During the past decade, songwriter & producer Sam Hollander has co-written an impressive string of chart hits. He’s collaborated and had cuts with a large number of pop and rock artists, such as One Direction, Katy Perry, Pentatonix, Weezer, Carole King, Train, Goo Goo Dolls, Daughtry, Blink-182 and Boys Like Girls.
Notwithstanding these fine credits, in the past three years Hollander has reached a new level of success. He has co-written four hit singles, three that were written with platinum band Panic! at the Disco: the Top 5 pop hit “High Hopes,” plus “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” and “Say Amen (Saturday Night).” Notably, “High Hopes” and “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” currently hold the top two slots on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart. Hollander co-wrote a total of eight songs on Panic! at the Disco’s latest album, Pray for the Wicked, and he co-wrote three songs on their 2016 album, Death of a Bachelor.
In addition, Hollander co-wrote the playful, boisterous hit “HandClap” with pop band Fitz and the Tantrums. Although this song was released as a single three years ago (in 2016), “HandClap” has remained very popular, due to its extensive use in movies, TV shows and commercials.
Hollander was born in New York City, and then he mostly grew up in Westchester County, NY. When he was 18, he moved back to New York City to pursue a career as a songwriter, producer & artist. However, he struggled for years, although he did develop and produce several artists and got them signed to label deals.
It was in 1999 that Hollander met legendary artist Carole King, and they began to collaborate and became friends. Subsequently, King introduced Hollander to other top songwriters, which led to more collaborations. Eventually, he built a reputation as a unique and talented songwriter who could collaborate with both younger and older artists.
Hollander’s other chart hits include: “The Great Escape” (Boys Like Girls), “’Waiting for Superman” (Daughtry), “Blame It on My Youth” (Blink-182), “Emperor’s New Clothes” (Panic! at the Disco), “Rock Me” (One Direction), “Check Yes Juliet” (We the Kings) and ‘Hit It Again” (3OH!3).
In 2012, Hollander moved from New York to Los Angeles, where he is now based. He is managed by Bret Disend of Ozone Entertainment, and he is signed with Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Sam Hollander. He tells he got started in the music business, and how he co-wrote “High Hopes,” “HandClap” and his other hit songs.
Here’s the video of Panic! at the Disco’s hit “High Hopes,” which
was co-written by Sam Hollander.
DK: I read that you’re from New York. How did you get started as a musician and songwriter?
Sam Hollander: It’s funny…I began writing songs in high school as s therapeutic exercise. [My lyrics] sat in journals, and I would sing them into cassettes, although nothing came of it. Then I sang in bands, and I began hustling demo tapes for years. I didn’t really play any instruments prodigiously…I sort of fumbled the chords on a guitar. But I was always somewhat lyrical, and I used that as an entry to get in.
I did get a record deal when I was 21; I was in a strange, alternative rap unit that got signed to Select Records. But then we made one album and I got dropped. I got dropped after we sold about seven copies (laughs). I thought it was probably time to call it a day.
DK: After you left that band, how did you evolve into being a songwriter who wrote for other artists?
Hollander: All I’ve ever wanted to do was collaborate with artists. My goal is to get in the room with artists, and help them articulate their journey and complete the story. But (at the time) it was impenetrable and brutal—there was no means of access to getting into it. And it took years and years. Eventually, I had a chance to collaborate with Carole King—she got me in the building and got me going as a writer. And I think she gave me the confidence to believe that I could do this.
DK: How did you connect with Carole King?
Hollander: The reason I connected with Carole, was because I had decided to [develop] my own artists. I figured if I could create my own artists, and get them label deals, I could collaborate with them. So that’s what I did, and I did that for years. And it was funny because me and my manager Bret (Disend), we kept getting these deals, but the records would never get released. We got seven acts signed to major labels, but the first six didn’t come out, even though we had made full albums. But at the end of it, [our A&R exec] Brian Malouf, who’s a great mixer/producer, played it for Carole King. She heard it, and I think she really dug the writing. So when we met, she said, “Well, why don’t we collaborate?” Then we began collaborating, and from there it just grew into this great relationship. And from there, Carole grandfathered me into (legendary songwriter) Paul Williams, and I began to get acceptance from these incredible writers. It gave me the confidence to go forward.
Here’s the video of Fitz and the Tantrums’ hit “HandClap,”
which was co-written by Sam Hollander.
DK: As a songwriter, what do you think is your strength? Is it more the topline, writing melody and lyrics?
Hollander: In today’s lexicon, I would be a topliner. But I think my strengths are both as a conceptualist and a lyricist. Melodically I’m strong enough, but my strength is that I have my own perspective and it’s pretty unique. At least I’d like to think that. So when I walk in the room (to write), at least you’re going to get some curveballs thrown, because I’m a little strange and a little off, at least that’s what I’ve been told.
DK: Do you mean with the lyrics?
Hollander: Yes. So when I walk in the room, I have my own take on things and I’ve always existed in a strange, quirky space lyrically, and that’s just how I hear music and that’s the music that I always connected to myself. So I do a quirky take on pop and a quirky take on rock.
