Wasia Project on letting their music do the talking: “There’s a lot of pressure on artists to have something to say”

The brother-and-sister duo that make up Wasia Project have spent months jumping between creative endeavours ranging from A-levels to the not-so-little Netflix show known as Heartstopper to pursue a career in music. Here, Olivia Hardy and Will Gao show off Hogan’s new Hogan H-Stripes range and talk HUNGER through how they juggle their multiple projects.

Olivia Hardy doesn’t have the muted stage presence you might expect of an 18-year-old, that somewhat shy, slightly docile disposition you often find with a young person. Even Billie Eilish at that age often sat on a stool, occasionally pacing with gentle hand movements. Hardy’s performance is commanding and totally deliberate. She floats around in complete enjoyment, her hands flailing in the air like a conductor towards her bandmates, all in front of a sold-out crowd at London’s Omeara – a venue dedicated to spotlighting underground music acts breaking through the crowded landscape. It’s a young woman having fun – something you don’t usually see in all of its authenticity until later on in someone’s career. Behind her, the band lay the path for Hardy to skip down in a honeyed daze of early- career success. One of those musicians, and the other member of the sibling duo Wasia Project, Will Gao, often glances up from his piano, smiles and enjoys that journey with her.

They pull together inspirations like Eilish, the Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as classical sounds melded with jazz and a good dose of theatrics (the almost clap-along piano build-up in “Petals on the Moon” says it all). The music contains the qualities of both Hardy and Gao, their effervescent energies refined with profound self-awareness and a real sense of knowing what they want to say and how they want to say it. Even on the day of our shoot following the Omeara gig and the interview, meeting them isn’t like catching up with most 18 and 20-year-olds. There’s a maturity within them, encased by regular jesting, but also a sensibility that runs
into the music. And the result is refreshingly impressive.

Olivia wears bag and trainers by HOGAN, dress by EUDON CHOI and ring Olivia’s own. Will wears trainers by HOGAN, trench by ALLSAINTS, shirt by KENZO, trousers by NON and watch and ring Will’s own

“This past year has been so crazy,” she says, modestly. “It’s always a scheduling thing for us and trying to have one foot in one thing and one in another, trying to balance it all. It’s been challenging but really rewarding. Outlets are really important for us because there’s just nothing that compares to being in a studio or writing a song, and it is just a completely different way of expressing what’s going on in life compared to anything else. We’ve naturally gravitated towards it, despite everything.”

And for her older brother, there’s the small balancing act of doing the whole music thing while playing a main role in what might be Netflix’s most beloved and cherished LGBTQIA+ coming-of-age series: Heartstopper. The show isn’t just some side hustle that Gao does alongside his music career, it is what propelled him into global recognition, as part of a cast that is carrying the torch for young, queer storytelling on screen right now. In the series, Gao plays Tao Xu, and he’s close friends with co-stars Yasmin Finney, Joe Locke and Kit Connor. There are obviously lots of questions fans want to ask about Heartstopper, especially the new series. And you might be thinking that Wasia Project’s gigs are full to the brim with young kids wearing the show’s merchandise, but at Omeara that night, all the press attendees were asking, “Where’s the Heartstopper crowd?” That’s because what Gao and his sister have created isn’t piggybacking on their other creative successes. The way their audience has grown has been natural and organic, which makes their sold-out shows even more inspiring. With Gao and Hardy almost swallowed whole by endeavours beyond music, a question remains: why do this to yourself?

Will wears trainers by HOGAN, jacket by ALLSAINTS, trousers by MAHARISHI and underwear and ring Will’s own. Olivia wears trainers by HOGAN, jacket by NON, dress by DAILY PAPER and jeans by PINKO. OPPOSITE: Olivia wears bag and trainers by HOGAN, yellow jacket by SAGE NATION, denim jacket by GAYEON LEE, dress by DALA and socks Olivia’s own. Will wears jacket and trainers by HOGAN, jumper and trousers by NO GREY AREA, shirt by ARMAND BASI and socks Will’s own

“I think the more outlets we have to express ourselves through, the better it is and the more balanced your artistic life becomes,” Gao says. “My work life is so in harmony because I get to express it through these different outlets. Getting to collaborate with Olivia is very different from collaborating with a group of actors in the theatre or with a director. That’s what I love. But it is hectic.”

