Los Angeles-based songwriter/producer, Ammo, has emerged as a pop hitmaker during the past five years. Still in his mid-20s, Ammo has co-written & produced several hit singles, including two number one hits, plus key cuts with many top artists. Currently, he’s on the charts with the single “Work From Home” by female group Fifth Harmony (featuring Ty Dolla Sign), which he co-wrote & produced.
Ammo has also co-written the hits “Sugar” for Maroon 5, “E.T.” for Katy Perry, ‘Your Love Is My Drug” and “We R Who We R” for Kesha, and “The Other Side” for Jason Derulo. In addition, he’s had cuts with Beyonce, Pitbull, Selena Gomez, Adam Lambert, Britney Spears, Mike Posner, Jessie J, Sean Paul, Jordin Sparks, Leona Lewis, Becky G, Jesse McCartney, Rixton, Miranda Cosgrove, Timeflies and Dillon Francis.
Originally from Baltimore, MD, Ammo (whose birth name is Joshua Coleman) learned to play several instruments and became skilled at producing demos. At age 20, he impressed top writer/producer Dr. Luke, who signed him to his music publishing company, Prescription Songs. Ammo eventually moved to Los Angeles, where’s he’s become an in-demand writer/producer.
We’re pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Ammo. He recalls how he got started, and tells colorful stories about how he co-wrote some of his hit singles. Ammo was fun to speak with, and he’s remained humble about his career success, even as he continues to create new hits.
DK: Where are you from, and how did you get started in music?
Ammo: I’m originally from Baltimore, Maryland, and I got started in music when I was around 3-years-old, because my parents were musicians. My mom’s an incredible songwriter and pianist, and my dad is an incredible bass player. They do a lot of jazz. I just picked it up from being around them.
DK: What instruments to you play?
Ammo: I originally played drums, and now I play drums, piano, keyboards, guitar and bass. Honestly, if it makes noise, I can probably figure out how to use it.
DK: Do you often have sessions where you’re playing all the tracks?
Ammo: A lot of times I do. I’ll start ideas and I’ll just fill in the parts as I hear them. If there’s something I can’t play, I can call somebody who’s way better than me at whatever instrument, and get them to do it.
DK: When did you start writing songs and making demos?
Ammo: I would say around 12. I started writing in my parent’s basement…just little ideas. I just started doing it one day…I kept doing it. At the time I was a rapper, so I assumed that rappers made their own beats and that was just what you had to do. So I started writing and making my own tracks for every song, because that’s how I thought it was done. That’s what led me into songwriting and producing for other people.
DK: So you started out as a rap artist, who would do his own tracks?
Here’s the video of the hit single “Work From Home” by Fifth Harmony
(featuring Ty Dolla Sign). This song was co-written & produced
Ammo: Yes, exactly.
DK: Are you still an artist —do you want to put out your own records?
Ammo: Absolutely not (he laughs). I prefer being behind the scenes. Being an artist is really hard. That’s not to say that producing isn’t hard…but I just like being in the background. For me, I have a little more freedom that way. I feel that I can work on a lot different things, and explore all kinds of different sounds. Sometimes if you’re an artist, you can get locked into one thing, and for me, I like exploring and creating new things all the time. So I feel that’s a good fit for me.
DK: When you’re co-writing, are you more the producer and track guy, or do you also write the topline and the lyrics too?
Ammo: Basically, I feel like my main function is, when I’m collaborating with people, is figuring out who’s good at what, and trying to get them to do the best job at that. But my strengths are definitely the track and melody. On most of the songs I’ve done, I usually write 95% of the melodies. When it comes to lyrics, I usually try to collaborate with people who are just way better than me at lyrics, because it always makes for a better song.
DK: So from creating tracks in your parent’s basement, how did you hook up with Dr. Luke and start getting cuts?
Ammo: Well, my manager is Jim Edmunds. At the time, he was doing A&R at Epic Records. I literally got a random email from him on MySpace or some social media, and he said “Hey, I’m Jim…I’m [an A&R exec] at Epic, I like the songs on your page. I would like to hear some more.” So I just started sending him tracks. About four or five months went by, and this is kind of funny—he asked me if I did topline as well. At the time, I didn’t even know what topline meant…I didn’t know what it was. (But) I was like, “Sure…” So I literally went home that day and just wrote complete songs by myself, which was something I’d never really done before, (writing) “singing” songs. I sent them to him and I said, “Here you go.” And he said, “Wow, these are really good. Would you mind if I sent these to a friend of mine?” At the time, I didn’t even know who his friend was—he was talking about (Dr.) Luke. So I sent them to him, and he sent them to Luke.
