Australian Singer/Songwriter PJ Harding Talks About His Debut EP, To Fall Asleep, And His Hit Collaborations with Noah Cyrus

PJ Harding
PJ Harding
(photo credit: Cybele Malinowski)

Over the past three years, PJ Harding has emerged as a talented singer/songwriter who is having success in two different ways. First, he’s a solo artist who has just released his debut EP, To Fall Asleep, on RECORDS/RCA Records. Second, he’s a pro songwriter who has written many songs with young pop star Noah Cyrus, and with other artists.

Harding is based in Sydney, Australia, and he’s also lived and worked in Los Angeles. It was in 2020 that he had a breakthrough, when he met Noah Cyrus at a songwriting camp, and they began writing together. This led to Harding writing four songs with Cyrus for her EP, The End of Everything, that included her hit, “July.” That same year, he also signed his label deal.

The success Harding & Cyrus had with “July” led to them recording a duet EP in 2021 called People Don’t Change. This EP helped introduce Harding as an artist, which set the stage for him to release his new solo EP. Then in 2022, he wrote five songs with Cyrus for her debut album, The Hardest Part. And notably, Harding co-produced many of the songs with Cyrus.

SPECIAL FEATURE: STREAMING AUDIO
Here’s an excerpt of our interview with PJ Harding, who tell he wrote with Noah Cyrus her hit, “July.”

 

Harding’s EP, To Fall Asleep, is an impressive debut record. He wrote most of the songs by himself and plays most of the instruments. His EP shows that he’s a soulful, expressive lead vocalist. Most of the songs are acoustic guitar-based, with arrangements that gradually build emotion and momentum. The key songs on the EP are “A Dangerous Thing,” the title cut “To Fall Asleep,” and “It Wasn’t Enough.”

In addition to releasing his own EP, Harding has been working steadily as a songwriter & producer. He has recently written songs with Cyrus for her next album, and he’s had cuts with other artists including Ruel, Duncan Laurence, Chromeo and Meg Mac. He’s also worked with Lil Nas X, Bebe Rexha, Maggie Lindemann, Sean Douglas and Tobias Jesso Jr.


Here’s the video of PJ Harding’s song, “A Dangerous Thing.”

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with PJ Harding. He discusses his new EP, his collaborations with Cyrus, and how he loves writing songs with other artists and songwriters.

DK: I read that you’re from Australia. How did you get into music and writing songs?

PJ Harding: I grew up in an area north of Sydney. My parents played music—my mother’s a beautiful songwriter and her parents were jazz musicians. So it was always seen that music was a legitimate thing to do with your life. When I was around 13, I was very keen to start writing songs. I had a friend who was a very good songwriter that I was playing in a band with. I was playing drums initially, and then I picked up a guitar and taught myself enough to be able to write songs.

DK: During the past four years, you’ve lived in both Los Angeles and Sydney. Can you talk about the past four years, living in both places?

Harding: L.A. is such a great place for a songwriter to work—it’s like the center of the universe. I moved there with my family; we have two little kids. But six months after we moved there, everything shut down due to the pandemic. The kids couldn’t go to school, and songwriters were mostly working over Zoom. We didn’t know how long it was going to last, so we ended up coming home to Australia. We were just there a year, but it was a very productive year.

So I came home, but by then I was working with Noah Cyrus. She’d finished an EP and we were starting work on her album together. And over the course of the pandemic, we also had a collaborative EP (People Don’t Change) that we started. So when I came back to Australia, we finished all those things up over Zoom. It’s been really good, and I continue to work on Zoom with people in the States, as well as taking trips over there to work in person.

DK: When you started your music career, was your goal to be an artist, or write songs for other people?


Here’s the video of PJ Harding performing his song,
“It Wasn’t Enough.”

Harding: To be honest when I started out, I didn’t really know that you could write songs for other people (laughs). So for the first 15 years that I wrote songs, I didn’t do any co-writing. I was only writing for myself as an artist. But then in 2014, I was in London and I got invited to a songwriting camp. That was the first time I was exposed to that type of group songwriting for other artists. And it really opened my eyes to that whole world.

At the time, my artist project was a bit more of an electronic production. It was under the name, Thief. And I didn’t love the touring. So when I saw that I could write songs for other people, that blew my mind. When I got home after that trip, I signed a publishing deal and I focused on writing for other people. And it’s taken all this time now, the last eight years, to finally get back to being an artist and releasing my own songs. So it’s sort of been a big loop.

DK: I read that you met Noah Cyrus at a writers camp in Bali. How did the two of you connect and become a good writing team?

Harding: I’m not sure…we’ve talked about it a bit. I think sometimes with any collaborator, there’s some little magic dust that you can’t put a finger on what it is. At the core, we both have similar ideas about what makes a great song. So you feel like you’re always working towards the same goal and instinctively, we gravitate towards the same things. And there’s some other magical thing as well, that I don’t know where it comes from. The first song we wrote was “July,” which turned into a big song for her. It was just easy and enjoyable to write, and everything that you hope collaborating will be, but isn’t always.

