William Gao appears on-screen first before beckoning his sister, Olivia Hardy, to join him on Zoom. He’s buttoned up in a yellow shirt, Hardy opting for a slouchy red tee, a juxtaposing outfit that helps to visualise Wasia Project: their alt-pop band which – created from their bedrooms – is currently streamed across 180 nations. Formed in 2019, Wasia Project began with a freewheeling blend of the brother-sister duo’s influences. Having grown up in a household underscored by music from the likes of Queen, ABBA and Frank Sinatra, the siblings soon developed a “Venn diagram” of tastes—some corresponding, and some worlds apart. “I don’t fuck with the organ,” Hardy reminds Gao. “See, I fuck with the organ,” he rebuttals.
Yet it is within this bluntly honest, sometimes opposing but always collaborative space that Wasia Project reaps its records. Garnering a 200K following and 8M Spotify streams since their debut, the band have established a reputation for creating authentic personal stories that fearlessly cut between genres—a style that earned them a young and exponentially growing fanbase.
Citing Billie Eilish’s analogy, the pair describe their songwriting as releasing pages of their personal journals for the world to see. And while studio sessions require them both to divulge their innermost thoughts and feelings, it’s 20-year-old actor and musician Gao under the spotlight today—his little sister already fine-tuned in her ability to coax his stories to the surface. They laugh, they get deep, they disagree then agree. They discuss Gao’s fast rise to fame, the unexpected take-off of their experimental projects and their “big plans” for the future. Talking from their London home where it all began, we find out how to correctly pronounce the band’s namesake, how to use “smorgasbord” in a sentence and why 17-year-old Hardy thinks her brother was born for the big screen…
OLIVIA HARDY: Let’s start at the beginning. So we have Will Gao here, and I – as his sibling – want to know… What were your parents like and did they influence your passions in any way?
WILLIAM GAO: [Laughs.] For sure, they definitely had a big influence on me. Our household was quite creative, we’d always go to shows and theatres, right? Dad always made sure we would see cultural landmarks and engaged us in a lot of outdoorsy things. Music, certainly for us, underscored our childhood in a way. Do you remember we had that CD player that we would always play at parties and stuff?
OH: Oh yeah, the craziest shit would play on there.
WG: It was always NOWMixtapes… NOW 92, that was a banger. Then we would create our own mixtapes too so our parents were definitely a huge influence.
OH: For sure, it was all very natural to us. What were your early passions?
WG: I think my early passions were all of the above, really. Performing, dancing, whatever it was, I wanted to make it a show and theatrical experience.
OH: I think you were born for the screen, actually. I’m going to tell a little anecdote here…
WG: Oh no, what?! [Laughs.]
OH: So our dad always brought a camcorder around wherever we went when we were really small. I was two and you were four. We’d go on these walks and he would just film us existing, and any time the camera went off you you’d just hear, “Daddy, daddy!” And the camera would just pan back to your beaming face.
WG: I just loved the limelight, man.
OH: What came first? Music or acting?
WG: I think I always thought it was acting, just because the performative thing of actually getting on the stage excited me. But I have to give credit to the fact that music has played such a huge part in my life since I was really little. With me learning the piano and you learning the violin, no matter what other things we were interested in, it would always thread back to music.
OH:I think music is just one of those things that never left, and it was with us from right at the start. It was always there.
WG: An overarching presence.
OH: [Laughs.] What kind of kid were you? Introvert or extrovert? I think I know what you’re gonna say here and I’m gonna disagree…
WG: Okay. I think I was an extroverted introvert. I was a bit of ying and yang.
OH: [Bursts out laughing.]
WG: No, for real! I had this confidence and love for performing—which was very extroverted of me. Even at school, I would play these games with myself like, “Who do I wish I was?” And take on the persona of the really popular or sporty kind of kid. But I actually think there was a lot of shyness in my childhood, I think we were both pretty shy.
OH: Oh, for sure. I was fully mute for like a year.
WG: What did you think I was going to say to that question?
