Spotlight Interview: Peter Hollens

Peter Hollens is an American pop singer-songwriter-producer. He has been heavily involved with a cappella music since 1999 when he co-founded the University of Oregon’s award-winning a cappella group On The Rocks, known as the first official collegiate a cappella group in Oregon. Originally from Ashland, Oregon, Peter graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. Since his graduation from the U of O, he has become very involved with collegiate a cappella, including recording, producing & judging international a cappella competitions throughout the United States.

In 2010, Peter was featured on NBC’s The Sing Off season 2, receiving acclaim from judges Shawn Stockman, Nicole Scherzinger and Ben Folds for his solo performances with On the Rocks. Peter records and produces from his home studio in Eugene, Oregon.

 

Hollens_070_1_by Jay Eads

Peter Hollens. Photograph by Jay Eads

Peter’s eponymous debut album on Portrait/Sony Masterworks Records is now available in iTunes, Amazon, and Loudr.  The album features seven songs from Hollens’ catalog and six new releases.  It includes collaborations with Brian Wilson, Avi Kaplan (from Pentatonix), Jackie Evancho (covering Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”), and Sabrina Carpenter (covering U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”). The diverse tracklist also includes “Skyrim (Main Theme)” (with Lindsay Stirling), a Les Miserables medley (with guest vocals from his wife  Evynne Hollens), and original composition “Ashland’s Song,” written for his young son. Rounding out the collection, Hollens includes iconic songs from his YouTube catalog such as Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” as well as a selection of folk songs he was working on before the album deal came to fruition.

You can check out his website here, and he is very active on social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.

His latest YouTube video, “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair,” performed with Avi Kaplan of Pentatonix, is up now right here and at the end of this post following the interview.

 

Peter, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. 

First of all, congratulations on the new album!

Thank you kindly!

How busy were you in the weeks leading up to this tremendous accomplishment, a debut album on a major record label?

It has been a lot of work getting everything together, but I’m so excited to be able to get this album out to my community of supporters, and hopefully to a wide range of new listeners!

The album contains a combination of songs you previously recorded and some new tracks. Did you get to choose which of your existing tracks would be included, and if so how did you narrow it down from such an extensive catalog?

Yes, I was able to choose the songs on the album. I ended up listening to my supporters and my wife a lot for which songs to include.  I almost made a few changes at the last minute by adding another song that I recently did with Malukah —http://youtu.be/17svtURunUk — I actually believe Evynne ended up choosing the final song order on the album as well.  She’s been an enormous help!

The album has a new, original track with the legendary Brian Wilson, whose harmonies decades ago continue to inspire the a cappella community overtly and subliminally. How did that collaboration come about and what were you thinking when you found out this was going to happen?

The collaboration came about because of a mutual awesome acquaintance, Winston Simone, who introduced me to the projectI think the song came together quite amazingly!! I’m so honored to be able to sing with someone I’ve looked up to my entire life.

Who are some other major recording artists that have influenced you musically or with whom you’d like to collaborate?

Jason Mraz has really influenced me; I’d love to work with him again, since we did a large collaboration together on this one–  http://youtu.be/903A5ijQveE but I would die to do one with just Jason and me. Actually quick story – the night my son was born we were at a Jason Mraz concert speaking with him before he went on. He and my wife joked that she would go into labor that night during the concert (three weeks early) –and in fact she did! Other artists I would love to work with are Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Sara Bareilles and Pentatonix just to name a few.  Although I’ve collaborated with some members of PTX–  Scott Hoying (http://youtu.be/jTNh1yn-qrs) and Avi Kaplan (below)—  I would love to work with them all together.

You also have an original which you wrote, “Ashland’s Song.”  The song is obviously very personal and emotional, and you and Evynne have been quite open about the experience of becoming first time parents. Was it clear to you that this should be your first original song with Sony, and were they supportive of this decision?

It was very important to me to sing about the experience of becoming a father.  I know that because it’s such a specific topic that it doesn’t have the selling power of a top 40 love song, but the point was to make something meaningful and share this experience with as many people that would listen.  It was clear to me and I’m happy that Sony was supportive. 