DK: Are you continuing to write more songs with Noah?

Harding: Yes. She released her album (The Hardest Part) late last year, which I was an executive producer on. We wrote the bulk of the songs for that. And earlier this year, I was in L.A. writing more songs with Noah, and we’re working towards her next album. So I’ll hopefully write songs with Noah for as long as she’ll have me (laughs). I’m happy to be doing that.


Here’s the video of Noah Cyrus’ hit “July,” which was co-written
by PJ Harding.

DK: How did you write with Noah her hit, “July”?

Harding: We were in Bali, at this beautiful location where the studio was. It’s picturesque, and a great environment to be creative in. We were there for 10 days, and each day you go in with different people, and there’s different artists there. It was the first day of camp that they put me with Noah and Michael Sonier, who was the other writet & producer in the room. Things came together very quickly. What you hear on the record is the demo we made that day. There was no additional recording done. It was very immediate, with us responding to what was happening in the room. And I think that’s part of the magic of the song, that it’s so immediate and feels so intimate, because it was this little moment in time that we managed to capture.

DK: Besides your work with Noah and other artists, you have your own artist career. When did you sign with RCA Records?

Harding: It was the beginning of 2020 when I was in L.A., before everything turned bad with the pandemic. I had been talking with the guys from Noah’s label, RECORDS, and they were interested in doing something with me. At the time I was pretty unsure about it, because I hadn’t loved the artist experience before. But we had a long conversation with those guys, and as long as it was all music-led stuff, I’m into it. And they’ve been great and allowed my music to speak for itself and be a little bit strange if it wants to be (laughs). So it was a long time coming because that was back in 2020, and my EP has just come out. So it takes time, but it’s good. I’m very glad that it’s all happened.

DK: Can you talk about the making your EP, To Fall Asleep?

Harding: When I signed the deal, I didn’t have a strong picture of what I wanted it to be. Soon after I signed the deal, Covid happened, we were locked down in L.A., and like a lot of people I just started processing everything through songs. And in the course of a couple months I wrote the EP. Once I’d heard those songs then I was like…I think this is it. This is what I want to put out. I want to keep it lo-fi and homemade, with the initial recordings that I made after writing the songs. And that’s where that EP came from. It’s all the things and ideas that I was experiencing during that time. There was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, but also a lot of hope, and there’s love being in the house with my family and having that time together.


Here’s the video of PJ Harding & Noah Cyrus’ song, “Dear August.”

DK: On your EP, are you playing all the instruments and doing all the singing?

Harding: Yeah I play everything; it’s basically just me. There’s one song—“The Way It Felt To Love You”—that I wrote just before the pandemic, with two great L.A. songwriters: Leland and Johnny Price. I loved the song and it gelled with the other songs for the EP. But basically everything else is just me inside my head, and then trying to record everything. It’s all very lo-fi, mostly recorded in bedrooms.

DK: I like your song “A Dangerous Thing.” What inspired you to write this song?

Harding: During that time, I was thinking about grief and losing people, and seeing other people go through the grieving process. That song is about grief and love and how we square those two things, how one can affect the other. And I felt it summed up the rest of the themes on the record in a nice, accessible way.

DK: What are your other favorite songs on your EP?

Harding: I love all the songs, but “It Wasn’t Enough” is a special song, one of my favorites that I’ve written. The other one is the title track “To Fall Asleep,” which is one of the most personal songs and very specific to my thoughts in that moment. It’s probably the song that captures that time the most.

DK: Now that you’ve released your EP, do you have plans to play live shows or tour?

Harding: I’m definitely going to do some things. Noah Cyrus is coming to Australia in July and I’m excited about supporting her for a couple shows. I’m looking forward to playing some of these songs in front of people and share the music that way. It’s special to be able to connect with people in person and play live.

DK: You’ve also written songs for other artists such as Meg Mac, Duncan Laurence, Ruel and Chromeo. Can you talk about these collaborations?

Harding: Ruel is an interesting one; I’ve been working with him since he was 12 years old. He’s an incredible talent, and I helped him write the first song he wrote. So it’s a huge privilege to be around someone that’s learning how to write songs and developing as a songwriter, and especially since Ruel has turned into a great writer & artist. Also, Meg Mac is a beautiful singer & songwriter. When we moved back to Sydney, I was looking for a couple Australian projects to get involved with, and I was lucky that it timed perfectly with Meg recording her album.

I love writing with other artists and songwriters…it’s my favorite thing to do. I love doing my EP and writing songs on my own, but collaborating is a huge part of what I love about songwriting. So I’m always excited when I get to write a song with someone new.