Welcome to Generation AP, a weekly spotlight on emerging actors, writers and creatives who are on the verge of taking over.
Producer and songwriter Sam Hollander always knew that he was a little bit different or a black sheep, if you will, looking for a chance to have the opportunity to turn his wildest dreams and creative fantasies into reality. After a painstaking 15 years of ups and downs and career setbacks, Hollander was finally given the opportunity and platform to achieve success at 35 years old. With an ever-present survival instinct and obsessive perseverance, Hollander experienced a major commercial breakthrough in the late aughts, penning widely successful records and singles for young artists at the time such as Boys Like Girls, All Time Low, Metro Station, and Gym Class Heroes, among many others. Eventually, he positioned himself as one of the most sought-after producers and songwriters in pop and alternative music — and wasted no time in leaving his creative mark on a series of compelling projects from major artists such as Weezer, Panic! At The Disco, blink-182, The Beach Boys, and Ringo Starr.
Now, in 2022, with a lifetime of stories, insights, and wisdom obtained through years of hard work in the pursuit of creativity, Hollander is releasing his debut autobiography 21-Hit Wonder: Flopping My Way To The Top Of The Charts. The book, out December 6, is a staggering and transparent memoir that fuses everything from experimental creative nonfiction to downright vulnerable and at times self-deprecating humor that feels entirely heartfelt and authentic in every sense of the word. 21-Hit Wonder: Flopping My Way To The Top Of The Charts is a guidebook more than anything for young creatives to read while beginning their own journey in the pursuit of art — and is a testament that while the road may seem long to the top, patience and timing is everything.
Hollander, who has always been a torchbearer for youth culture and the next generation is now in the midst of a major college tour, speaking at a wide range of institutions, where he’s been offering students support and sharing his expertise to anyone who has a passion for music. Additionally, Hollander will be donating all proceeds from the book and tour to the Musicians On Call charity, an initiative that aims to bring music and renowned artists directly to patients and healthcare workers in need. Alternative Press spoke to him about the new release and book tour, his career, and more.
When did you decide to finally take the plunge and write your first book?
In 2015, my parents both passed away back-to-back, and I come from a very small family. I ended up inheriting my dad’s laptop, and when I opened it up, I saw all of these sticky notes and folders full of content and instantly flashed back to when I was 7 years old when my dad announced that he was writing a book to our family. As a kid, it was the greatest flex to say my dad was writing a book. Through the years the topic would come up and he’d always say “I’m making headway,” but when he passed, there was no book. My initial idea was to[put his book] together, but realized it was so beyond my comprehension. It broke my heart because my parents both lived these incredible fascinating lives within the arts, but there was little documentation of it. I felt, for my own kid, it would be a great little keepsake for her to have my story. This is a story about the grind, the hustle, and the creative survival that I had to endure to get through this.
I love that you bring up the aspect of “survival” because I feel like that is the theme of your story more than anything else.
I read a lot of books about artists and there tends to always be a brief narrative about their struggles — but it’s usually just 3 pages, and then everything is great and they’re spiking the proverbial ball to the end zone, From that point on, it’s all just one big humblebrag. I didn’t have that kind of career — it was completely different. I had my first hit [song] at 35-years-old. When you struggle for the first 15 years of your career, you out fail everyone. Truth be told, I was really bankrupting labels, companies –– just anybody that got into business with me. I was like a walking Seattle Winter. [Laughs.] At some point, I caught the proverbial break and it has been magical ever since. But that’s less interesting to me –– it’s the other end of the game that shaped me.
What I have always loved about you as a person and as a writer is that you are not afraid to be the perfect level of self-deprecating, even down to the title of the book.
I’m innately snarky, and self-aware enough to know how stupid this all is at the end of the day. I write songs as an aspirational tool to find some form of catharsis for my own broken soul. I have to write a lot of up-tempo songs to balance any sort of black clouds inside of myself — but I will tell you, I have to laugh through all the heartache, or else it will be utter brutality.
You have obtained validation from esteemed writers, musicians, and creatives in droves, does this feel surreal after so many years of just wanting to be heard?
I’ve been perennially thirsty and just wanted to be noticed, and always felt there was something different about me. It can take a long time to articulate that and when you know there is something cool within your DNA but other people don’t get it, it’s completely frustrating. For me, academics were a disaster so the notion of sitting in a classroom didn’t work with my wiring, so I had to chase [creativity] aggressively. Getting validation from legends from every genre has been more fulfilling than anything else and is what gets me up in the morning.
What has been the most fulfilling moment from your recent college book tour?
It’s been emotionally heavy and it can range from 250 people in a theater to 15 kids in a classroom. The thing that brings me a lot of hope is how much diversity there is in the industry now. The kids effortlessly flow together and there is this really nice energy that I don’t remember feeling back in the day. I’m meeting so many badass kids and Gen Z’s energy is exhilarating. There are also so many more music programs for songwriting and production than when I first started, so it’s cool to see how it’s all developed.
As a generational songwriter, what would you say are the projects and songs that define you?
I’m emotionally invested in all of my projects, but there are definitely a few that define my journey in many ways. There’s Boys Like Girls, We The Kings, and Gym Class Heroes on one end because those three records set me up to do this for the rest of my life. hen there are the projects I did with Train, Fitz and The Tantrums, and Panic! At The Disco, where people finally were able to connect the dots on what I had achieved to date. It took [Panic! At The Disco’s 2018 hit] “High Hopes” for people to look back 20 years into my past and assemble the journey that I’ve had. [Panic! At The Disco’s 2018 album] Pray For The Wicked is probably my favorite album I’ve ever done. It was so free, loose, and a great moment where the music intersected with an artist who was in the zeitgeist at that time.
I can only hope that this book is optioned in Hollywood and David Schwimmer plays me to the best of his abilities. [Laughs.]