Los Angeles-based producer-singer-songwriter HARV is rehearsing for Justin Bieber’s upcoming Changes Tour when he calls to discuss his numerous latest projects.
HARV, whose full name is Bernard Harvey, has had quite a year already: He co-wrote and co-produced three tracks on Bieber’s new album, Changes, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 (dated Feb. 29) with 231,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data — the fourth-biggest debut of the year so far (after BTS’ Map of the Soul: 7, Eminem’s Music to Be Murdered By and Halsey’s Manic). He’s gearing up for the Changes Tour, which is set to launch May 14 in Seattle and run through September, and he’s also about to release his own solo single, “Hail Mary,” which will appear on his debut solo album later this year.
HARV has worked with Bieber for a decade now, rising from bassist in his band to his music director on tour.
“We’ve gained a lot of trust in each other, and a friendship with it,” HARV says.
Meanwhile, HARV’s three production credits on Changes (“Available”; “Forever,” featuring Post Malone and Clever; and “At Least for Now”) sent him to No. 7 on Billboard‘s R&B Producers chart (Feb. 29).
HARV chatted with Billboard about his production work on Changes, his experience co-producing “Available” with Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee and performing on Saturday Night Live.
Congratulations on the success of Changes! How did the album originate?
We actually worked on Changes for a year and some change, and it started with me and [writer/producer] Poo Bear around late 2018. Just me being around Justin and [Bieber’s manager] Scooter [Braun] for quite some time, I knew that [Bieber] was working on the next album after [2015’s] Purpose.
We knew we wanted to be more R&B for this album, so once we figured that out, we kind of dialed in.
You really leaned into the “R&Bieber” sound on this album. How did you decide that was the direction you wanted to go in for this record, and did you feel it was a natural fit for him?
Justin has always loved R&B and he’s always gravitated toward it. So it wasn’t really a thing where we forced or tried to make this “R&B Justin Bieber,” album — it was kind of a natural thing that he always wanted to do.
And I don’t really call what we did R&B. It’s kind of progressive. It’s not really old-school R&B, or it’s not really like jazz R&B or anything. It’s just kind of a new format of R&B, and something that, once Justin said this is what he wanted to do, it was kind of easy for Poo Bear and myself and the other producers to hone in on whatever that next sound is. It was organic.
Were there any artists or albums you listened to for inspiration for this album, or a certain artist you wanted to model this sound after?
With an artist like Justin, he’s the leader of whatever’s next. So, being a producer and a writer for him, you can’t try to put somebody else in mind when you start creating for him. You’ve just got to have really a blank slate, and go in thinking, “What haven’t I heard yet?”
That’s what I think about when I’m creating for Justin: What’s the next two or three years in music going to look like? Because once Justin puts his music out now, everybody else is going to follow. Like, “Oh, OK, this is the new sound.” Just like when Purpose came out and [2012’s] Believe came out.
Every album he’s put out, everybody kind of followed whatever the new pop sound is. With Changes, we knew that. So we were like, “You know what? Let’s not listen to nobody. Who cares what everybody else sounds like right now? Let’s just come up with whatever this new sonic is, and let’s just hone it and kill it.”
You first worked with Bieber in 2010. So much has happened in both of your careers since you first collaborated. How has your relationship with him changed over the past decade?
It just grew over the years. I started out playing bass in his band, and he didn’t even know I was a producer. But I laid beats in the dressing rooms or on the tour bus, and he came up to me and was like, “Yo, these beats are kind of dope.” So he started writing over them, and my first placement came in 2011 with him on the Christmas album [Under the Mistletoe], “Fa La La.” After that, it just kept growing to what it is now. Now I’m his music director, so I’m traveling everywhere with him whenever he performs live, and I’m arranging his shows. We’re gearing up for the Changes Tour right now.
Over the years, he’s trusted me to put his tour together and he looks to me for production at the same time, so it’s become a double-sided win for me. I get to travel with him as his music director, and then when we leave the stage, we go to the studio and create magic together. So we’ve gained a lot of trust in each other, and a friendship with it.
One of the Changes songs you worked on was “Forever,” which reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped you debut on our R&B Producers chart. Walk me through what it was like in the studio making that song, and getting Post Malone as a feature.
“Forever” was probably one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever created. At first, me and Poo Bear didn’t know if [Justin] was going to like it or not. But when we showed it to Justin, he liked the song, and then was like, “Well, we got to get a feature.” So, we went through four or five features that we wanted to put on the song — who I’m not going to name. But eventually we were like, “Why don’t we just put Post on it?” He opened up for us on the Purpose Tour, so him and Justin have a good relationship. So we added Post, and then Clever got on it, and it became what it is now.
I actually switched the track like seven times, because we wanted it to sound a little different, but then we eventually went with the first version, which is now on the album.
I was surprised to see that JaVale McGee has a production credit on “Available.” How did he get involved with the project and what was your experience working with him?
Yeah, JaVale McGee secretly plays the piano, which is nuts. It just lets people know that anything is possible. If you just apply yourself, you can do anything.
Poo Bear actually headed that. He had already written the song, and he had a little snippet of something that JaVale did. He was like, “Harv, you would kill this. I want you and JaVale to take this little piece that JaVale did, and then take it to the next level.” So I got [Bieber’s] a cappella from Poo Bear and I turned [the song] into what it is now, with JaVale McGee sprinkled on it.
You performed with Bieber on Saturday Night Live on Feb. 8, playing bass on “Yummy.” What was that like?
That was an amazing experience. Any time you can perform on such a prestigious platform as SNL, that’s really a mark in your career. Growing up as a young musician, you just want to play on TV, and you don’t think you’ll ever get to that level of being able to perform on live TV like that.
I was playing upright bass for that performance. I actually started out on cello when I was 9 years old, so it kind of brought me back to my classical roots, with a little R&B twist, of course, since we were playing “Yummy.”
You’re prepping for the Changes Tour, but what else is next for you?
Of course, there’s the tour, but I have so much that I’m focusing on just for myself. I have more records with a few other artists that are getting ready to come out really, really soon. I have a single that I’m getting ready to release in probably a month called “Hail Mary.” I’m just getting some other things prepared for how I want to present it. It’ll be my second release, but I’m going to really put some money behind it, so really it’s my first release.
I’m excited about that because that’s really what I wanted to do. Outside of producing and being Justin’s music director, I really want to get into my own artistry.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.