Wasia Project Has Found Their Sanctuary

Siblings Olivia Hardy and William Gao of alt-pop group Wasia Project talk childhood influences, touring and finding “sanctuary” in the creative process. (All photos by Francis Ray.)

For sibling musicians William Gao and Olivia Hardy, everything comes back to their family’s South London living room.

“There was this coffee table that we’d clear off and use as a stage as kids,” says Hardy, 19, the younger of the brother-sister duo. “And a CD player that was always playing Queen, Billy Joel…” 

“The Beatles, ELO,” Gao, 21, adds.

“A lot of ABBA as well,” Hardy nods. 

Their storytelling is effortless but exciting — thoughts and phrases passed between them with an ease that suggests they’ve been partners since, well, birth. “Music has always been a very, very big part of our lives,” Gao continues. Hardy agrees: “Looking back, I don’t think I even realized how big it was.” 

As they lounge on CM’s conference room couch — munching on dried seaweed snacks and Diet Coke — it’s hard to believe they were performing for a full house just some hours before. Known jointly as Wasia Project (the name a nod to their mixed Chinese British heritage), Hardy and Gao have been making innovative indie-pop music together since 2019. Hardy sings lead vocals and Gao plays the keys, but their sound is a bit harder to define: “We usually say it’s a mix of classical, jazz and pop, but we’ve never really known how to place it,” Hardy admits. Gao explains:

“We both gravitate to lots of different types of music, but when we make our own, it’s what we’re making. It’s ours.”

This year has been Wasia Project’s biggest since they began, Gao tells me, fiddling with the fan-made hat draped around his shoulders. (“It’s just so cozy; I haven’t taken it off!” he beams.) After playing seven sold-out shows across the U.K. in February, they spent the spring supporting singer-songwriter Tom Odell and Grammy winner Laufey on their respective European and U.S. tours. Last night, they played their first headlining show in Los Angeles, selling out the iconic Troubadour to close out four months on the road. 

“It’s just a massive privilege,” Hardy begins; “A real ‘pinch me’ experience,” Gao interjects. “The number of countries we’ve been able to travel to and the people we’ve connected with in such different places — it’s just extremely huge,” Hardy says. “So huge that you kind of can’t process it and take it in.” 

Olivia Hardy and William Gao of Wasia Project pose back-to-back in front of a green backdrop.

As the conversation shifts to their upbringing, Wasia Project’s unique mosaic of influences starts to take clearer shape. Though they grew up dancing in the kitchen to their parents’ classic rock records, at school, the siblings were classically trained — Hardy in violin and Gao in piano and voice. “I remember I would have to go to Saturday academies at his school, actually,” Hardy says, motioning to her brother, “where my classmates and I took lessons. And I was always like, ‘My Saturdays are being eaten up by this!’ But, looking back, I gained so much from being in that environment.” 

Despite their shared love (and clear talent) for making music, the two didn’t think to collaborate until it “just kind of happened,” Gao says. “There was never a sense of like, ‘From this point onwards, we’re doing [music] professionally,’” Hardy adds. “It was an organic thing.” 

Their debut single, a crooning alt-pop tune titled “why don’t u love me,” was written in the same Croydon living room where their younger selves so often performed. “We were just messing around having fun, but we landed on something that really felt like us and our voice,” Gao says. “We put it out to share with mainly our friends and family. … It wasn’t until later that we realized that was the beginning of something big.” 

Five years later, Wasia Project has nine singles, an EP and over 1.2 million monthly Spotify listeners to their name. It’s been difficult juggling the band with their other responsibilities, Hardy says (hers, until recently, being schooling and Gao’s being his role in Netflix’s “Heartstopper”), but Wasia offers them “an unparalleled creative outlet.” Gao adds:

“Sanctuary is a good word. A creative outlet and a sanctuary.”

After years of Wasia Project existing in the space between A-levels and acting auditions, these past few months have bookmarked a new era for the group, Hardy and Gao agree. “It’s been a year of learning,” Hardy says — learning about their music, their identities as performers and how to curate the best possible live experience for themselves and their fans. 

“In songwriting, the song is the song. And you can play the same song a million different ways, but at its core, it’s the same song, you know?” Gao says. “So, it was really fun bouncing around ideas and experimenting with our music as we developed the show.” 

Hardy laughs in agreement, remembering when they heard fan-favorite single “Petals on the Moon” at a vintage store in Toronto earlier this month: “I basically hadn’t listened to our records [since going on tour], and it was so funny because it was just such a different sound to how we perform it live,” she says. “I always thought that the way we play it is just an extension of the record, but it really has become a thing of its own.” 

GIF of Olivia Hardy and William Gao (Wasia Project).

After four months of rehearsing, refining and reimagining their songs on the road, everything came to an electric end at last night’s West Hollywood show. Joined onstage by longtime bandmates Luca Wade on drums and Tom Pacitti on bass — with a special appearance from saxophonist Rachel Mazer — Hardy and Gao enchanted audiences with a nostalgic performance of power ballad “Remember When,” a cheeky new arrangement of titular EP track “how can i pretend,” a crowd-silencing rendition of hit “ur so pretty” and more — captivating fans from first note to final bow. Hardy reflects,

“These shows have all been little pockets of beauty — little pieces of belonging — in each place. It really does feel like the end of a chapter, and we’re just so thankful.”

So, what’s next? 

“Well,” Hardy smiles, shooting Gao a knowing look. “We’re finalizing our new EP, ‘Isotope,’ which we announced last night. The songs were written about growing up in our mid-to-late teenage years, and it’s made of such core and specific experiences and sonic worlds. We’re very excited to put it all together — the EP, the short film we’re making around it and the next tour.” 

Gao responds: “Every project and every process has been different; everything has varied. But the main thing that’s remained the same is the energy we have. We’re the constant, and I hope we continue to be the constant as we move forward.”

Looks like we’ve come a long way from that living room.

This article will appear in Character Media’s Annual 2024 Issue. Read our 2023 issue here.

Watch Wasia Project’s official “Milestone Mixtape” below, or listen to the playlist on Spotify.