During the summer of 2018 in Bali, multiplatinum, Best New Artist Grammy-nominated songstress Noah Cyrus first crossed paths with sought-after Australian songwriter and producer PJ Harding. Even though they were never properly paired, PJ wound up contributing guitar to Cyrus’ “Good Cry,” wishing they had more time to collaborate. Fate played its hand at the same retreat in 2019 where the two artists unlocked the potential only held by kindred spirits of their sort. They penned four tunes for what would become her 2020 EP The End of Everything, including the title track, “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus,” the double-platinum “July,” and “Young & Sad.”
Videos by American Songwriter
Returning to L.A. in the fall, they kept writing without a plan. In the face of the global pandemic, the duo spent much of the last year working together remotely with Harding in his native Australia and Noah in Los Angeles, managing to craft deeply personal records from opposite sides of the world via video. This unfettered creativity against all odds gave birth to their 2021 joint EP People Don’t Change, released April 23 via RECORDS/RCA Records.
Harding insists Cyrus is the “guiding force” here, adding, “She’s the soul of this record.” The spirited folk-drenched acoustic collection of their paired voices contains surprising tinges of classic country. Cyrus credits Harding for his ability to pull her deepest influences back up to the surface. “Writing songs before, I honestly felt a little lost,” Cyrus Admits. “It felt special to go back to my roots and make something with guitar and piano like what my dad made me listen to as a kid. I felt like I was able to put my true self into this. I could be who I am at the core—which is just Noah from Nashville.”
As a duo, they seem like a far-fetched match. While 21-year-old Cyrus is still battling her identity as the youngest in a limelight-stricken pecking order and sorting out her idea of romance, Harding is happily married with children he is raising on the other side of the world. Yet, there is an undeniable creative chemistry between the two that elevates their musical intuition, delivering an unexpected blend of music traditions for a ethereal soundscape to share their painfully universal stories.
“Last summer, our song ‘July’ was really connecting, but it was an incredibly uncertain time,” says Harding. “I’m fairly easygoing, but I was deeply anxious about being in Los Angeles with the pandemic getting out of control. I was having lots of discussions with my family about moving back to Australia. We eventually did. Our debut single ‘Dear August’ was written as a love letter to the future, hoping there’s a light on the other side. We haven’t seen the light, but we’re still looking.”
Cyrus feels writing “Dear August” after “July” brought the process full circle. “I was going through a lot. I suffer from anxiety and depression. We were in this cloud of darkness where it’s very easy to fall into bad habits,” she shares. “July and August 2020 were the hardest parts of quarantine for me. I lost my grandma, and I was looking to the future for hope. The song reminds me you will get to the light at the end of the tunnel. It may not be perfect, but you’ll get there.”
Directed by Matt Earl, the accompanying music video for “Dear August” pays homage to The Notebook with its letters, classic automobile, and, of course, blue dress. Even though Noah shot her scenes in Southern California and PJ shot his in Australia, it illustrates their chemistry as musical kindred spirits.
The previously released track, “You Belong to Somebody Else” is steeped in a similar sorrow to the waltzing “Cannonball” that details a cold indifference. Their harmony on “The Worst Of You” seems to encapsulate the spirit of the broad titular reference with the line: “You’re never gonna change / Hell, you’re never gonna try.”
Listen to Noah Cyrus and PJ Harding’s debut collaborative EP, People Don’t Change, here.