by Israel Mejia
Meeting Jonathon Ng, the multifaceted artist behind EDEN, is a quiet experience. The Dublin based singer-songwriter was in town to promote the upcoming release of his debut album vertigo and seemed pretty calm for a fresh faced twenty-two year-old who would soon be embarking on an almost sold-out world tour this coming spring. It’s not necessarily a surprise that the composer behind songs such as drugs and sex, singles off of his 2016 EP i think you think too much of me, would present himself as stoic and self-controlled. He would go on to explain that growing up, he always welcomed surprises. His willingness to “roll with the tide,” as he puts it, should explain how his career in music came to be. Talking to Jonathon you get a sense that besides lyrically composing deep and thoughtful messages, he is in a sense an old soul. We sat down on a chilly winter afternoon to talk about his creative process and new album, vertigo.
PHOSPHENES: How did you get your start in music?
EDEN: I’ve been making music since I was six. I started off writing bad rap songs over Eminem beats. At sixteen I found music production and thought ‘Oh shit, I can do this for myself’! I then left the band I used to be in. My family had an iMac in the house with GarageBand and I started to mess around with it.
P: EDEN is such a specific name, how did that come about?
E: I’ve always liked being in control, and at first the name was The Eden Project, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the final name. Under The Eden Project I made dance music and traditional band music, but ultimately I knew it would just be EDEN. I didn’t know when or what would make me change it, but I always knew it would happen.
P: You were still in school when some of your early work started spreading online, no?
E: I remember I was getting ready to take the Irish version of the SAT’s, and when I was supposed to be studying, I released a song every Monday. I had Soundcloud but I did not have YouTube. Luckily I had some channels on YouTube pick up my stuff and spread it on the internet essentially. All without me actually having a YouTube channel myself!
P: You’re a one man show, besides behind the scenes, you also at times perform with just yourself on stage.
E: Yeah, I’m self-taught. I did think about going to University for music but I didn’t end up doing that. I just tried it out and taught myself using the Internet; I would look up how to make a synth and practice. I would sit for hours and hours and learn through trial and error. That’s how I built the live show I do now, though that will change for the tour. I’m really excited.
P: For someone who likes controlling every aspect, how did you come to that decision to add more people?
E: I missed the collaboration aspect, the energy. I used to play with my friends and I loved it, being able to balance off people and create music. Also, the songs are so layered, and I can only do so much at a time. Instead of playing along with a computer, it will be people this time around.
P: For your upcoming album vertigo, how did you choose what to write about in comparison to your previous work?
E: Well I didn’t certainly sit down and think “well this is what I’m going to write about now.” It’s like I had a bunch of crappy Monday’s and I woke up today to write about it. For example, yesterday I had a bad day and it reminded me of all the other times of my life that I’ve felt like that and then I’ll write. All of my past work is of the moment and like a time capsule. It’s not necessarily about one singular event. It’s an emotional response depending on what I’m thinking about, it’s the thread that holds them all together.
P: Was vertigo harder to write?
E: It was all about finding the right words and melodies. I try to sing about this “in between space,” like what I can tell you about and what I mean, or what I really feel and what I really think about. I’m trying to learn more about myself and express myself, which I’m not really good at with words. I can’t just write a story or a poem, but I can write music.
P: Do you usually find the beat first or write the words when creating new music?
E: It depends. It can happen both ways. Sometimes I’ll start making a sound and write over the beat. Actually some of my favorite stuff that I’ve written has been more freestyle. In this album, the whole middle part of crash was all freestyle. For me to have something really meaningful and for it to happen [on “crash”] means so much to me; I was happy I was able to capture that.
P: Who do you take inspiration from?
E: From a lot of people. I would listen to anything growing up from boybands to Eminem. I then got to classic rock bands like The Who, then to heavy metal and pop. Although singing-wise it would be Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury.
P: You seemed to have gone through many music phases. Did it take your to find your own voice?
E: For sure, especially when I started writing. I used to take songs and replace the words with my own when I was kid. After that I got more and more comfortable with doing something different. It takes a lot of time to truly make something that is unique to yourself. I still don’t know if I’m truly there, but I’m enjoying the process.
