During a time when the COVID-19 pandemic still continues to run rife with restrictions all around the world, this year’s SongHubs The Tower has gone down as a songwriting workshop of miracle proportions, being an opportunity for creative collaboration in the Australian music industry more than ever before.
Since launching in 2013, the three-to-four day songwriting residency workshop has provided unique collaborative opportunities for both published and unpublished songwriters and composers, irrespective of genre.
It’s been a facilitator for producing a long line of commercial releases for the likes of Briggs, Troye Sivan, Client Liaison, Peking Duk, Tkay Maidza, The Chainsmokers, Guy Sebastian, Kate Miller-Heidke and more. This year the program’s flagship residency took place at Sydney’s Studios 301.
Among the extensive range of seasoned and up and coming musicians, songwriters and producers in the mix this year, TIO spoke to PJ Harding, Brendon Boney and Allegra Neve who came together to create an unreleased song, ‘Sunsets’.
Internationally acclaimed producer and songwriter, PJ Harding held the event’s curatorial role this year – something he was more than worthy of. Not only has he worked with Lil Nas X, Bebe Rexha, Diplo and Little Mix – and produced Noah Cyrus’ debut EP, The End of Everything, which features the Platinum-selling, Top 40 radio hit ‘July’ – 2021 saw Harding return to the event after previously being involved as a producer.
Brendon Boney is a Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi music composer known for blending alt/hip-hop influences with ‘80s new wave while dipping in and out of the folk world under his moniker, The Magpie Swoop. Boney was a part of SongHubs this year after previously being involved in Resonate – a three-day songwriter and producer opportunity for emerging and established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APRA AMCOS members.
Up and coming, 13-year-old Sydney singer-songwriter Allegra Neve is the youngest SongHubs participant in its history. Earlier this year Neve was revealed as the winner of the Josh Pyke Partnership where she was awarded with $7500 funding and a mentorship to foster creative growth as an unsigned act.
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With each individual being at different points in their respective careers, with such diverse achievements, it’s any wonder ‘Sunsets’ feels as eclectic as its composers.
The song has not been released and is still within the early stages of the recording process, but it’s clear that ‘Sunsets’ sits within the folk genre and has the incredible power to command the raising of goosebumps while getting you feeling like you’re sitting at the beach, staring into the ocean with a thousand-yard stare.
For PJ Harding, given the past year where collaborative work was restrained and constricted, returning to the event this year as its curator meant he was able to feed off of a new energy in each room at Studios 301.
“There was definitely a vibe amongst everyone – that it was so good to be back in a room together,” Harding said. “It was really great being able to be around all those people and reconnect with some friends and and meet some new people and just feel the energy and enthusiasm for what we were doing coming out of.”
Boney added, “It’s hard to see the bigger picture, but you are there to try and grow the Australian music industry.” He continued, “It’s a really, really incredible thing. I’ve been trying to be a part of it for years and I’m glad that I finally worked my way in there.”
Neve, the youngest out of the group by a notable amount, says that she doesn’t actually think about her age going into the event. “I’m lucky, everyone at SongHubs just treated me the same as anyone else,” she said. “So it was perfect!”
As Neve’s first ever SongHubs the collaborative component ticked off a bucket list item for her. “I loved writing with people as we could bounce ideas off each other, so that was an amazing unforgettable opportunity, as normally I would be creating by myself. It really was so much fun.”
It was on the last day of the event that Harding, Boney and Neve came together, any initial jitters now completely subsided.
“As a curator I got to have the added pleasure of being able to put people together. And then when you see that they do [get along] it’s really gratifying and great,” said Harding. “And when you hear the great songs coming back. You feel like, ‘Yeah, I did that’, even though I didn’t do that at all. It’s great being able to facilitate these experiences that people are having that they’re getting so much out of.”
On the final day of SongHubs, Harding, Boney and Neve gathered to collaborate, but they didn’t find themselves in a regular studio. Due to a full house at Studios 301, they found themselves outdoors, free of confines and in the venue’s carpark. Interestingly Harding said it was this that made the session feel relaxed.
He said, “I don’t feel like I had to do anything extra to make people comfortable. I think that’s the only thing you will sometimes feel in a session with new people, that you feel like you’ve got work to make people feel comfortable or relaxed and it’s that little bit of social chemistry you’ve got to work out. But the session was really that easy from the get go.”
And Harding wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Boney said that the session ran so smoothly they smashed out their song in roughly two hours. “It was just one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve ever been a part of.”
In fact, the inspiration behind ‘Sunsets’ came from Neve. As Harding puts it, the idea for the song was something that all three individuals could relate to. He said, “Whether it’s in in someone that we know or in ourselves, that feeling of kind of not wanting to stop, not wanting to reflect, because sometimes that can confront you with some truths that you’re hiding from.”
Referring to a lyric from the song’s chorus, he says, “I think that’s what ‘I don’t do sunsets‘, is about really.”
“Allegra had this idea and it sparked something in the back of my brain,” Boney said. “And then I just spat that out. Then we just sort of bounced off each other and just went, you know, piece for piece and the whole team just sort of pulling out little puzzle pieces, and the whole thing sort of started to shaped itself. And yeah, literally within about half an hour, the thing just sort of started to write itself.”
For Neve, the song is all about appreciating what you have and not taking moments, things and people forgranted.
She said, “I was lucky to have been placed in a group with Brendon and PJ. Brendon and I had a similar idea for a song so we just went for it. All three of us really vibed and I am so grateful we created ‘Sunsets’. I feel this song happened because the three of us shared ideas, lyrics and melodies openly and built the song together.”
According to Harding, while the song was something that each of them could relate to, any good song can change its meaning to you over time, depending on who is listening to it.