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JHart Breaks Down Writing Lyrics for Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello, TLC, Keith Urban & Usher

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JHart chatted with ONE37pm during a recording session at Blast Off Productions in New York City. / Sarah Jacobs/ONE37pm

BAH profile
September 4, 2018

#BehindTheBangers is a series spotlighting songwriters and producers.

 

Before JHart became the Grammy-nominated songwriter for chart-topping pop stars that he is today, he once dressed up as serial entrepreneur Richard Branson for his elementary school’s annual career day. He used a marker on his face to mimic Branson’s beard. After that day in fifth grade, JHart mailed Branson a photo of his costume with a short letter, to which the billionaire wrote back, “Nice stubble!”

 

Two decades later, JHart walked into a New York City coffee shop for an interview with ONE37pm while carrying Branson’s latest autobiography, Finding My Virginity, which details his journey toward exploring space travel by launching Virgin Galactic. Branson has been an inspiration to JHart, born as James Abrahart in 1988, for as long as he can remember. But now, instead of using a marker on his face, he’s using his pen to leave a mark on the music industry with his out-of-this-world lyrical prowess.

 

ONE37pm sat down with JHart, at a bustling café and later at an intimate studio, to discuss his transition from behind-the-scenes songwriter to front-and-center solo artist with his recent debut single “Put It To Bed” and with his “Permanent” collaboration with Kygo, which they performed together on the main stage at this year's Coachella. He revealed some untold stories about writing songs for Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello, Fifth Harmony, TLC, Usher, Martin Garrix, Keith Urban, Charlie Puth and Little Mix.

Kygo & JHart // “Permanent” (2018)

JHart: “Kygo was doing a songwriting camp in Los Angeles. I was really sick on the day of the session. I was supposed to write with Jonny Price for the first time. I was having a lot of anxiety because not only was I sick, I was doing a first-time write with a big artist. ... Kygo and [his manager] Myles Shear were coming in and out of the room. We sat down and wrote the song together. We had to record it that day and I was like, ‘Shit, I’m so sick. I don’t know how I’m going to do this.’ I literally had to blow my nose between each take and drink tea and steam a little bit and repeat. It was gross, but I got through it and it sounds great. Myles came in and listened to the song and said, ‘This is exactly what we’re looking for. This is amazing.’ Jonny and I have gone on to write more songs. We just wrote the Why Don’t We song ‘8 Letters’ that just came out.”

Justin Bieber // "Company" (2015)

JHart: “I didn’t work directly with Bieber in the room. I worked with Poo Bear, who is one of Bieber’s closest collaborators. He’s amazing. It was me, Poo Bear and Norwegian producer Axident. Poo Bear is hilarious. He’s a character. He says, ‘Happy Birthday,’ to everyone he meets randomly even if it’s not your birthday. He says that because he loves to diffuse the tension and he wants people to know of his weirdness. From that point on, they just know. We’re in the room and we’re going through ideas. Axident started playing the beat to ‘Company’ and realized I had already written a song for it and went to the next track. Poo Bear was like, ‘Wait, go back to that. I really like that one.’ I was like, ‘Shit, I had already written a song over this track.' I was trying to decide if I should say something. Then I thought, 'If he’s inspired by it, let’s just go for it. I’ll do my best to get the other song out of my head.’ And we ended up writing ‘Company.’ I’m really glad I didn’t say anything. They ended re-producing the track so it sounds completely different, but the original has entirely different lyrics. It was called ‘Spend The Night On You.’ We do love a bed innuendo.”

Camila Cabello // "In The Dark" (2018)

JHart: “I did a songwriting camp with Camila. It was a bizarre day. We wrote at the Sunset Marquis [in West Hollywood]—they have this basement studio underneath the hotel. I think something got mixed up. There was a few of us in the room: me, Madison Love, Camila, Frank Dukes and Simon Wilcox, which is a lot of people for one session. There was supposed to be two rooms, but we ended up together, so we were like, ‘Let’s just have fun and see what happens.’ We started with one idea on piano and it really wasn’t taking off. And then Frank Dukes started playing this other idea and it was the beginning of the track to ‘In The Dark.’ Then Camila had this idea of when you know that someone can’t be who they completely want to be [especially at events like the Grammy Awards]. And that’s how the idea started. We all threw lyrics back and forth in the room. For that many people to be involved, it went pretty seamlessly. Camila is a great writer, to her credit, and she was really active in both songs that I wrote for her [including 'Something's Gotta Give']. It was the same when I wrote for Fifth Harmony, too. Camila was very vocal about having lyrical ideas. She’s very talented."