Then a few more months went by, and I’m just living in Baltimore and I didn’t really have any money. I remember that I had a job interview with Best Buy the next day. Then I got a phone call from Jim, who said, “Hey, do you think you can come up to New York tomorrow to meet Dr. Luke? And I’m like, “Yeah…Absolutely.” It was crazy. So I ran out that day and bought a train ticket for 7 am the next day, so I could be there super early. But in my excitement, I accidentally bought the ticket for 7 pm. So I’m standing at the train station the next morning, and the train at this particular station doesn’t stop—there’s no one ticketed to be on that particular train. So I’m standing there, and the next thing you know, it’s 7:30 and then it’s 8:00. So I thought, “What is going on?” So I pulled out the ticket and said “Oh my God, this is a ticket for 7 pm!” So I called my mom—she came and picked me up and drove me to New York. I think I made it there within 15 minutes of the meeting time.
Here’s the video of Maroon 5’s hit song, “Sugar,”
which was co-written & produced by Ammo.
I sat down and met with Luke. At the time, Luke had done a few (hit) songs, like the Kelly Clarkson stuff (“Since U Been Gone”) and “I Kissed A Girl” (for Katy Perry). And Luke and Benny (Blanco) were working on Britney Spears’ Circus album. At the time, he plays me all this stuff that Benny and him were working on, and I thought, “Oh my God, these are the craziest …it was just some tracks and melody ideas. These are the craziest things I ever heard in my life…this is insane! So the meeting wraps, with him just saying, “You know…I’ll be in touch.” So I thought I blew it. I thought Oh Man…I might of said all the wrong things…I’m not sure.
So I go home that night and I literally stayed up and made tracks, all night long, based on what he played me. I was just like…let me try to get to that level. So the next day I sent him all these tracks, and a few hours later I get a phone call from him. He said, “You know what? I can tell you’re hungry—you’re really talented and I want to sign you. And what took me six years, I’m gonna have you doing in six months. I’m gonna teach you everything I know.” Then about a month after that, I was part of the team. I signed a publishing deal (with Prescription Songs).
DK: After you signed, was Kesha one of the first artists you worked with?
Ammo: My first few sessions were with Benny Blanco. At the time, it was just me and Benny (working) a lot, and then my first actual big session was with T-Pain. We wrote a song which ended up being my first cut, which was on Jordin Sparks’ album (Battlefield) with a song called “Watch You Go.” It was like, Oh my God, I’m literally in a room with T-Pain—this is amazing! I’m just a kid from Baltimore…it was crazy and overwhelming. Then it was a few months later, that I started working with Kesha.
DK: Which of the hits with Kesha did you co-write first, “Your Love Is My Drug” or “We R Who We R”?
Ammo: Those were two different times. The first one I did with her was “Your Love Is My Drug.” Let me give you some backstory. At the time, I was still living in Baltimore. So I would fly out to L.A. every other month. Then everytime I would fly back to Baltimore, I would get a random call from Luke. He would say, “Hey, Lil Jon’s over at the house, or Diddy’s at the house.” Somebody would be there and I would miss it every single time. So one day I was like, “You know what? I’m going to come out (to L.A.) and I’m just going to stay.” Luke invited me to crash at his house. I literally lived on an air mattress in his living room for a year.
Kesha was at the house one day, and we were talking. She said, “Hey, I need some beats.” So I made some tracks for her, and one of those tracks was “Your Love Is My Drug.” The funny thing was, at the time I was too shy to share my melody ideas with people. So I would put (the melody) in the track like a synthesizer (part). I said, “this is what I think the vocals should sound like.” I would just play the notes on the keyboard. Now I don’t do that…I just sing it and hope it sounds cool. But I played it for her and she loved it. Kesha and her mom wrote most of the lyrics. It turned out to be a big hit.
DK: You went on to have another hit with Kesha, and then a year later you’re back at number one when you co-wrote “E.T” for Katy Perry. How did you work with Katy Perry on this song?
Here’s the video of the #1 hit “E.T.” by Katy Perry. This song was co-written
& produced by Ammo.
Ammo: “E.T” was an interesting story. I originally made this beat for (hip-hop group) Three 6 Mafia. Luke was in the studio with Katy Perry and Max Martin. I think Luke was scrolling through tracks and Katy Perry (heard it and said) “Wait..what’s that one?” He played it again and she really loved it. So the three of them went in on it and wrote it pretty quick. Luke calls me the next day and says, “Hey man, come to the studio.” So I come by and he plays it for me, and I’m like, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life!”
DK: So was that “E.T.,” the finished song, when Luke called you in?
