Peter Hollens scores multiple firsts on Billboard‘s charts this week, as the 36-year-old Oregon-based singer-songwriter becomes the first a cappella artist to reach the top 10 of the Emerging Artists chart.
Hollens debuts at No. 6 on the survey as his eighth LP, Legendary Folk Songs, launches at No. 1 on both the Classical Albums and Classical Crossover Albums charts (dated June 30), earning his second entry and first No. 1 on each chart, as well as his first leaders on any Billboard ranking. He first hit the two tallies in November 2014 with his self-titled fourth studio set, which debuted and peaked at Nos. 5 and 4, respectively.
Legendary Folk Songs also opens at No. 114 on the all-genre Billboard 200, where Hollens makes his first appearance. The LP includes covers of such standards as “Danny Boy,” “Greensleeves,” “Amazing Grace” and more.
Hollens began singing in high school, when his mother urged him to join the choir, which, he tells Billboard, he was hesitant to do at first, before conceding. “The decision was extraordinarily profound and changed my existence,” he says. As a student at the University of Oregon, in 1999 he founded the school’s a cappella group On the Rocks, and he sang in the act for its spotlight 2010 performance on NBC’s The Sing-Off.
Hollens began his YouTube channel in 2011 and now boasts nearly 2 million subscribers. His most-viewed video, a Lord of the Rings-inspired take on Ed Sheeran‘s “I See Fire,” has garnered 14 million global views.
Billboard caught up with Hollens about his new album and more.
Legendary Folk Songs is your eighth studio album, but your first No. 1. Congrats! Why do you think that it’s connecting so well?
I think from a musical standpoint, I’ve been a classically trained singer for over a decade, taking voice lessons in the classical vein, and a lot of the vocal pedagogy is used in these songs.
I also think, from a straightforward song perspective, these songs are some of the most iconic melodies of all time, and it resonates with a slightly older demographic, but also young kids. I think it’s something that my grandmother or my nephew could enjoy.
What was it like recording with David Archuleta, who guests on “Loch Lomond”? How did you begin working with him?
David is such an incredible person, so gentle and loving and gracious. In the studio, he’s stupidly talented. There are people who are performers or dancers, but David is a vocalist. Every take could’ve been used and you wouldn’t have been able to tell.
We had previously worked together on a Christmas song a few years earlier, so we just rekindled the friendship.
You’re very active on your YouTube channel, in that you frequently release covers and medleys of songs. How do you think YouTube has helped your career?
I created my fanbase out of thin air, and it was done exclusively for the first five years on YouTube. They’ve provided the best set of tools for creators to do that, and I’ve been absolutely fortunate enough to create a business utilizing their infrastructure.
Now, with competition heating up across all platforms, it’s been incredibly useful to utilize YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and so on, to the best of my ability. Being able to release something and then release it to 5 million people is so powerful.
One video that stuck out to me was your cover of “Silent Night,” with Mario Jose, where you recorded 48 versions of the song and then overlapped them for the video. What was it like recording that, and how long did it take?
That’s what I do. Every single song is that process, but I don’t always show the multiplicity aspect. I know it does better to grab people’s attention, but I think showing the cloning is a nice way for people to [see how I create].
If I’m being honest, though, that was actually an easy and quick piece of content because the arrangement wasn’t that complex. I have other songs that have upwards of 180 tracks and it’s all done the same way, audio-wise. So I usually simplify it for the audience.
What’s next for you?
My next album is literally The Greatest Showman soundtrack, but a cappella. That’s what we’re in the studio working on right now. I absolutely love that soundtrack. It’s so nice to have real songs that resonate with people.