By Kyle Anderson
Updated September 12, 2013 at 04:59 PM EDT
Reid Rolls

You may not know the name Greg Holden (unless you live in the Netherlands; he hit number two on the charts there).

But odds are good that you already know the British-born Lone Bellow tourmate’s songs — like the massive hit he co-penned for American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, and had several memorable TV placements in his own name, including this Target ad and his song “The Lost Boy,” which underscored a key sequence during the fifth season of Sons of Anarchy.

For the millions who watch that show, “The Lost Boy” is a eulogy for a fallen character, but the song was actually inspired by Dave Eggers’ novel What Is The What, about a group of Sudanese refugees. “If you listen to the lyrics, it’s not like you’d know that it was about a Sudanese refugee,” he tells EW. “I know what it’s about, but I’m really glad people are able to take their own meanings from it. I like it when songs have more meanings than just the one that was intended, so I’m glad that people were able to relate to it through Sons of Anarchy.”

Despite his (literal) commercial success, Holden still has a hard time processing it: “When I write these songs, I don’t think of them as being in a commercial or a TV show. To me, they don’t have that commercial thing that people want,” Holden says. “But when it happens, it can’t really sink in. I don’t really understand what it means when I hear it in a Target commercial. It just seems bizarre. But it’s great. New York is an expensive place to live, and you gotta pay the rent.”

Holden moved to Brooklyn from London four years ago in order to follow a muse: “I was always drawn to New York, and I was a huge Bob Dylan fan,” he said. “I used to hear all his songs referencing parts of New York, and it got into my head that one day I would live there, even though I had no idea how that would actually happen… I was working at a fast food restaurant when I was like 16, and a friend of mine gave me Desire, Blood on the Tracks, Greatest Hits, and Freewheelin’,” he explains. “I didn’t even write songs or play guitar at that point, but I heard this and it just hit me. I said to myself, ‘I need to learn how to play guitar so I can do this!’

The real payoff came when a song he co-wrote ended up in the mouth of an Idol victor. “I was put in a session with Drew Pearson. We didn’t know each other, but our publishing companies put us together to write an upbeat song,” Holden said. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but we wrote a song and said, ‘OK, cool song. See you later!’ I didn’t know if the song was any good or not, and then my manager called me up and said they wanted to use it on American Idol.”

That song, Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, and became the theme song for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team in 2012. “It was the craziest s— on Earth,” he says.

I Don’t Believe You is a confrontational album title, and Holden admits the song comes from an angry place. But after he spends his time on separate tours with Boy and the Lone Bellow this fall, he’s looking forward to recording a more upbeat new album. “Those songs are a lot more positive, a lot more optimistic,” he admits. “They feel more like myself.”