Ammo: Yeah. I think it took them about a day-and-a-half. Then I went to Luke’s house the next night to finish the production with him. We got it done in just a few days.
DK: Ammo, a week ago I was on the phone, doing an interview with Mike Posner. I noticed that you and Mike and a couple other people wrote the hit “Sugar” for Maroon 5. When I asked Mike about it, he said that you were the one who actually started this song. So how did you co-write this song?
Ammo: I had just moved into a new house and I was sitting in my studio. I was coming up with different chord progressions, and trying to come up with some funky stuff. I didn’t really have an artist in mind for it…I just wanted to do something cool…something which was laid-back but still had high energy. I sat down and I made this track. I had a couple melody ideas, and honestly I wasn’t too serious about the melody. I just wanted to do something fun and retro. I kind of hummed (the melody) into my phone. Then that was the last I heard of that idea for months.
Then one day randomly, I’m working with Mike (Posner), and he’s like, “Play me the crazy shit that you wouldn’t play for anybody. Play me the stuff you think is weird.” So I played him that track and sang my ideas to him, and he said “You’re crazy! This is such a hit!” And I’m like, “Really?” He said “This is such a big idea!” And I’m like, “Cool.” So me, him and J-Kash (Jacob Kasher)—we wrote the song to it that day. At the time, the song was called “Right Here, Right Now” or something like that, and we left it.
Then that night, I think they got back together and Mike calls me. He was like, “Yo…I changed the title.” I’m like, “What is it?” He said…”It’s ‘Sugar’.” And immediately when he said that, I got chills. I’m like, “Oh my God, I love it. Tell me what the lyrics are.” So he sings the lyrics to me over the phone. And I’m like standing in front of the movie theater, jumping up and down. “Yo, this is the greatest song! You’re a genius!” He made that concept come to life in a way that I couldn’t even imagine it at the time. It was so much better than what we had written earlier that day.
DK: Now currently, you have another hit on the charts, “Work From Home” for Fifth Harmony. How did you co-write this song?
Here’s the video of Kesha’s #1 hit song, “We R Who We R,”
which was co-written & produced by Ammo.
Ammo: Well, last summer I threw these summer (writing) camps. Basically, I wanted to do a pretty loose style of writing. I would invite 15 people over here every day and have three or four rooms going, and just kind of bounce back and forth between rooms. That’s like my favorite way to work, because no idea ever gets stale, because I get to bounce from room to room. I’d say “this should be like this, or this should be like that.” It’s like the most creative I’ve felt in years. So this was like the first day of one of those camps. It’s fun, because I actually got to write the song with a group of my friends, which was really cool, including my fiance Jude Demorest. She’s one of the writers on this song as well…she’s really good. So basically it was me, Jude, Dallas K, Explicit, and Brian Lee, and we’re sitting in this room and I’m like, “Let’s do something like this.” And I played the chords really quick on keyboard. Let’s do something really simple that’s a lot of fun. I didn’t want to ovethink it at all. The melodies came so quick. It’s almost like I can hear it before they existed. Then immediately, Jude and Explicit came up with the title. And I’m like “Yeah, this should be really simple, like ‘Work…Work…Work, something fun and easy.” Then I think we honestly wrote the song in about half a hour. Our main goal was to not to make it too complicated, and let it be fun—let it breathe and be simple, so it will get stuck in everybody’s heads. We we’re thinking the more repetitive it is, the more likely that people will remember it.
DK: So then did you produce the demo, and play it for Fifth Harmony?
Ammo: I’m trying to remember…I think a few people sent it over. I sent it to a few people, my manager sent it out, my publisher sent it out. Ultimately, I just ended up getting emails from three different people, who said “We love this song,,,we’d love to cut it next week…this is amazing.” And I’m like, “Wow, that is the coolest thing.” So we ended up going into the studio and we cut the song in about three hours. Then we went back and worked on it. The tricky thing was trying to get the feature (rap section). Basically, I felt like I crafted the song so that it needed a feature to make it a little different. I felt it needed the feature (which became the rap by Ty Dolla Sign) to add a new element that would be more exciting as it gets towards the end of the song.
DK: You’ve had several hits and accomplished a lot at a young age. What advice or insight can you give to young musicians who are also trying to make it?
Ammo: I’m a kid from Baltimore, Maryland. And for all of these crazy things to have happened in my lifetime before I was even 25, is already like an impossible thing. So I like to think, that if I can come from Baltimore and accomplish all of these things, just from dedicating myself and being very diligent with my craft, then anybody can do the same thing. I think everybody should just try to be the best at what they’re the best at. And also collaborate with really good people.