You might be surprised to learn the first song ALDAE (Gregory Hein) ever remembers hearing on the radio: Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply.” A frequent KISS-FM listener while growing up in the Arlington-Fort Worth area, his early exposure was mostly radio hits, while his grandmother often listened to Ray Charles nonstop in the house.
A pop architect on the rise, Hein basks in the glow of new-found success as a vital songwriter on Justin Bieber’s No. 1-bowing eighth studio record, Justice. Two and a half years ago, the songwriter snagged a publishing deal with Pulse Music Group, and founder and industry mogul Beka Tischker asked him which artist with whom he’d love to write. He naturally said Bieber. “I always kind of identified with him. There’s a depth to the way he records. It’s deeper than surface level,” he tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call.
In a star-aligning turn of events, Hein was introduced to Josh Gudwin, who then made the connection with Skrillex. Out of 100 songs he’d collected, four eventually made it onto Bieber’s record, including “2 Much,” “As I Am” featuring Khalid, and “Unstable.” But he never expected any of them would ever actually be recorded.
“I was living in New York for the majority of the pandemic. When I got back to LA, Sonny [Skrillex] randomly invited me over to his house. He also invited Justin’s DJ Tay [Taylor James]. We played Tay two of the songs we did, and Tay texted them to Justin immediately,” recalls Hein. “Then, Justin Facetimed Tay five minutes later. Once Justin met me and we spoke, we were locked in. Then, it was a lot easier. When you take a demo from a stranger, you don’t know where that’s coming from.
“Justin gave me advice that had nothing to do with music. It was more on relationships and fatigue,” he continues. “He did give me this piece of advice that taking breaks is essential to not become fatigued. I applied that to songwriting.”
Opening track “2 Much,” which first began with Gian Stone over Zoom, stages a moody, piano-tuned setting for much of the record. Bieber’s voice brims with love and longing, as he pulls his wife Hailey closer to him. An eternity with you ain’t long enough, he whispers.
“Nobody else really did melodies in that session. So, I did. Basically, I go in and sing gibberish. This particular song, my take of the melody is what’s on the record,” offers Hein. “We spent eight hours on that song. That’s a good turnaround time; I’ve spent years on other songs.
“What was done that day stayed. No lyrics were changed. Justin came in and really took it to the next level. Once we had the demo, I told the guys, ‘I love the song, but I don’t think the production is right. Do you mind if I take it to Skrillex?’” he continues. “Sonny rearranged the music and came up with these gut-wrenching chords. I remember playing it for Justin, and he was like ‘wow, this song is a little too good.’ He cut it two days later.”
Yet before arriving on the final product, “2 Much” actually underwent several “different versions where Sonny tried drums. But sometimes you don’t need drums. The lyrics and melody are there. I always tell people not everything needs to be this elaborately-produced song. They often forget the voice is such an instrument. Let it carry the song, and let the melody breathe. People try to bandage songs with drums and a bunch of layers.”
On the other end of the spectrum, “As I Am,” a duet with Khalid, took two years to nail down. Hein began writing the track in the basement studio of his New York City apartment. With a gibberish vocal line and piano, he took the barebones to his friend and collaborator Ido Zmishlany to flesh it out. Together, the duo spent the entire day plugging in lyrics “and then came up with the nursery rhyme part. I was super self-conscious about it,” he admits, worried it felt too Disney. “I was like ‘bro, just do it, and we’ll revisit it tomorrow.’ He actually played it for his wife and little girl, who was three at the time─and she memorized the melody. That was very telling.”
But the song still lacked a solid verse. “I’m all about passing the baton and tagging other people in who I trust,” he adds. So, he took the song to Scott Harris, who brought “a clear vision for how the verse melody should go. I put both parts together. Then, we had this super amazing ballad.”
The song then sat for a year─until Josh Gudwin sent it over to The Monsters & Strangerz. “I had forgotten about it,” confides Hein. “Stefan [Johnson] Facetimed me, and he had this new beat and synths with Justin’s vocals. I got goosebumps. I never pictured it going from a ballad to kind of an arena anthem.” Bieber immediately latched onto the song and turned to Khalid to transform it even further, literally turning the final version into the label “a week before the album. That song has a spirit of its own. Nobody could stop it.”
Another emotional pinnacle arrives with “Unstable” (featuring The Kid LAROI), inspired by a day when co-writer Delacey stormed the session “a little frantic,” Hein recalls. “She had just fired her manager an hour before the session. She was telling us how unstable her life was. I was like ‘that’s it.’ We unanimously decided to chase that.”
Again, the song collected proverbial dust for a year. “It was always in the back of my head. There was something special in it,” says Hein, who then took the track to Rami Yacoub. “He knows how to seamlessly transition a verse to a pre- to a chorus. I had the lyrics and a verse, and he was able to show me how to let the pre- lift into the chorus. The record sounds so effortless, but it was not effortless for me. It’s so hard to make something sound so simple.”
Six months passed, and the songwriting crew rewrote the whole first verse and rearranged the pre-chorus. Once in Bieber’s hands, the pop star later “reached out and asked if I could make it past tense. There was a time when other producers were taking a crack at it. It ended up being stripped again. It’s one of those songs that’s not going to have this immediate moment, but it’s so solid that it’s going to live on.”
Justin Bieber’s Justice is the moment ALDAE has been longing for. “To all my fellow collaborators, I genuinely get butterflies working with a lot of y’all and can’t believe I get to call you my friends in such a cut throat business,” he wrote on Instagram.
Long gone are the days questioning his talent. The little 10-year-old kid who once wrote a song for his first girlfriend would be proud. All in all, he has certainly earned the right to stand in the spotlight. With previous credits, including Carlie Hanson, Marshmello, Selena Gomez and others, ALDAE has never taken a second of it for granted.
More than anything, he has learned “to be patient” about the business as much as the art of songwriting itself. “What it takes to get a song from an idea to a record” is often an arduous task that takes great discernment and patience. “I rarely get things right on the first time or even the second,” he says. “The cliche ‘great things take time’ is so true about a great song. A song can be great, but for it to come out, and have the right vessel, it takes far more. There’s a bit of divine intervention.”