Do you plan to use the song as a path towards recording more original music, or will you stick with more covers in the future?

I’m going to try my hand at more originals in the future, but I really enjoy covering songs that my community and supporters ask me to cover and making music that makes them happy!

In the past, you’ve recorded a pretty wide variety of songs, ranging from recent pop to video game themes, folks tunes to musical theater. What are the most important factors for you when deciding what song to cover? Which styles do you most enjoy recording?

Honestly, I take what my community is asking for very seriously!  I take a lot of requests from my hollensfamily (what I call my community) and those who support my work on Patreon (www.patreon.com/peterhollens).  My goal as an artist is to inspire others and make them happy, and I can do that in a lot of ways, engaging with them on social media, and doing the songs they request. If I can make them happy it makes me happy! 

 In your very successful career on YouTube, you’ve worked with a lot of other successful internet artists. How did you decide to head in that direction and have there been any difficulties working with people you don’t really know?

I think working with other artists is the best part of what I do! It gets really tiring only using one instrument day in and day out, so whether it’s collaborating with my wifey Evynne Hollens – http://youtu.be/_A0CU8jgJzs – or working with Lindsey Stirling, it’s just the best part of my job! Sharing my audience with others, and raising awareness for the YouTube community is another perk of collaboration.

Do you have any plans to perform in support of the album release?

I’m really working on putting something together hopefully for May or June, 2015.  It’s difficult since I had never started this entire one man a cappella YouTube thing thinking I would ever try to turn it into a live show of any sorts. I have a lot of work to do to perfect any sort of live show if I were to do one, but I’m very excited about the possibility of it happening in the future.

You are also a producer and audio engineer. What impact (if any) did those skills have in getting you where you are today? Were you largely self-taught or did you study recording techniques?

I was mostly self taught, but picked up a lot of tips from one of my mentors Bill Hare. I would say most of the reason I am where I am today is because of my journey of singing in professional a cappella groups, taking the money that I had saved for graduate school and buying my studio equipment, recording dozens of a cappella groups around the nation and recording, editing, mixing and mastering other groups, and finally starting my own music after the Sing Off.

You have been and continue to be very connected to folks in the a cappella community. What kinds of things do you see changing for the better in a cappella music today, and what would you like to see change more (or differently)?

The number one thing changing for the better is awareness of the genre. With that brings more people listening, singing and participating in the a cappella world that we know and love. I’m so happy to see this happening, and I look forward to the trend continuing and encouraging millions more people to start singing!

Considering your experience and success performing with a cappella groups and bands, have you felt any desire to get back to singing harmonies in a live setting with voices that don’t come from your own throat?  😉

I’m actually starting to explore ways I can tour and perform my music around the world. I’m not going to take any options off the table, but it’s something that I am passionate about and hopefully can create an experience that would be entertaining for anyone who enjoys my music, or the genre as a whole.  

Finally, I think it is fair to say that you are something of a pioneer where vocal or a cappella music intersects with the web and social media. Do you ever wonder where this journey will take you next?

I just hope it allows me to continue making music for a living. It’s something I will never take for granted, and I hope and pray it continues. Being able to make music that moves people, and helps inspire them is the ultimate journey, and one I hope I will be able to continue for a long time.  

Peter, thank you so much for a few minutes of your time. We are all very excited for your success, and we wish you much more to come with the album and any future performances, videos, and recordings.

Again, you can find out more about Peter at the following URLs:

 

http://peterhollens.com/
https://twitter.com/peterhollens
https://www.facebook.com/PeterHollensMusic
http://instagram.com/peterhollens

 

and his latest video, with Avi Kaplan of Pentatonix, is available at: http://youtu.be/3oc1XuqzyGs and right here

 

2 Comments

  1. Liz Nations   •  

    This is a great article, too bad the link seems to be messed up when trying to share, it says the article does not exist.

  2. Dave Bernstein   •     Author

    It should be fixed now. Try sharing again please, and glad you enjoyed the interview!

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