EDEN: “I wanted to be either an astronaut or a musician”

The Dublin-based singer, songwriter and producer, EDEN, greets me with “nice to E-meet you I guess! That’s a good email opener”. Known to his friends as Jonathon Ng, his soothing, warm Irish accent leads me through his childhood and where it all began. “I was always obsessed with music and singing. I can remember always singing along to the radio, even before I knew there were words in songs! I would kind of make weird noises. Then my parents put me, and all of my siblings, in music lessons. They were like ‘pick an instrument’… ‘the violin?!’ ‘ok, now you have to learn the violin’. I didn’t particularly enjoy it … it’s just like when you’re a child you have to do this today, tomorrow and all the other days but it kind of opened the door to music. My little brother and sister chose the piano so there was an electric piano in the house. I started messing around on it and started teaching myself piano. Then I stole… or borrowed and never gave back… my auntie and uncle’s acoustic guitar and started playing that. Then I bought a guitar and it kind of kicked off from there. I guess I realised that, rather than me being good at singing or the guitar or the violin, I am kind of better at music as a substance… or songwriting, you know? Music, for me, has the draw over any particular instrument and singing for me is the best way for me to express the things I want to express in an artistic way.”

‘What I would be doing instead… I don’t know! I think, growing up, I wanted to be either an astronaut or a musician. I was really into science and maths. I went to university and started studying a science degree to get as close to being an astronaut as possible, or an engineer or rocket science, or whatever. Then the music thing happened. If I wasn’t doing music… I really like driving! I’d like to think that in another life I would be a race car driver. I also just like business too. I have to set up businesses for various things such as touring and for different aspects of music. I actually really love it and how structured it is.” Staying true to his childhood dreams I recall the lyrics from ‘Gravity’ where EDEN enchantingly echoes, “I’m fighting gravity/defying gravity” as he fuses the Milky Way, earth and the dream he is living.

“I don’t really sit down and decide… I want this to portray… wallpaper. I just try and run with it. It helps me unkink things so if I’m thinking about something too much, then it will probably end up in a song in some shape or form. It helps me understand things and come to terms with my life, the people in it and the way everything’s going you know? The good and bad.”

We discuss his freshly released debut album ‘Vertigo’ where EDEN states: “I always really struggle to describe what to expect. People always ask me ‘describe your album’ or ‘what you think your album sounds like’… I don’t really know. If I could describe the album in words then I just would have done! Music is this weird in between thing that needs to figure itself out. I can’t explain it in writing and conversation… the album is the only way I could. It’s a deconstructive version of the last two EP’s I released. So it’s arguably a step forward but it’s a step in a direction so always just lucky to progress, try something new, keep pushing boundaries and trying to find something interesting and fun.”

“For my world tour I’m really excited. So for the last two tours, I have been on, its kind of been building on the same idea and concept but this world tour is tearing it all down and starting again. So it’s a brand new production, the lighting is completely different and I’m not carrying over anything. I’m just starting fresh and it is a new opportunity to present music and put on a really cool performance. Just trying to be ambitious about it and make something new and hopefully that feels great to watch! I’m still figuring it out at the moment!”

The music video for ‘start//end’ begins with definitions of the word “can’t”. The lettering drops onto a background of twisting, baleful waves which suddenly turns to black and we are left with: “the expression or repetition of conventional or trite opinions or sentiments; especially the insincere use of pious words”. Rolling mountains enveloped in gloomy clouds and sparkling cities, enwrapped in kaleidoscopic sunsets, filter onto the screen. EDEN is pictured against these backdrops, sometimes as an ambiguous silhouette, sometimes wearing a jumper with the words ‘you don’t love me yet’ and sometimes as a miniscule figure in the big scheme of the various settings. The handheld camera toys with angles, light and darkness as the music video portrays a raw depiction of a fuzzy and confused mind. EDEN divulges the thoughts behind his aesthetic for his videos: “when I made the music video for ‘start//end’ I kind of just had an idea for a really dense visual piece. None of the locations appear more than once and it’s just always changing.”

