For the past decade, Sam Ellis has been a successful songwriter & producer who mostly works in the country music field. Originally from Canada, Ellis is now based in Nashville and he has co-written songs for such top artists as Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown and Hunter Hayes.
Notwithstanding these fine credits, Ellis’ career has recently reached a new level of success. He co-wrote Lady Antebellum’s Top 5 country hit, “What If I Never Get Over You,” which also reached the Top 50 on Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart. In addition, he co-wrote and produced the ballad hit “More Hearts Than Mine,” by rising artist Ingrid Andress.
Ellis initially worked as a songwriter & producer in Ontario, Canada, but he got a big break when he began collaborating with hit country artist, Hunter Hayes. Ellis has since written many songs with Hayes, for his albums Hunter Hayes, Storyline, The 21 Project and Wild Blue. He has also played in Hayes’ band and toured with him.
In addition to the artists mentioned above, Ellis has co-written and/or produced songs for Carly Pearce, Danielle Bradbery, Rachel Wammack, Josie Dunne, Jordan Smith, Jacob Sartorious, Leah Daniels and Kira Isabella.
Ellis is signed with Universal Music Publishing Group in Nashville, and he works closely with Cyndi Forman, who is Vice President of Creative at UMPG.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Sam Ellis. He tells how he got started in the music business, and how he co-wrote the hits “What If I Never Get Over You” and “More Hearts Than Mine.”
DK: How did you get started as a musician and songwriter? I read that you’re originally from Canada.
Sam Ellis: My family is pretty musical. We were heavily involved in our local church band in Cambridge, Ontario, which allowed me to get to know a bunch of different instruments and really get a hold of the basics at a young age—arrangement, playing with other people, tuning, etc. My dad was also a great songwriter/producer. He was very influential in my introduction to that side of the music industry. I also had the usual high school band with a couple of great friends. If we could get anywhere close to sounding like Dave Matthews Band, then it was a good day. This was also around the time when I started writing songs that we were able to work up as a band and sometimes even play out. I feel really fortunate to have been surrounded by really generous and great musicians growing up.
DK: Did you have success as a songwriter & producer in Canada, before you moved to Nashville?
Here’s the video of Lady Antebellum’s hit “What If I Never Get
Over You,” which was co-written by Sam Ellis.
Ellis: I had a little bit of success on country radio with a song called “Somewhere in the Country,” performed and co-written by Canadian artist Tebey. We actually wrote the song on one of my first trips to Nashville. I then took what we had back to my parents’ basement where I had my little studio rig and made a demo for it. Most of that demo ended up being the final. The song actually ended up being one of the most played Canadian country songs in 2011. Tebey and I still work together and he’s become a very dominant artist in Canada since then.
DK: You’ve collaborated on many songs with Hunter Hayes and you’ve toured with him. How did you connect with Hunter, and can you talk about your collaborations with him?
Ellis: I met Hunter back in 2009 through my longtime publisher, Cyndi Forman at Universal Music Publishing Group. Our introduction came after some advice was given to me to make sure that I write and work with people my own age—thought is those are people you’ll be working with in 20-30 years from now. We wrote a song called “All You Ever” at our first write and it actually ended up on his debut record. It was my first American cut. Aside from writing, we also shared a strong interest in production and had really similar music influences. We were working on a demo one night in Nashville early on, and I joked, “If you ever need someone to play guitar on the road, I’m in.” Fast forward a year or so later, we were opening for Taylor Swift on her Speak Now tour. I spent four, invaluable years on the road with Hunter. We still produce and write music together—I’m always reminded how freakishly talented he is every time we work on something.
DK: Currently, you’ve co-written two hits that are on the charts. First, how did you co-write “What If I Never Get Over You” for Lady Antebellum?
Ellis: I co-wrote the song with three of my good friends: (hit songwriters) Laura Veltz, Ryan Hurd, Jon Green. The four of us were passing around ideas when Ryan suggested the title. After he mentioned it, there was that 4-5 extra seconds of silence in the room because it immediately grabbed our attention and had all our wheels spinning. Sometimes a title or a line takes a little unpacking or talking through, but this idea resonated with each of us instantly, and we knew this was the song we needed to write that day. We wrote the song to a small drum loop and us all passing around the guitar. We recorded a quick acoustic guitar to that loop and then Jon actually sang the first vocal pass—which was also incredible. We decided to get Ryan’s vocal as well and thought we’d decide later how we wanted to present the song. I took those pieces from that day and built a demo a few days later. I knew the demo needed to capture the emotion and dynamics of the song, but it also had to have room for interpretation for whoever heard it. Ultimately, I believe it was Ryan’s vocal that made the demo so exciting and compelling.
Here’s the video of Ingrid Andress’ hit “More Hearts Than Mine,”
which was co-written by Sam Ellis.
DK: I also like the ballad hit “More Hearts Than Mine” that you wrote with Ingrid Andress. Can you talk about the story behind that song?
Ellis: I co-wrote “More Hearts Than Mine” with Derrick Southerland and Ingrid Andress. The song evolved through a lot of conversation between the three of us. I remember somewhere along the way, there was a flip that happened on the title and we all sort of looked at each other thinking, “Well that’s interesting.” So we chased that. The vulnerability it took on Ingrid’s behalf to go there that day was crucial. It was a good reminder to the three of us, the impact and depth lyrics can have if they are pulled directly from real life. Derrick and I both related strongly to the song as we were writing it with Ingrid. I think we realized that even though it was a couple pages directly from Ingrid’s life, there was something unintentionally universal about the topic. I’ve loved hearing how the song resonates with everyone—especially parents. I think maybe the concept gives everyone the opportunity to face that all they really want in life is to see the people they love safe and happy.
DK: What’s your strength as a songwriter & producer? Is it creating the music, playing the instruments and producing? Do you also help write the lyrics?
Ellis: I feel like my role changes daily. One of the unique parts about working in Nashville these days is the variety of sessions that can happen. A lot of people from different genres are exploring the writing community, which gives me the opportunity bend into different lanes creatively. I generally cover all aspects of the write (lyrics, music and production) but I’ve developed a handful of my favorite go-to co-writers who are extremely great at what they do and we’ve developed a good rhythm to where we know where we can rely on each other. Again, every day and session is different, so I try to have the ability to pivot and adapt as much as I can.
DK: I noticed that you’ve written and produced many songs with Canadian artists Leah Daniels and Kira Isabella. Do you like to work with talented new artists and help develop them?
Ellis: I’m always excited and humbled by the amount of new talent that comes through Nashville—feels like monthly. As a producer/songwriter, I think there is a great chance for longevity if you can establish a relationship with a new artist really early on in their career. You can develop an element of trust and accountability in each other, that can be really important later down the road once things are more established for them. Working with new talent can also keep you on your toes creatively, because they might walk into the room with new ideas, perspectives and sounds that you haven’t heard yet. Being able to collaborate and sometimes nurture those talents is really exciting and rewarding for me.
DK: Thank you Sam for doing this interview. What other projects are you working on now, and do you have other cuts coming out that you can talk about?
Ellis: Thank you! I’m producing a handful of tracks for the rest of Ingrid Andress’s project. I’m really excited for her and what next year is going to look like. I just had a song released by Carly Pearce called “It Won’t Always Be Like This,” which she sounds amazing on. Lady Antebellum also just released their new record which I had another song on called, “What I’m Leaving For.”