DK: Your songs with Panic! at the Disco, like “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” and “Say Amen (Saturday Night),” seem to be examples of your quirky lyric style.
Hollander: I’m always a fan of music that’s being a little playful. I grew up loving Kasenatz & Katz records (bubblegum pop music). I’m an amateur historian of the 45s (singles) and K-Tel Records, and everything that comes before it. When I’m home late at night, I would listen to “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” by (pop group) Silver and it brings incredible joy to me. I love music as this fun beast that I get to play with and fool with.
DK: You’ve written many songs with Panic! at the Disco. How did you connect with Brendon Urie (lead singer & songwriter) and the band?
Hollander: One of my closest friends in the business is Jonathan Daniel from Crush Management; he and my manager Bret have helped guide my career. Jonathan and Bret are two voices that I really listen to on a daily basis. With Crush Management, we have this incredible, symbiotic relationship where we shared a loft in Manhattan for years, and I would make records in the back, and sometimes I was able to connect them with people. I connected them with the band Train, and they connected me with Panic. I’d been a fan of the band for years. I first met Brendon (Urie) when he was in the video for “Clothes Off!” for Gym Class Heroes in 2006. And I just watched this kid’s growth and I really hoped to work with him. Then I finally made the cut in 2015 and we’ve had a great run since.
Here’s the video of Panic! at the Disco’s hit “Hey Look Ma,
I Made It,” which was co-written by Sam Hollander.
DK: I like Panic’s hit “High Hopes,” which has been a great hit. I know there were several writers who contributed to this song. How did this song come together?
Hollander: Writing a song [with so many writers] rarely works, but on this one it worked magically. I think that’s just due to the brilliance of Brendon (Urie) and the guys at Crush. They had identified a chorus years before, that had been written by [several writers: Jonas Jeberg, Ilsey Juber, Tayla Parx & Cook Classics]. The chorus had been sitting around in the Crush office, and I know Brendon loved it and Crush loved it. And Brendon had written another song with Jake Sinclair and a couple others that had a great pre-chorus (that would be used for “High Hopes”). And I came along with a verse idea, and a way to glue it together melodically and lyrically in the verse. I was really in on the 11th hour of it which was amazing, because I got to watch every step of it. That chorus is magical, and I’m glad I got to do my bit.
DK: You also co-wrote two other hits for Panic: “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” and “Say Amen (Saturday Night).” Can you talk about these two songs?
Hollander: With “Say Amen,” I came in very late on it. I helped glue together the chorus in the 11th hour. They had already done the bulk of it, and I was a bit of glue on that one.
For “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” I had [the idea] kicking around in my head for awhile. It was a lyric and a concept. I sat down with Brendon and we banged it out. With Brendon, I’ve just watched this incredible rise over the last four years. And you know, I’ve always sat on the sidelines as a spectator, wondering what’s going on mentally in this process, and what he’s dealing with, because I don’t have to deal with any of it. And [“Hey Look Man, I Made It”] is reflecting on what I viewed as a spectator, watching his process change as a human, and evolve.
DK: Another song you co-wrote that I like is “HandClap,” by Fitz and the Tantrums. It’s such a fun song. Can you tell the story behind that song?
Hollander: Yeah. I was a huge Fitz and the Tantrums fan…I always wanted to work with them. I had lobbied for a few years unsuccessfully (laughs), and we finally got into a room together. You know, sometimes there’s just divine intervention. I had been sitting at the beach one day, and I began hearing this verse structure and this “I can make your hands clap,” sort of payoff. (And for the writing session) Fitz came through the door and I was bouncing off the walls with energy, and I pitched him [the idea] as if it was the next Hollywood blockbuster. I started singing this thing to him, and when I sang “I can make your hands clap,” he immediately clapped (quickly) five times. He did that clap that’s in the song—he responded with a call and response which tells you about the primal nature of songwriting. Then we both looked at each other, and immediately we knew we had something. I think we wrote the song in 20 minutes, and it was just magical, because there was something between the push and the pull between us.
Here’s the video of Panic! at the Disco’s hit “Say Amen (Saturday
Night),” which was co-written by Jordan Schmidt.
It’s funny, because this was the first time we wrote together, and now he’s one of my closest friends. It was just a magical day. As a songwriter, you do this 365 days a year and you live it and you breathe it. And that was one of those few days a year that can change your entire life.
DK: With the recent success you’ve had, you must be in strong demand. What are some of the new projects you’re working on?
Hollander: I’ve been working with a brand new artist I’m really excited about…his name is Ringo Starr (laughs). I’m really excited to be working with Ringo; I wrote a couple songs and produced them as well. I’ve also been working with (pop/rock band) Walk The Moon.
Collaborating with great artists is my passion. I love working with singer/songwriters and with bands. For me, I’m a social person, and I love being around people. I need that collaborative art, and this is a job that gives me that ability to become that person.