Interview: EDEN - blue-sky thinking.
Introspection is at the core of everything EDEN (real name: Jonathon Ng) does, whether it be on ‘falling in reverse’ where he decides, “You can save yourself, you know,” or in ’wrong’, where he hopefully declares, ‘I could be more.” Throughout the entirety of his debut album ‘vertigo’, which entered into the world at the beginning of 2018, EDEN’s voice comes through loud and clear, worked between masterful samples, synthesisers, and more.
The album, which he wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered himself, has come alive this past year through his live show - which EDEN helped to design alongside his stage and lighting designer, and has seen devoted fans sing along to every word.
Order a CDM x EDEN zine here (i.e. a mini-magazine which includes photos + quotes from this feature).
Coup De Main spent a day out with EDEN at Auckland’s black sand Piha Beach before he played a packed-out Powerstation show later that evening, where we discussed his debut record, turning the record into a live show, and the importance of activism…
…it’s really easy to underestimate what you can do... and I think it’s important if you really feel strongly about something to go and fucking do something about it.
COUP DE MAIN: Welcome to New Zealand, and thank you for coming here with your ‘Vertigo’ Tour. How has the tour been going?
EDEN: Really good. I guess it was kind of a question mark as to how people would react to it, the way we designed the show and the setlist, so it’s actually been really nice just seeing people really get into it and embrace it - it’s been really nice playing these songs for people.
CDM: A lot of musicians find it interesting touring their albums, as the music feels different after playing live shows. Has this been the case for you?
EDEN: I don’t think so, not in a massive way. I think maybe it’s because I sat on this album for so long, just tweaking things and sitting on it. Maybe if it was changing.
CDM: You shared back in March a note about the live Eden experience, saying that you’ve never broken even on a tour. Is it important for you to give your fans the best possible live experience, regardless of the cost?
EDEN: Yeah. I guess it’s probably a bad trait to have in a business sense, but I don’t like doing things in a compromised way. If I have an idea, or have to perform a show, I don’t want to do a scaled-back version. I mean, obviously there’s ideas that I can’t achieve because you have to be realistic with what you can do, so I can’t go and have massive LED screens or dancers, or whatever. <laughs> There’s no fireworks or explosions. I think it’s always just been important to me for it to be more holistic than just me standing on a stage with a guitar, singing or something. I’ve always been adding an element, even from the first shows - I would play to like 250 people in a room, and we had the same lighting in those shows to when we played Webster Hall which was for 1,500 people. So, I wanted to make sure it was the same everywhere. But it is expensive. <laughs>
CDM: I respect that. For so many musicians now, touring is their main livelihood and it can be harder to make money.
EDEN: I don’t know, I’ve always found it to be the opposite. <laughs> Everyone’s set-up and situation can be so vastly different in music, so for some people touring is literally what puts food on your table, and for other people it’s the other way I guess.
CDM: In ‘Falling In Reverse’ you sing, “It's so hard to stay afloat when you make monsters out of thoughts.” Why do you think that the human mind is such a hard thing to navigate?
EDEN: I think that’s because it operates best when you’re conscious of it. As soon as there’s something you don’t like and you’re aware of that, it’s kind of like a shit feedback loop. So the more you think about it, the more you think about your thought processes, and the more that can become something that can really hold you back in certain ways. So, being able to not care or not give a fuck, however you’re gonna say it... Living in a more free manner and just letting things be. Obviously it’s not an easy thing, though.
CDM: How do you deal with monsters in your thoughts?
EDEN: I don’t know, I’m really bad at that, I think! <laughs> Music is one way for me. I think one of the best things I’ve ever done was when I started to keep a journal. I might not do it everyday, but randomly I’ll have a think about it and jot stuff down, and it can be just so therapeutic - even if no one’s ever gonna read it, it can straighten a lot of things out, just writing it down.
CDM: In your AMA on Reddit, you talked about ‘Icarus’, saying, “I think everyone goes through phases of placing their worth in other things or in goals, and eventually it will fail to fulfil you.” How do you think people can best find out what does make them feel better about themselves or fulfill themselves?
EDEN: It’s difficult, because it always seems like everyone else has the key or something else is the key, and you’re kind of searching for other things. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not starving, I’m not struggling to put food on the table for myself or anything. So it’s easy for me to say, ‘If I was really rich it would make me happier,’ but if I said that to someone who was like working three jobs, that they would be way happier, it’s kind of relative. The more you get things you want in life, and I mean, kind of superficial things or whatever, the more you realise it really just doesn’t matter if you have that thing or not.
CDM: No one is ever happy with what they have - at whatever point, you always want more. We’re never satisfied.
EDEN: It’s like, you have everything you already need to be happy, whether you’re really rich or not. You can have ambitions outside of that, you can be really happy and still want to be really rich and that’s fine, there’s not a problem with that. But you’re not happy because you’re rich, and ambition is a different thing. I think it’s a personal, and I guess, a psychological thing.
CDM: You mixed the album yourself - among basically everything else! I feel like that side of music is something that a lot of artists just assume they can’t do. Did you teach yourself how to do those things?
EDEN: Yeah, I guess it’s kind of because I make music by myself - you just want it to sound as good as it can be, so you kind of just learn through trial and error. You obviously have standards because they’re the kind of music you like to listen to. So if the song you make sounds really, really shit compared to all of the songs you listen to, you will recognise the problem, and find ways to make it sound better. I think as an artist, it can be dangerous because you can get so caught up in making things sound really good that you forget that the thing is more important than how it sounds. But I don’t think it’s out of anyone’s range of possibilities to be able to produce, it’s kind of a skill you can pick up, and as a musician it’s not actually that much of a stretch to pick up, it just takes time and practice.
