Sun (produced by Greg Wells, 2015), later licensing the record through Warner Brothers Records.
Holden is excited to be back in the ring with his impressive new single, “On The Run,” produced by the iconic Butch Walker (Katy Perry, Panic! At The Disco, Weezer). The track is an uplifting anthem complete with catchy hooks that perfectly mesh with Holden’s strong, heartfelt vocals. “ ‘On The Run’ is one of a few songs that was bouncing around in my head when it came to the question of what to lead with after three years on the dark side of the moon,” says Holden. “Ultimately, this song felt like the most authentic, whilst at the same time not being so typically subject heavy that I would scare my listeners away. I’ll save that for the second single…”
“ ‘On The Run’ is an apology, obviously. But it’s an apology to a number of people, for a number of things,” he adds. “For years I’ve been on the road, either emotionally or physically absent, and at times probably a nightmare for partners, friends, and family. I wanted to write something that in a way, said sorry for all that. A way to relinquish some of the guilt perhaps. I recorded it last winter with Butch Walker, along with some incredibly talented friends. It took a morning, it was a blast, and then we were done. It feels right to lead with this one as it came out so naturally.”
This summer, Holden is also set to debut “The Power Shift,” a political, call-to-action earworm. Holden produced and wrote the song himself, and it aligns with his rebellious spirit of pushing back against the status quo. “I was trying to manifest a collective call on the, for lack of a better word, bullshit. I think it’s important that when someone is lying to you, you call them out,” says Holden. Although there was no singular event or figure who inspired him to write the track, he notes his frustration with a growing series events around the world. “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.”
Additionally, Holden has not taken his success in the music industry for granted and at times has worked to prioritize philanthropy and establish his profile as a socially conscious artist. Standout track, “The Lost Boy,” (from I Don’t Believe You), inspired by a Dave Eggers’ novel about a Sudanese refugee, was the theme for a Red Cross campaign in The Netherlands that raised over $50,000 for the organization. His hit single from Chase the Sun, “Boys In The Street,” an acceptance anthem that discusses a gay son’s strained relationship with his father, directly benefited LGBTQ youth by raising money for the Everyone Is Gay organization’s 2014 fundraiser, The Gayest Compilation Ever Made II. It’s an emotional, poignant track that Tom Hanks called “The perfect song.”
Needless to say, Greg Holden is an artist to watch in 2018, with more new music expected later this year. Stay tuned for exciting news to come.