P: How did you choose gold for the lead single, and how did you come about writing it?
E: It’s actually a really important song for the album. Funny thing was a friend of mine came over to my house when I was living here in Williamsburg and he plays guitar in a weird tuning and detunes guitars, so the next day I picked up the guitar to play, and the first thing I played is that guitar riff on the song. That is one of those things where I wrote the music first and then took me a while to bring out what I was really trying to sing. I was stressed out at the time and the song became an exhale of what I was feeling. The song is about feeling that everything is okay and it’s not the end of the world.
P: Do you find that you’re an emotional person when it comes to your music in regards to writing?
E: I guess so, I guess some people write really angry letters and don’t send them and to me I just write because it really happens to straighten out my thoughts. Sometimes I see a lot of comments like, “Oh my God this song makes me cry!” and I don’t really get emotional like that from music. Maybe more than emotional, I am quite reflective; I think about things a lot more like if something happens ask myself, “What did I do? What can I do?” like that.
P: How do you feel when you’re playing a show and see people react a certain way to your music?
E: That I think is important, you and I could read the same story and come away with a different general meaning. That actually makes me feel good when I can’t describe what I’m doing or put a label on it, it makes me feel like I am creating something that is in between what I can explain to you and what I can feel. Really that’s just exciting, I’m trying to just make something that is in a way just art.
P: Since you are someone who puts a lot of thought behind your work, how did you come up with the song titles for vertigo?
E: It usually came from a word from the song sometimes. On vertigo or take care, the title doesn’t overtly have a lot to do with what is going on in the song but it kind of encapsulates the meaning of the song. I don’t think I have any songs that don’t have their title in the lyrics.
P: This is your first studio album, are you nervous or anxious?
E: I did have a moment the other day where I was thinking, “What if this is the pinnacle of everything and this is the biggest it’ll ever be? What if the album comes out and people are like ‘ehh,'” and it was just on my mind. Then the more I thought about it, I would think if I were to go back and make it more accessible or reader friendly, people might like it more. But I would like it less and I wouldn’t be happy with myself. At this point, I made something I wouldn’t take back for the world. It means so much to me that I wouldn’t change any aspect of it. No matter how scared I am, it’s just something I needed to make.
P: You still being so young, how are your parents finding all this attention and what do they make of it?
E: I went to University for a few months studying science, and then I dropped a bombshell on them saying I wanted to drop out and release music. At this point I was already releasing music online and getting thousands and millions of streams on the Internet. They freaked out like any parent would. They then agreed to talk about it, and I said no I can’t explain myself well enough yet and last time we were shouting to each other. I told them I would write a business plan and then we would talk about it, so I Googled “How to write a business plan,” and I did [laughs]. And they read it and we sat down and they said ok. I was supposed to go back and take a course at University, but that summer I dropped End Credits and it all kind of blew up. I think the amazing thing is that my parents have been so hands-off because they know I know what I’m doing. That was the most important few months of my life without a doubt.
P: For you, what happened down the line where you saw that this was more than just a phase?
E: It was all the Internet. At that point my music was getting so many streams. On the Internet, everything is just a statistic. When I started earning money from music I thought, “okay this is something bigger and not just a weird online hobby.” That kind of blew my mind, especially with the first tour I did and sold out. Really, really mind blowing.
P: Your fans seem so loyal.
E: That is something that I’ve been really, really lucky with ‘cause since day one, they’ve been so open and really understand what I’m trying to do. What helps is that I’m the same age as a lot of my fans. We generally are experiencing the same stages of life together, and they’ve grown up with me. I think it’s a really special interaction. I can’t wait for them so see what I have planned.
P: Is there anything you want to do after the album comes out? A feature or collaboration?
E: I definitely had chip on my shoulder that I wanted to create this whole album by myself and not let anyone touch it, and now that I’ve done that and created it, I don’t really know who. But I’m excited to try to work with people. There are so many exciting people like SZA, Bon Iver – so many people I think are making cool things. I wouldn’t say no to not rapping again [laughs]. I’ve spent three years of my life working on this album. I love it, but you’ve got to learn how to let go eventually.
EDEN’s debut album vertigo is out January 19th through ASTRALWERKS, available on all streaming platforms.