OH: I thought you were going to say introvert…but at the beginning you were very much an extrovert. I think you were very confident, or you at least displayed confidence well. You were always very sociable and knew exactly what to say. But I think we have always been a bit of both. Who was your biggest confidant? This question is always hard…
WG: It’s so difficult isn’t it because it’s constantly changing. I think our family have always been a big one, they are all so supportive. Especially with the Wasia Project. Our mum has always been quite academically-focused and was always keen for us to study a lot of academia, but now she’s so supportive of what we are doing and creating.
OH: Yeah, she sees the value in hard work and it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re loving it.
WG: She’s a proper fan of Wasia Project, especially at the shows.
OH: She really is. We tell everyone to get low at the concerts…
WG: Yeah! And she’s just there beaming with her iPhone recording it.
OH: When did you first have an idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
WG: I think seeing performances and shows and having that feeling of connection. I know you’ve had that at a pop concert once…
OH: [Laughs.] Yeah, I’ve definitely had that feeling watching specific shows or singers and knowing, “This is what I want to do.” Have you had a turning point like that?
WG: Oh for sure. I saw this play at The Globe Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I was like eight or nine years old, and the play scene at the end is 20 minutes of this funny moment where these actors are really crap but they’re performing in front of Duke and I just remember laughing so hard and feeling this collective humour and joy from these six people doddering around the stage. I thought, “I want to do what they’re doing”. I wanted to have this really extreme effect on people—whether that was making them laugh or cry. I just wanted to connect with others in the same way. That was a huge point for me.
OH: I do remember you loved mischief theatre and slapstick comedy…that was a huge era for you.
WG: Oh yeah, slapstick comedy was for sure. Now, it’s more so just entertainment in general. Anything that relates to the human condition.
OH: What did the journey look like after you realised it was what you wanted to do?
WG: Well, going through my slapstick era and doing school plays. And then with music, there were so many different moments that got us to where we are now. From the concerts to the training we had, there were so many jigsaw pieces that came together to create our current stage.
OH: I think a lot of things that felt bad at the time – like a performance we were really nervous for or our strict teachers and stuff – definitely influenced us. If you could give any advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?
WG: I’d say, “Don’t be afraid to be scared.” I spent a lot of time shitting myself, I still do, in terms of being nervous and beating myself up or being critical of myself. But you just have to feel it. It’s okay to be a bundle of nerves—you shouldn’t have to diagnose a specific feeling, you just need to give yourself space around it.
OH: Yeah, sort of owning your own feelings.
WG: For sure, and even if they’re so-called “negative” emotions you really do just need to feel them.
OH: Let’s talk about music and Wasia Project. We’ve had a lot of funny pronunciations of the name.
WG: [Laughs.] Yeah, we get a lot of “Was Project” or “Waz Project”…
OH: We’ve also had “Was-i-a Project”…
WG: There was one radio centre that shall remain nameless that announced “Wa-zee-a Project” which was also pretty funny.
OH: What inspired Wasia [W-asia] Project to come to life? It’s hard to say if there was a specific thing that inspired it, I think it was more the satisfaction of collaborating with someone when it works. When you first discover you can create something with someone else, it’s a very gratifying experience.
WG: I agree, the fusion of it was a big one. But also, for me, it kind of started out as an exploration. I hadn’t really written or experimented with pop before, I’d only really written classic music, so it was a tool for me to explore a new realm and also work with you. We’d never done anything musically together before, but we had grown up our whole lives with an underscore of music. It was the first time we sat together and actually created something new. It started as an outlet, but it quickly turned into a cool band now.
OH: It has come a long way with how it has evolved and how we view it as a project. Because initially it was all quite natural and a chance to see what worked and what didn't, and now it has come to life in a whole new way. That goes into the next question…was it always the plan to form a brother-sister duo?
WG: It kind of just happened. None of it was forced, it fell into place organically. Shit happens!
OH: Shit happens! Did we both always enjoy the same music as kids?
WG: No, we had different tastes. We still do, to be fair. You don’t like the organ.
OH: I don’t fuck with the organ.
WG: See, I fuck with the organ.
OH: I’ve listened to it too much at this point.
WG: But I think that adds to the beauty of what we create together. We pull from a real plethora of references.