“I felt like it had to be this way. I might stumble across something that’s a little bit out in left field or bizarre or unusual… it felt just right. That’s exciting for me and I wanted to be more spontaneous and less inhibited about it. Don’t think about it too much. For the other music videos, like ‘gold’ and ‘crash’, I was just working with director friends of mine who are like artistic geniuses and their attention to detail is just crazy. I took more of a backseat for those and pointed them in the right direction. They went and did all these crazy things that I wouldn’t have even thought of.”

I want to know if EDEN has a song that speaks to him the most. “I guess it depends on my mood. I think that ‘Catch Me If You Can’, from End Credits, was really underrated. I think it is one of my favourites. It always just calms me down and makes me think that things are cool and alright. It’s just a little acoustic thing. It changes all of the time but sometimes I really like ‘and’ or ‘rock + roll.”

I ask him to tell me what he is currently listening to on Spotify. He becomes the first artist to actually get his phone out and systematically talk me through it as he exclaims: “well let’s find out! The albums on my Spotify are… I think its one guy called Alaskan Tapes. It’s just like long, drawn out, atmospheric music- it’s really cool. Biffy Clyro because I used to love them when I was smaller, the new Bon Iver album is really good… me… for some reason… ‘Blonde’ by Frank Ocean, a band called Microwave, Kendrick Lamar, Pinegrove, Radiohead, Sampha, SZA… those are all the saved albums on my phone.”

We discuss the whirlwind of the music industry, as I am intrigued to find out how he has managed to keep such a grounded and humble stance. “The issue with [the music industry] I guess, is that everyone has had such different paths. So there isn’t really advice that I tell myself. No one really gave me advice for the music industry. I wish they did! It would make it a bit easier… The industry isn’t really the difficult part. I think it’s the whole lifestyle that’s difficult because it’s glamourised a lot. You only ever see the perfected and filtered photos on Instagram. You don’t see the 12 hours of travel and no sleep before that. You just see me playing the show. That’s probably the hardest thing to come to terms with. Maybe the best bit of advice is just remember yourself. You are part of the equation. I was playing shows and trying to make sure that the audience had a really good time. I was always entertaining and being on the stage would always be amazing but, all the time around it and running up to the show, I would kind of be stressing. Towards the end of the touring, that I did last year, I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. Like sing… or whatever… and not play up to it as much as I think I should. I feel a lot better now and I can enjoy myself way more. Remember to take care of yourself you know?”

“You just keep going. What helps a lot is when you have a solid team with you. The people, on tour with you, are really important. You get along with them and you know they’re doing their job. Everyone is in it together. Everyone hasn’t slept for the last 12 hours… or how many hours. It makes it easier when there’s a group.”

“With the immediate future is the album coming out and then its just shows. After that I have no idea. Actually I am kind of looking forward to… I don’t know if I really will… but working with other people. I had a chip on my shoulder where I just wanted to make this whole album by myself. From the words of music, to the mixing and mastering, I didn’t want anyone to really touch it. Now I’m thinking… ‘But it could be really cool!’ Would be so cool to work with someone or an artist I really liked, who I could write a song with. That’s something maybe to look forward to in the future but I don’t know when that might happen or if it will. I’ve really wanted to work with SZA. She’s just gone absolutely crazy and in a media rise.” He pronounces ‘SZA’ perfectly (you do not just relay the letters like I previously did…) and I hesitate whether to ask him how to spell it. Just to make sure we are on the same page. He graciously reassures me: “Actually she was supposed to support Bryson Tiller, when he came to Dublin in December or November, and the radio ads said her name wrong. They would say Bryson Tiller with support from ‘S – Z – A’ and I was like ‘you’re literally an ad for a musician and you’re not saying her name right!’ I’m saying that you’re not alone!”

Talking to a sleep deprived EDEN was an honour. The astronaut of beautiful, haunting music, I know that 2018, infinity and beyond looks dazzling for EDEN.

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