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Ten Minutes With a Songwriter (who has billions of hits!)

Sam Hollander is huge! Make no mistake. Alas, unless you’re really focused on who writes and produces today’s music, you probably don’t know his name. Hollander’s songs have been streamed over four billion times! That’s billion! His biggest hit was “High Hopes” by the band “Panic! at the Disco,” one of dozens who perform his music. He’s written with and for the great Carole King, Katy Perry, Pentatonix, Joe Cocker, One Direction, Train, and is presently working with a drummer named Ringo Star.

You grew up in Bedford Hills. Did you go to the local schools?
Yup, I went to West Patent and Fox Lane.

Can you trace something inspirational in your career to local origin?
Actually, yes. Steve Karmen, the guy who wrote the Budweiser jingle, came to a Career Day at Fox Lane. It made a big impression on me that there was this successful guy doing what I kind of thought was unobtainable. I was doing a lot of journaling, and I’ve always liked playing with the rhythm of words, but I got the idea I could write songs and make a living, or more. Also, Phil Ramone lived in town. Bumping into him at the record store was major. And ultimately, I guess, a lot of my material was born out of basic themes and images from my childhood, and I certainly have great memories of growing up in the 914 that’ve played a big part in a lot of my songs.

Is writing music a nice way of making a living?
I’m very lucky. I live in Hollywood with my wife and 13-year-old daughter. I spend a lot of time collaborating with great artists. I have such a big creative outlet. I can’t believe I get to do this.

How’d you do it?
I got my first record deal when I was 20, and this has been the adventure ever since. My breakthrough came when I started to produce bands that performed my songs.

How do you start a song?
I usually start with a title. Just a word or a phrase that grabs me. Then I pull out a guitar and begin strumming some basic changes, simply to see where the journey takes me. I’m a terrible guitarist, but it helps me find a rhythm and a flow. Once I connect to the concept a bit more, I begin laying down voice notes of lyric and melody until I have something concrete.

Can you sing?
I’m what you’d call a “vocal stylist.” Whenever I lay down my guide vocals, I tend to sound like an ’80s Budweiser commercial. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

You get to choose from all artists. Are you more like Bob Dylan or Picasso?
I guess I’ve always dug pop art and Warhol and relate to the novelty. And I think I’m a narrator at times, maybe something along the lines of a wannabe Springsteen, in the sense of trying to create composites of wacky characters I’ve encountered.

Who are your heroes?
My parents. They really always encouraged my artistic expression. They let me go my own way. And Paul Williams. He’s been my mentor and friend. He’s a great lyricist and a better human. He taught me how you’re supposed to do it, in every way.

What’s next?
More songs. And I’d like to do a music-themed film festival at the Bedford Playhouse!


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