Martin Garrix feat. Usher // “Don’t Look Down” (2015)

JHart: “Martin, I just love him. He’s the sweetest guy, just so talented. I wrote the song with Busbee in the studio at his house. Busbee started the progression and we both started spitting out melodies and the lyrics just fell out of the sky. I have a video from the day we wrote that song still on my phone. I sang the demo. I really wanted to stay on it. Then Martin became involved and obviously did this amazing production and he mentioned Usher. I grew up in Atlanta, so it wasn’t even a matter of me swallowing my pride because as soon as I heard Usher, I knew he had to do it. This was the culmination of my Atlanta childhood and dreams. Hearing him on it was really cool. I also heard it was not the easiest vocal for him to record, which made me proud in a weird way because it made me feel like I gave Usher a run for his money.”

TLC // “Way Back" (2017)

JHart: “Fun fact: Tionne [a.k.a. T-Boz] was one of the first people in the music industry I had ever met when I was living in Atlanta. My first manager said, ‘You have to visit Tionne. She lives 10 minutes down the street from you. Go over to her house. Hang out with her. I want her to be a mentor for you.’ This was maybe 2009 or 2010 and I was fresh out of high school and had just started pursuing music. So I went over to her house and she was just the sweetest. Me and her really struck up a friendship. She was my first mentor. She taught me about the music industry and introduced me to people with no attachment or any kickback for herself. I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s still one of my close friends today. When it came time for TLC to work on a new record, I obviously wanted to work on it in a writing camp. I went in with D’Mile, who is an amazing producer. Then Tionne came in the room and helped me tweak the lyrics a little to make it more personal. We stayed up many nights talking about our favorite musicians so it wasn’t hard [to determine which legends to reference in the song]. I knew she loved Michael Jackson. I knew she loved Prince. So it was fairly easy.”

Keith Urban // "Wasted Time" (2016)

JHart: “The Four Lokos line [Sippin' on the Loko's, Spark, and Light] was somewhat contentious for me because I wrote it jokingly. I remember drinking Four Lokos in high school and we were writing about the summer after high school. Keith loved that line, but I remember Four Loko getting all of this bad press because people abused them. I was really nervous. I remember emailing Keith and saying this line could be dangerous and he said, ‘It’s brilliant. Let’s keep it in. People are going to love it.’ I played the song to my little sister, who was still in high school at the time and she loved the Four Loko lyric, so I was like, ‘Fine, I guess we did get it right to keep it in there.’’ But I was nervous.”

Charlie Puth // “Dangerously" (2016)

JHart: “I had just broken up with this guy I was with for over a year in a long-distance relationship in London. So he was in London, and I was in Los Angeles. That song just literally poured out in an hour and a half. I was with J.R. Rotem and Eskeerdo. We sat at a piano and J.R. started playing this beautiful thing and me and Eskeerdo started singing lyrics back and forth. It was very accurate to what I was going through and what I felt like at the end of the relationship. I felt so exhausted and had given everything I could have given at that time. After we did the song, we sent it to Mike Caren, who is just the master A&R [artists and repertoire]. He said Charlie would love this so he sent it to Charlie. He loved it and produced it himself and changed a few of the lyrics in the first and second verse. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. He did an amazing job with it.”

Little Mix feat. Stormzy // "Power" (2016)

JHart: “Something was in the air that day. We were fully on one. It felt like we all had four Red Bulls each because we were so full of energy. I have a really good relationship with Little Mix’s A&R duo of Anya Jones and Guy Langley. They did a writing camp in LA for the last album with a bunch of the regular Syco Entertainment collaborators. I had started a relationship with Syco a few years back when I co-wrote ‘Sax’ for Fleur East. They were like, ‘Let’s get Camille Purcell and JHart back in a room to write for Little Mix.’ We started in the kitchen banging on things with spoons and recording it. We were all just laughing and laughing. We went to the studio and wrote ‘Power.’ ... The motorbike thing happened because were having wild shouting moments. Camille said she wanted to do something like Nicki Minaj would say: 'Motorbike, motorbike, motorbike.’ It was such a fun day. On the original demo, they pitched Camille’s voice up, so I can’t listen to that demo without laughing because she sounded like a sassy mouse.”

Fifth Harmony // "I Lied" (2016)

JHart: “It’s basically talking about how in every other relationship in the past, you’ve said 'I love you' to someone, but you lied to them because you’re now really in love with someone. You now realize you weren’t in love at all in past relationships. You were just infatuated or some lesser version of love. I wrote it with The Monsters & Strangerz and Eskeerdo. We started the song by ourselves and then we brought it to the girls and finished it together."

JHart // “Put It To Bed” (2018)

JHart: “I was in a toxic relationship. It wasn’t the most negative relationship. It was a relationship that started out of a very passionate bantering back and forth, which was hot, but it devolved into the passion only happening when we argued. We were both very stubborn. I wrote this song when I was talking to my therapist about not knowing if there was any way to salvage this relationship. We just argued all of the time because it’s what we liked to do. He said, ‘Do you think you’ll ever be able to put this to bed and be in a normal, healthy, functioning relationship?’ And I said, ‘No.’ The song has a little sexual innuendo. Just enough. But it’s also deeper than that. About whether the relationship will survive. It didn’t survive."