Translating Feeling into Sound: A Q&A with EDEN on Debut-Full Length, ‘vertigo’

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There tend to be two general approaches to art: the methodical route whereby each step is carefully-calculated towards a fixed end goal, and the spontaneous route whereby natural inclinations tend to make way for serendipitous outcomes. Irish singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer EDEN undoubtedly opted for the latter approach, as music always served as natural form of  cathartic expression rather than a “job,” per se. Fast forward to three years since his first release under the moniker, The Eden Project: EDEN’s work culminates in the release of his debut full-length album, vertigo, on Jan. 19 via Virgin EMI/Astralwerks Records.  

As the album title suggests, vertigo embodies the whirling sensations associated with Jonathan Ng’s (a.k.a EDEN) sudden transition from a kid making beats in his Dublin bedroom to an internationally-touring recording artist. Recorded completely independently between Dublin and New York City, the record provides a window into EDEN’s personal evolution, encapsulated in 13 tracks that uncannily translate the feeling of systematic chaos into sonic form. Following suit to previously-released EPs, End Credits and i think you think too much of me, vertigo retains every ounce of the out-of-the-box songwriting techniques that drew fans to EDEN in the first place: wary vocals singing of personal strife, uplifting guitar riffs, occasional folk strings, and his signature: explosively cinematic synth breakdowns. 

EDEN takes vertigo on the road this Spring, kicking off the North American leg of his headline tour on March 1. Pick up your tickets here, dig in to the album below, then get to know EDEN’s background, creative process, and artists to watch in our Q&A.

OTW: So you went from playing classical music on the violin, to a constant evolution on the last two albums, and now we have Vertigo. How would you describe how the interest initially sparked and evolved from there?

Eden: For as long as I could remember, even before I knew people sang words, I would just sing gibberish along to the radio. If you remember that Michael Jackson Number Ones DVD – it was all live performances of the songs. I would put it on and sing along, and try to dance to it. But my parents put me into violin lessons before I could say no, and just through that basic introduction, I taught myself piano, and then borrowed my auntie’s guitar and taught myself how to play that. The whole time, I was writing music since I was seven, and then I did play in bands, but eventually I found out I didn’t need the rest of the orchestra or the other band members, I could do everything by myself on the computer. And the whole time, I just expected that it was what I would end up doing. I don’t think there was a specific moment of like, “This is what I have to do;” it was just always there. It’s something where if it wasn’t my job, I would still do it anyway – whether two people listened to it, or if there wasn’t anyone who liked it, I would still do it. But it’s pretty cool to be able to sit here today, like this is what allows me to live, this thing that I love.

OTW: When you first decided to be a solo artist, and started putting music out, do you remember a specific breakout, or how did people first find it?

Eden: It was really word of mouth, like I didn’t even tell my friends about it. I kind of just put it on the internet, and it spread, slowly, over like three years. And then I changed my name, slightly, from The Eden Project, to Eden.

OTW: Why did you change it?

Eden: The Eden Project was never a permanent name for me; there’s a bunch of reasons into changing it. There’s actually this big tourist attraction in England already called The Eden Project, so that didn’t help either. So I changed the name, and then the first music that I put out as Eden did way, way better than I expected it to do. And suddenly I found myself just thrown into the deep end of the music industry – I had so many more meetings than I could handle, which is wild, because I’d gone from making music on my computer while I was in school at age 16, and then suddenly I was being flown places to meet with people.

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OTW: Did you take any steps to retain a normal teenage life as you were getting thrown into the industry?

Eden: I tried to, I really did, but I guess that’s what the album turned out to be about. Just this really fast transition in my life from being a completely normal person, to now, most people I meet already kind of know me, or their friend is like, “That’s the music guy.” It definitely takes adjusting for sure, but all my close friends from growing up are still in my life, and I try to keep it that way; I really like my friends and I don’t want to have them change. I’m not trying to become this cool L.A kid; I still live with my parents when I’m in Dublin.

OTW: Are you going to stay there?

Eden: For now, yeah. I did live in New York for a bit, but for now I’m staying there. I can kind of work from anywhere, so it’s nice to be around family and friends.

OTW: So what does the name “Eden” mean to you?

Eden: It’s actually a really long and weird story. I was playing in bands as a teenager – and I’m kind of a control freak about music – and I wanted to start a new band where it wasn’t just my group of friends playing music together; I would like ask people to be in it. But about that time I found out about electronic music, and how people were making all of this on their computers, so I just started doing that. And basically, I’d chosen the name of The Eden Project; Eden, because it was really going to be whatever I wanted, and in a really corny way, like a perfect place for my music. And then Project, because I had no idea what it was going to be. And then I just kept the name for my music I made on my computer, and a few years later, it’s bigger than I could have imagined.