OH: It’s a real myriad.
WG: A smorgasbord. Have you heard of that word?
WG: It’s like a real mixture.
OH: Makes you sound very posh. So growing up, what kind of music did we listen to?
WG: It’s like a Venn diagram.
OH: Yeah, the early stuff was very much influenced by our parents, with the classics like Queen, ABBA, Frank Sinatra.
WG: There was also old-school jazz, like Big Band Jazz. There was a whole range of stuff.
OH: I think we didn’t realise how much we were absorbing musical knowledge from that. All of the repertoire of what we have listened to has influenced the way we write. How did we establish our sound?
WG: All of the above really, I think we are still establishing it. We started very bedroom – what people would perceive as bedroom pop – but now we are in a very different time of learning. Our last two singles, “Petals on the Moon” and “My Lover is Sleeping” have been an opening of a door into a more refined sound and where we want to get to. I think over the four singles that we are doing this year, we will be refining and establishing it further. It’s an ongoing conversation.
OH: 100%. How comfortable are we with sharing our ideas with each other?
WG: Very honest. It comes with siblings, we are so honest with each other in general so if one of us thinks something isn’t a good idea we won’t hold back from saying that. We’ve been writing recently and there was a lyric—well, one that I had written about two years ago.
OH: Yeah, we basically re-opened a song that had been set in stone a while ago…
WG: In my head, it was blocked out.
OH: We’ve changed so much, so hearing the song back we knew we needed to add more of ourselves into it.
WG: For sure, and initially in the session I was like, “Woah…all these new lyrics…what’s going on?” But as we got more into it we got over that gridlock.
OH: Can you imagine if we were really passive-aggressive with each other during writing sessions?
WG: That’s not on.
OH: Don’t worry, we are very blunt. Next question: when it came to the release of our debut EP, “How Can I Pretend?” in 2022, what were you hoping to achieve and did you set any expectations on yourselves?
WG: We just wanted to get rid of all of our old songs we wrote when we were young.
OH: Yeah, I don’t think we were hoping for things, we were just releasing things. From an artistic point of view, we needed to get them out there so we could learn and apply that to the next thing.
WG: I also think it really opened us up. The industry really took notice of us straight away.
OH: That was the next question: what was your reaction to the band taking off so quickly?
WG: It was great and crazy. I remember we did a show at The Fiddler – this tiny pub – and people were just screaming the lyrics.
OH: That was the first time people really resonated with it. Such a crazy time! We kicked off this year with the release of “Petals on the Moon”, so what has been your biggest highlight since the track hit streaming platforms?
WG: We recently played Latitude festival and a couple of shows two weeks ago, and we got to play the track. Although…I have a synth solo in it and my synth wasn’t working, so I asked Safi who is our saxophonist like, “JUST DO THE SOLO!” And she was like, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!” But then what happened is the fans just went… [Starts singing the melody.]
OH: It’s always fun to play live. I think recording has been another favourite thing of mine.
WG: What’s your dream venue to fill out? “Wasia Project is headlining…?”
OH: Honestly, Shepherd’s Bush.
WG: That would be sick, I was there recently.
OH: There are so many everywhere. Do we consider our fans while we are writing music? I don’t think we do…that sounds really bad.
WG: Except lowkey for “Petals on the Moon”, I was like, “We need a song to play in September that people can dance to.”
OH: Yeah, we wrote that with a live setting in mind.
WG: That was the first time I actively thought about how it would be received. Obviously writing a song is about relaying something that you’re thinking or feeling, but we also had this thing in mind where we were like, “We wanna bop.”
OH: So I guess that is considering our fans while making music. Last year we did a run of gigs in London in September and it was some of our biggest shows yet, we had such an upbeat crowd and we turned it into a little nightclub and it was the most fun ever. So I guess we wanted to recreate that with “Petals on the Moon.” Was there ever pressure to include or exclude particular topics?
WG: Our sort of writing just covers general existence and what life was like for us growing up.
OH: Having a super young fandom is almost a byproduct of the music we create. Because it’s all about us navigating the world, so it resonates.
