HomeAn Interview With Peter Hollens

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Del: Hello CASA readers! I'm here with Peter Hollens of University of Oregon's On The Rocks and "The Sing-Off" fame and who has recently been releasing a string of videos of himself doing multi-track recordings of some popular hits. It's a real pleasure to have him here. Pete, thanks for taking the time out to do this!
Peter: My pleasure!

Del: So let's get right to it. I wanna give the readers who may not know you a little background on who you are and what you've done. I heard you were in Ball In The House for a while and I know you are at Oregon doing OtR. Can you fill in the blanks for us a little?

Peter: That's not true actually. I haven't been in On the Rocks since 2006. "The Sing-Off" was a special invite by the group for the show.
Del: Oh, I see. So you were reunited with the group just for the show. That was great of them to ask you.
Peter: Ya, I was honored to be a part of the group again! I came back from Ball In The House wanting to engineer. So I spent my graduate school money on gear on a whim and taught myself how to push the buttons and make nice sounds. Since about 2003 I've made my sole living as a musician either behind the board or on stage, and one of my goals in life is to continue that.

Del: Cool! So, on the heels of "The Sing-Off", you are trying to strike while the iron is hot and make a run at a solo career?

Peter: I've had the honor of helping promote contemporary a cappella the last decade and I hope to help bring it even further forward into the mainstream, whether that means being part of a group, or behind the mixer board or doing these fun YouTube videos. If rap music can become popular around the world, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that the human voice alone can't do the same.

Del: That's something I've been wondering about, actually. Are these videos going to be a part of a full album release or are you just going to be doing a few to get your name out there? Furthermore, if you did release an album will you be touring and would you be forming a group to tour with?

Peter: I think that's something I'm exploring. I have some originals I'd also like to share, and an incredibly talented wife that might be making an appearance.

Del: You beat me to it. I was wondering if you were going to be doing all covers like most of the guys doing these types of recordings and videos like this, or if you were gonna do originals.

Peter: As someone who loves pushing groups to put originals on their CDs, it would be silly for me not to push myself the same direction. In the end, the only way to really try to promote our art form and get it out there is to bring something to the table that is NOT a cover, and for the general public to really eat it up.

Del: I totally agree and I think that you're right; the lack of originals is really what's holding a cappella back from mainstream success or at least a big part of it.

Del: Given the trend of small, vocal band-like groups winning "The Sing-Off", have you considered going back with a smaller group like with 6 guys and seeing how that goes? For that matter, do you think that this trend of small groups winning will continue?

Peter: Well, not sure how to answer that. I think the community is really trying to put the best groups together possible, and really make a huge push for "The Sing-Off" 3, but I'm personally not putting anything together, but would be very open to the idea of doing the show again! It was such a fantastic experience. As far as the trend question, that could be anyone's guess. I have no idea. I would really love to see more females on the show next year.

Del: I agree. That would be a nice change.
Del: So tell me a little about the process. Do you multi-track these recordings at home? How long do they usually take to complete?
Peter: Process - I chat and go back and forth with my boy Tom Anderson a lot on the phone usually regarding what songs to do, and when we decide on one, he sits down and writes me something sexy. I usually record the entire thing in an afternoon. And I've been sending on my stuff to Ben Lieberman to edit cause he's a savage and because I hate editing my own voice.
Del: It's good to have talented friends.

Peter: Oh God yes! I'm so blessed when it comes to that. I then send it on to Sir Ed Boyer for some mixing, and on this last single I got Bill Hare in on the action for the mastering! Can't go wrong with those two.

Del: Wow! You can record the parts accurately in an afternoon. That’s pretty quick. I don't think people realize how hard multi-tracking can be. You make it sound easy. That's pretty impressive.

Okay so after you get a finished recording done where do you go from there?

Peter: Next I move on and record the parts on video. I've had two of my friends help in this process, both On The Rocks alumni, which is really fun. I record with just my Canon T2i, or recently, Caleb, who can be heard on the recent OtR release singing his original "Afloat", brought his Canon D5 and D7 along for this latest release. We record almost everything in my studio, the same place where I record the audio.

Del: How long does it take to complete the whole process from starting the audio to final editing of the video?

Peter: Well, I haven't been pressed to do it as fast as we can yet, so I'm not sure quite yet, I could report back, but that's something I'm looking forward to trying soon!

One of the things I'm currently working on is doing a lot of these videos going forward this year and give 100% of the proceeds to charity. I would really like to do something to make a difference this year, and it's something that I've thought a lot about the last few weeks, and I'm currently finishing up details with the Tug McGraw Foundation, to help them with fundraising and try to make a difference in the quality of life of children and adults with brain tumors. My father is the longest living survivor of his kind of brain cancer in the nation - if not the world - by now, and one of the reasons I was born was because he wanted a son before he passed, as he was given only months to live. Currently he's in hospice and could move on soon. So I want to do something in his honor, and give back.

That's awesome, giving back like that. It's a great example of how music can be used to do a lot of good for the world and really make a difference in peoples' lives.
Peter: Therry Thomas, one of the lead singers from Committed, and I will be doing a duet very soon, to start this fundraising for the foundation. So basically, the goal is to make music, and do it for a good cause, that's the plan right now!

That's great! I think that it's really great how you all seem to be like a family on the show. That's so different from the other shows of its type that aren't a cappella.
Peter: I know, right? "The Sing-Off" Season 2 was a family. It wasn't a competition.

Del: Cool! So "Firework" by Katie Perry is your newest release that dropped on Valentines Day. When should we expect another release?

Peter: Maybe just for you I will try to see how fast I can get something new, and report back!

Sounds great, Pete! So is there anything else you wanna say to the CASA readers before we wrap it up?

Peter: Just that it means a lot to have the support of CASA, and the a cappella community, and I hope going forward we all support each other through social media like Facebook and Twitter to help groups like Committed, Street Corner Symphony and Nota and get the word out when they release anything. We are a small but mighty niche, and we just need to support everyone if we want to see contemporary a cappella grow! I would especially appreciate help to get the word out when I start doing my videos for the Tug McGraw Foundation. It's as easy as sharing a link or purchasing a song on iTunes. That will help the life of a patient in need.

Very cool. Well, thanks for taking the time out to do this. I know we're all anxious to see what comes of all of these videos and what new music you have to bring to the table!

About the author:
Del Coy studied voice, vocal arranging, live sound reinforcement and studio recording techniques in the Commercial Music program at Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Winchester, VA. While at Shenandoah he had the privilege of singing under the direction of Grammy Award Winner, Robert Shafer. He had the distinct honor of performing with the Washington Oratorio Society which performed the Verdi Requiem, Belshazzar’s Feast and Poulenc Gloria with the National Symphony Orchestra and soloists from the Metropolitan Opera at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He also studied voice and was a vocal arranger for the Jazz ensemble at Carnegie Mellon University. Del has over 15 years of professional and semi-professional experience in a cappella. His career has taken him all over the country including performing at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida. He toured with the (national touring group) Four Shadow and has subbed with Blue Jupiter. Del also performed with the vocal group METRO on board Celebrity Cruises in the Caribbean.