OTW: So all the production is done on your computer?

Eden: Up until this album, I literally made everything out of my bedroom in Dublin. This album was made in my bedroom, but then a lot of it when I was living in New York, so it was my first time using studios that weren’t my bedroom.

OTW: So you said that’s what the album about, your transition from being a teenager to being thrown into the industry?

Eden: Not necessarily just the industry, but more so my whole life situation drastically changed really quick. So the name Vertigo is kind of about that, like it was this dizzying, difficult few years. So it’s a really important album for me, because when I write about things, it’s like my therapy, it feels like I’ve made progress on some of the things that have been bothering me.

OTW: What would you say you’ve learned through this process?

Eden: I guess there’s a few aspects to it, but definitely the whole thing is just being able to roll with the punches in a way, so understanding where you are, and trying to move forward through it. So if you’re in a shitty situation, like “this sucks, or this is hard or difficult,” it’s just being able to see that this is not permanent. Sometimes to get to a better place, you have to get through shit.

OTW: So even though the new album is very beat-heavy, there’s still a variety of different sounds – which you’ve become known for. How do you go about putting those elements together in a cohesive way?

Eden: I have no idea. I was thinking about this recently, like I don’t know why I put a guitar here, or a synth here, but all I was trying to do is express the way that I’m feeling or something I’m thinking about, and do it in a way that was fun for me to do. So really explore the music and how I was doing it, like this violin thing that I was writing – if it really reminded me of this time that I had or this feeling, it was going in. And then the first chorus would be this way, and then the second chorus I wouldn’t sing, and if that made me feel like it was right, that’s what I was going to do. I really wanted to not have a rulebook or a playbook; I just wanted to let it go where it wanted to go, and not try and design anything or think about it too much.

OTW: So you’re essentially translating a feeling?

Eden: Yeah, it’s just feeling it out, and this really works, cool, I’ll leave it like that. Like in  “start//end,” I think I was helping one of my friends who was starting to make music by himself, and I accidentally hit a setting, and all of a sudden the vocals were completely different. Fast forward to when I was working on the song: I tried the same thing, and it made so much more sense to me. I don’t know why it made sense, but it felt right, I was basically just chasing that feeling the whole time in making the album. It’s exciting, like, “I don’t know why that’s there, but it’s cool.”  I really like to create something that’s beautiful, but also still expressive. That’s exciting for me, because I love cinema, and I love pictures and photography, I just love that medium.

OTW: And can we also expect a tour to follow?

Eden: Yes, definitely. I’m going on tour in March and April, and then Europe.

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OTW: What’s your live setup going to be on the tour?

Eden: We’re experimenting with that at the moment. I’d really like to introduce some other musicians to play with me, so it’s a bit more live, because at the moment, a lot of it is done on the computer. I’d like to have people playing it; I think that would be much more enjoyable to watch and enjoyable to perform. It’d be really cool to have the energy to dance your pants off.

OTW: I know you collaborate with other artists as well. Any recent notable ones?

Eden: I do like working with people a lot, actually. I’ll help a lot of my friends with songwriting, or if they need advice. Sometimes I even record vocals for them for the actual song, but as far as the project Eden goes, I like to keep it by myself. At least for now, maybe going forward I’ll change it, but I have this weird chip on my shoulder where I want to do everything myself.

OTW: So everything on this album was all you, too?

Eden: Yeah. From the idea in the beginning, to what you hear at the end, it’s kind of like, my bedroom to the world. It just had to be like that, I don’t know why.

OTW: Well, we appreciate that! So we’re Ones To Watch as you know, so who are artists that are on your “Ones to Watch” list?

Eden: Right now, Jeremy Zucker is definitely one to watch for sure. 

This duo called Tennyson I really like too; I’ve never seen them live, but I like some of their songs. 

I just stumbled across Alaskan Tapes; they’re kind of small at the moment, but they make really beautiful, kind of atmospheric stuff. 

I produce for this rapper ATO; he’s one of my best friends, and for the moment, all of his production is done by me. He just put out an EP that’s really dope, he’s from London. 

Dermot Kennedy; I read the interview you did with him. He’s a really cool guy. I bumped into him once or twice over the summer because we were playing the same festivals, it’s nice to have people from home that you see every now and again.

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