WG: And I think as we grow up our songwriting will change and the subject matter we write about will also mature and change.
OH: I think the music grows with the artist. What does our writing process look like?
WG: Every song is different. With the next single which is coming out in Autumn, we revisited a song we wrote during lockdown. We had a session the other day where we just sort of rejigged it. Normally though, one of us will have a strong idea and then we just come together to finesse it. We play around with what works and what doesn’t.
OH: Or sometimes we will have lots of little ideas and we fuse them and see what sticks. Sometimes that works…like the bridge for “Petals on the Moon”, it was just inserted inside my voice memos. Melody or lyrics first? I think melody…
WG: Also for me, I think I’m very thought and feeling orientated.
OH: You do sort of shit out lyrics…
WG: I definitely shit out lyrics. It’s a thought process. Like with Shakespeare where he has these walls of thoughts, I just have that. I’ll feel something, I’ll head to the piano and feel it out, and then the lyrics form from those feelings.
OH: Whereas for me I think of the melody at first and then think of lyrics. Would you say making music together has brought us closer?
WG: I think so. It’s interesting though because we have our work vibe and then at home we are different.
OH: Yeah we keep it separate because we have our other brother as well, our family life hasn’t changed.
WG: I think we are good at keeping them in separate spaces.
OH: Okay next question… What can we expect from Wasia Project and do we have anything exciting in the works?
WG: So for now I’ll say there’s a possible tour next year…
OH: And then a lot of new music…we’ve got a lot of stuff coming up.
WG: We’ve got BIG plans.
OH: Time to get personal: do you feel more comfortable playing a character or being yourself?
WG: That is such a crazy question.
OH: Damn! It’s so deep isn’t it?!
WG: I’d say there’s an element of myself in every character that I’ve played. But to make it a bit deep, I think I’m much more being myself now. Growing up there were a lot of times where I would put on a character.
OH: You definitely suffered from a few identity crises…especially in those crazy fashion days.
WG: I definitely prefer just being myself, now. But it gives me great comfort to know that I can say that. But watch in like eight years when I watch this back and think, “Oh I wasn’t being myself”. As you get older you start discovering even more things about yourself.
OH: I don’t think anyone knows who they really are, to get deep. How have you dealt with shooting into the public eye at such a young age? That’s very true…it’s been mad.
WG: I guess you’ve experienced it too with the Wasia Project taking off…but I guess we had each other for support. And then with all of the other areas of my life I’ve had someone there to support me through it. But it is always challenging, it’s not an easy ride. But I guess I’m just waiting for it to move on.
OH: It’s really weird because I think people perceive you sort of as the character of Will Gao, instead of who you actually are. My life is the same as it always was, it feels super detached, whereas you can go out and often get recognised—which must be disorientating.
WG: It can be, but it’s also good to be able to be myself and have the Wasia Project at the same time. Music, it’s not a barrier but it’s almost a filter of who we are.
OH: Yeah, even when we play live shows, it’s a performance even though it’s also authentic. You’re performing yourself.
WG: And it’s you in a certain place.
OH: Exactly, everyone does it in day-to-day life. Who do you look up to?
WG: I look up to loads of people, but Mr Swinson and our school teachers really instilled so many schools within us. Not just music but also life values. I went through a period of time in my life where I was really intense with music, I was a choir boy. Those years were very formative, big up Mr Swinson! I learned more than I did there than I did in double maths…but big up double maths too!
OH: Right, we are at the end. Any closing comments?
WG: It’s been a pleasure.
OH: It has been a pleasure! It’s been my honour as your sister, confidant and everything to do this.
WG: Thank you for the interview!
*This photoshoot was conducted prior to the commencement of the SAG-AFTRA strike.*
William Gaowears Kenzo
Photography by Rhys Frampton
Fashion by Efe I
Interview by Olivia Hardy
Words by Ella West
Editorial Director Charlotte Morton
Editor Ella West
Art Director Harry Fitzgerald
Grooming by Sandra Hahnel
Production Director Benjamin Crank
Producer Isabella Coleman
Production Assistant Lola Randall
Photography Assistants Josh Showell, Allan OPM and Ethan Elliott