CDM: What’s it been like performing with a band on this tour? Do you prefer it compared to your solo shows?
EDEN: So, so nice. Because I started performing live music when I was a teenager with my friends in bands and stuff, I really missed that energy of just having other people on-stage, so it’s nice. Before, when it was just me onstage it kind of felt like a weird form of karaoke, because I could only play so much by myself and I’m not a Jack Garrett person who can kind of octopus themselves into playing everything that’s in the song. I don’t really have any interest in that, and I don’t want to do that, so if I stop playing my main piano or guitar or whatever, the rest wouldn’t stop, a lot of it would continue because it was on the computer, pre-recorded. So it definitely feels like more of a performance now because if we stop playing there isn’t really a sound, and it’s nice to have the songs be built from other people actually playing it, and it just feels way more expressive.
CDM: How did you produce your vocals on ‘crash’? It has such a cool pitching to it.
EDEN: I’m not sure how that came about to be honest. I always kind of mess with doing really intense vocal effects, and they very rarely actually make it into the final project. They’re usually there, but in the background, so that was one of the things that actually ended up being in the foreground of the song, with the pitched vocal. I don’t really know why that made the cut, I guess it just felt like it needed it. There’s certain times when you produce by yourself that when you make something that the idea is just, ‘It’s gonna sound like this,’ and you go and make it and you’re not really sure why. It’s not like you sat around contemplating it, it just needed something else. Then you’ve tried a bunch of things and that stuck. It’s always just like that for me.
CDM: How did you go about designing the ‘Vertigo’ Tour?
EDEN: Since my very first show I’ve worked with the same stage and lighting designer, so that was kind of between both of us. If you’ve seen the show, the kind of lighting that we have on the stage, the poles, I really wanted to have something I could walk through. I was really interested in doing an asymmetric stage, and that was an idea he’d been sitting on for years, it was on the back-burner or something for a couple years. He loved the idea but never had the right thing to commit it to. He designed a lot of the animations and things you see. We went over different stage diagrams and spacings and stuff and figured out what we liked.
CDM: We asked you to help art direct your shoot for us, because I know you’re super involved with all your visuals. Do you have some type of plan with your visuals in terms of what they look like?
EDEN: You mean as a whole? I don’t think there’s ever a plan. I think I’ve just always been quite like that I guess, from starting off just making music for myself, by myself, you kind of just start doing everything, so you start organising photoshoots. I’d get like one or two of my friends and be like, ‘Yeah, let’s go here and take some photos for my music thing.’ So yeah, it started from there. I just like making things, <laughs> so I love making videos with people or by myself, like the ‘start//end’ video which was something I had just decided would be really cool to make. It’s just something I have a lot of love for and I get a lot of joy from just doing it and creating visual things. It’s hard to explain. <laughs>
CDM: What are the different audio samples at the beginnings of some of the songs on ‘vertigo’? Like on ‘wings’?
EDEN: For the album I recorded a lot of sounds on my phone, because phone recorders are just so clear and of really good quality, I don’t even need a real recorder usually. So there’s a lot of sounds that I’ve literally just got from my phone, and sometimes when I’m trying to record other sounds, people would talk to me. For example, one of the people who talk on the album is my Mum. I was in the car with my family, we were going to my granny’s house for dinner and we got stuck in traffic and there was an ambulance coming the other way, so I thought it would be cool to record the ambulance going by. Then halfway through recording she just started finishing the conversation that we had had. We had been talking about music or something, that something was either difficult or that I needed to figure out. So she just started continuing the conversation while I was recording the ambulance and it made the recording about a hundred times better. I think, fast-forward maybe six months, I was making ‘float’ with somebody, and I was like, ‘Hey I’ve got that recording and I can put it in.’ That’s why there’s sirens and talking and stuff in there, it just made sense.
CDM: You tweeted on International Women’s Day: “I’d like to say something to the younger women who might read this: Kids/teenagers/20 somethings/etc, change the world. We need you.” Why do you think it's so important that young people invoke change in the world around them? And learn to make change?
EDEN: I think what I was feeling was it’s really easy to underestimate what you can do, in a lot of ways. I think, especially, I mean it’s probably less so now than it’s ever been, but it’s obviously still a factor in a lot of places; but for young women and girls growing up, it’s not even really considered that they can do certain things. Activism has completely changed in the last ten years or so. It’s not just women and young girls, but everyone, and I think it’s important if you really feel strongly about something to go and fucking do something about it. It’s almost hypocritical of me to say because there’s a lot of things I feel pretty strongly about that I don’t really use my platform for, I think I need to think about it more and figure out a few more personal things before I start doing that. I think there’s just so much to be done, and we are just leaving it to whatever random cause is coming up and thinking, ‘Oh I’ll just get behind that instead of starting my own.’ It can be difficult because it can take up a lot of time, a lot of bandwidth and brain space. I think it has to be done even in a small way, whether it’s just donating, or being more mindful of something else. But it’s dangerous to think that other people are going to do it for you, or someone else is handling it, because in a lot of cases they're not.
CDM: What’s it been like working on new music since ‘vertigo’?
EDEN: I’ve just really been enjoying getting back to creating things. I guess I spent so long on just this one album and tweaking things that have happened for so long, instead of creating new things. It's tiring in its own way, you know? So it just feels really nice to, even if a lot of it doesn’t ever get used or released. I just really want to make as many things as possible and keep pushing things to find anything, really.
EDEN’s album ‘vertigo’ is out now - click here to purchase, and watch the ‘Icarus’ music video below…