Ammar Malik: Maroon 5 and Gym Class Heroes

"Moves Like Jagger” burrows into the consciousness with multiple hooks and a maddening insistence. The chart-topping Grammy-nominated song by Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera is co-written by Ammar Malik, a Virginia resident who is also a writer on “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine. Malik says the lyric on the second song came to him in the supermarket. “I remember looking at apples and a line popped into my head: ‘My heart’s a stereo.’”

With Gym Class Heroes’ follow-up, “Ass Back Home,” and “Make it Last Forever” for Taio Cruz among Malik’s co-writing credits, his hits so far have been distinguished by an upbeat, radio-friendly charm. “Any optimism in the music I’ve been creating is from the phenomenal experiences I’m having working with the people I’m working with and how magical it’s been,” he says, “I’m able to stop and go, ‘This is the beginning of it all.’”

A recent George Mason University graduate, Malik performed locally with a string of Virginia bands and was encouraged by a close-knit creative community. His best friend, David Silberstein, who is now his co-manager, had a valuable contact: hitmaker Benny Blanco (Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Ke$ha). “David went to Jewish sleepaway camp with Benny,” Malik explains, “where they used to beat-box and freestyle.”

When Blanco heard Malik’s tracks, he asked Malik if he had ever considered writing for other artists. “At the time I never had––I wanted to be an artist and still do,” he says. “We set out to try a few co-writing sessions. We had Benny’s ear; he was very supportive. We’d send him stuff and he’d say, ‘Dude! That’s awesome.’ I went to New York and met my now good friend Dan 'Danno' Omelio, the songwriter-producer known as Robopop. Within a couple of hours we wrote ‘Stereo Hearts.’ Atlantic Records got an ear for it and that’s when the snowball really start to roll.”

At the time, Malik was earning money as a professional dog walker. “I would have song and lyric ideas jump in my head, just hanging with the dogs of Northern Virginia,” he recalls. “I knew music was what I wanted to do. I was an English major at George Mason. If you rush into getting a job teaching, or anything like that, you really close a lot of doors especially when it comes to making music. The friends I grew up with are all extremely talented musicians and songwriters. We took the dog-walking route to wait for the opportunity to arise to do what we really wanted to do.”

A cross-country road trip with Blanco was a huge bonding experience for the collaborators. “It was right after school, I was still walking dogs, and I thought it sounded perfect. It was the beginning of 2011 that we jumped in the car and became really good friends, and had an experience that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”

Malik, a first-generation American born to immigrant Pakistani parents, says his family is exhilarated by his success. “If only you could be interviewing them it would be a much more interesting conversation,” the songwriter laughs. But he is reflective and direct when considering advice for someone who is in the position he was in so very recently, balancing creative instincts with the commercial marketplace.

“Be honest, know what you’re good at, and don’t be afraid of what you’re not,” Malik observes. “I couldn’t do this by myself. I have my strengths, but it’s only through working with people who have the other pieces of the puzzle that any of this is able to happen. Someone might be an amazing guitarist, but they won’t know how to put a song together. Someone might be great at coming up with hooks, but won’t be able to see it all the way to the end. It’s totally okay that you’re that guy.”

And for anyone who wants to be a professional dog walker, he offers this thought: “They know when you’re nervous—you better be really confident, or only choose the small dogs.”

By Dan Kimpel