It is difficult not to wonder whether a chaotic lifestyle, slammed work schedules and inevitable sibling tension would put a strain on the band’s working relationship. Many siblings probably wouldn’t last a day working with each other. But while we discuss whether it’s easy to make music together despite mounting workloads, a juggernaut of a Netflix series, A-levels, thoughts about university fast approaching, I can’t detect any release of pent-up anger in their answers. And as the pair go on to chat, their lӑolao (grandmother) enters the room and places small bowls of fruit in front of them. They laugh and apologise, but of course it’s OK; it even sets the scene almost perfectly for what they’re going to say next.

ill wears jacket and trainers by HOGAN and trousers by NO GREY AREA. Olivia wears bag and trainers by HOGAN, yellow jacket by SAGE NATION, denim jacket by GAYEON LEE, dress by DALA and socks Olivia’s own

“I think you’d be surprised how helpful it is to be honest with each other on a level of being comfortable where you can just be like, ‘Yeah, shut up,’” Hardy says, taking the bowl of fruit from her grandmother. “It’s really beneficial in those busy moments. It’s gotten to the point where we’re completely comfortable with disagreeing with an idea or agreeing to disagree.”

It is that transparency and bond between the two of them that fosters a space where writing from total honesty and openness has become easy. Naturally there are times when the pair are writing about things that are harder to approach with someone you are related to, but what prevails is emotive songwriting that flows between the bandmates on more than one level. 

Will wears trainers by HOGAN, jacket by AMERICAN VINTAGE, shirt by SUSAMUSA, trousers by SAMSØE SAMSØE and watch Will’s own. Olivia wears trainers by HOGAN, jumper by SAM NOWELL, skirt by LE KILT, bracelet, ring and socks Olivia’s own

“Of course there are some things in general where you just don’t want to share with anyone. If you’re writing something very raw and very emotional, it’s really difficult to want to share it with anyone at all because there are some things you just want to keep to yourself,” Hardy says. “And I do think a lot of artists do write a song and they have their own feelings towards it and maybe they don’t ever want to share it. I think that [being siblings] doesn’t necessarily make it harder – the easiest person to share my honest songs with is William.”

“It’s our experiences and our lived experiences around themes of love and growing up,” Gao adds. “I’d say teenage angst, growing up with the anxieties that people our age go through. Especially at our age, it’s quite a stressful time for our generation. We’ve got a lot of problems going on, and I think that’s just about our lived experiences. But it’s not all sad.”

Olivia wears trainers by HOGAN, jacket and top by RENÉ SCHEIBENBAUER, jeans by ELV DENIM and bracelet Olivia’s own. Will wears trainers by HOGAN, jacket by BARACUTA and trousers by GUESS. OPPOSITE: Will wears jacket and trainers by HOGAN and trousers by NO GREY AREA. Olivia wears bag and trainers by HOGAN, yellow jacket by SAGE NATION, denim jacket by GAYEON LEE, dress by DALA and socks Olivia’s own.

Gao pinpoints the climate crisis as one of those anxieties for his generation. And at times in their music, which perhaps comes naturally as part of the genre-blending mixture of classical, jazz and pop, there are some melancholic undertones. However, for Wasia Project, it’s not so much about the statement, as the enjoyment, Hardy says. And maybe that’s the greatest impact of all: taking people away from their stressful lives for an hour or so, allowing them to escape through the band’s music.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists these days to have something to say,” Hardy concludes. “Or the need to represent something or to be about something when they’re literally musicians, they are about music, and music is the fundamental thing about them. As an artist, it’s very important and it’s a very powerful place to be in and you can influence a lot of people with your art. But, at the end of the day, it’s the music we create that does the talking. And it’s the music that speaks. So, at the crux of it is making good music, you listen to it and know that’s what we have to say.” 

PhotographerAlexander James-Aylin
WriterRy Gavin
Art DirectorKat Beckwith
Visual Fashion ConsultantJahnavi Sharma
Make-up ArtistSarah Whiteside using Rare Beauty
Hair StylistDaniel Moura using Bumble and Bumble Fashion Assistants Karen Gomez Tellez, Shellie Seymour, Gray Min Chung