This writer has been put on hold numerous times in his life, but has never before heard a more interesting choice of music on hold. Normally you’d be lucky to hear any music at all, and if you did you’d hear nothing more than the company’s advertisement music. Capitol records in Los Angeles however, has the recent Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Migo’s track MotorSport playing through the speakers. For the first time ever, someone was actually enjoying being on hold. Thankfully though, the hold didn’t last too long, and our conversation with Jonathon Ng began.
Jonathon, more widely known by his stage name EDEN, is a 21 year old Dublin-raised vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and producer who has risen to prominence since he first began releasing tracks on SoundClound under the name ‘The Eden Project’. It wasn’t long after beginning to write and release music that people began to take an interest. Within two years, his tracks went from getting hundreds of listens to getting hundreds of thousands. On YouTube his song ‘Wake Up’, hosted on the page MrSuicideSheep, has over 38 million views. Before discussing how a teenager working out of his bedroom in Dublin went from anonymity to having their songs played millions of times, playing festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury, being managed by the same management company as Kanye West and Justin Bieber and releasing one of the most intriguing debut albums from an Irish act in quite some time, it was time to look back at his beginning.
Born to an Irish mother and HongKongese father, EDEN’s life was never particularly full of music. His Dad preferred to listen to Lyric FM as he drove his children to school, and it wasn’t until they grew old enough to complain that he changed his ways. The majority of pop music Jonathon and his siblings heard was from their constantly growing collection of “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs. Jonathon’s first music obsession was with Westlife, before his taste took a drastic left turn and he found himself seeking out Eminem and Lil Wayne. One of his vivid memories of music as a child was when his father brought him back a present of an iNabi (an early iPod rip-off) from his work trip in America. “I wanted Green Day music on it but he couldn’t find any Green Day MP3’s,” Ng remembers, “instead he put some Michael Jackson and Queen on, so I had Michael Jackson, which I always listened to, and a Queen greatest hits album that had like Bohemian Rhapsody on it and, I don’t know what age I was, but I would essentially listen to it non-stop.” One of the early indicators that he was set for a life in music was when a neighbour, upon hearing him singing in the garden, knocked on his front door and told his parents that their son had the gift of a lovely voice.
Similar to many Irish families, his parents decided that their children should learn music, and told them at age six to choose an instrument. Jonathon’s siblings all chose the piano, while Jonathon himself chose the violin. He hated practicing, actively doing all he could to make his parents forget to sit him down. Instead of playing the violin he increasingly found himself playing his families electronic piano, with the volume setting all the way down so as not to alert his parents. From there he ‘borrowed’ his aunt and uncle’s guitar, and would spend three hours a day teaching himself chords and riffs. It was when his family first purchased a mac computer, however, that things really began to take shape: “Me and my older brother used to play around with GarageBand,” he fondly remembers, “I was twelve or thirteen at the time, and I was literally just dragging loops around and making techno beats. At least that’s what I called them at the time. As soon as the whole Skrillex thing really exploded I was like ‘Woah, I don’t need the rest of the band to make music that I want to make’ and I just dove straight back into production, and I decided to start taking it pretty seriously rather than just toying with it.” Similar to the guitar, he would spend hours every day sitting at his computer, working on songs and ideas that were floating through his mind.
He’d begun writing music at the age of 8, and had been writing music on the guitar and piano years before the computer came around, so almost as soon as he could record music he was releasing it on SoundCloud under The Eden Project. He found that the production community on the site were very helpful, giving him hints and tips on how to improve. Between 2012 and 2015 he released over 70 songs on the site, not including his work on other people’s music. Since then, in his own words “it was just a weird exponential growth from the start, with having a hundred plays on Sound Cloud to the end having thousands of plays and maybe, some songs even had a million or a couple of million views on YouTube.” At that point the time had come to transition from The Eden Project to EDEN. When asked if he ever got nervous of what other people would think of his music, Ng responded by saying: “it was easier to release things because they weren’t necessarily songs. I was still writing music on piano and guitar and for some reason I saw it as separate to what I was making on the computer. I was nervous of what people would think, but it wasn’t like I was jumping off the deep end and trying to be very experimental from the start, it was almost like I was painting by numbers at the beginning.”
Once he started to release music, EDEN quickly realised there was a buzz around him, and that a lot of people were paying attention to what he was doing. “I was just putting them on SoundCloud, and somehow YouTube promotional channels like MrSuicideSheep had found them and were posting them by themselves on YouTube,” he says of the time around the release of his End Credits EP. The people behind the MrSuicideSheep channel took it upon themselves to send the title track End Credits to other music channels and blogs, and soon EDEN was inundated with requests for meetings with music execs and managers to discuss his music. One of the first people to email was a man called Michael George, who worked for a management company Scooter Braun Projects, the management company behind Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Vic Mensa and Kanye West. Unbeknownst to EDEN at the time, Michael was the person who discovered, signed and managed the Miami DJ Martin Garrix. Looking back on that time, EDEN notes “my email inbox was so bad at the time that I just left it and replied the next day saying ‘Hey, nice to meet you’ and then he replied with in a few minutes saying ‘Hey, jump on Skype’ so we went on Skype and just started chatting about music, our influences, what we liked and didn’t like.” Soon they were talking over WhatsApp daily, asking about other music execs he was talking to and being asked to meet, and, before signing to any management, EDEN found himself sleeping in Michael’s spare room while he was in L.A. meeting with other labels and companies. The pair struck up an very natural friendship and trust. On the way to another day of meetings, EDEN realised that this was the sort of manager he wanted, and soon signed to the Scooter Braun Projects.
Once signed, he began work on his debut album, which was recorded between Dublin and New York. He first began thinking about the album and its sound during a three month break between his first and second tour, but due to over-analysis and over-thinking, he found himself unable to finish any of the songs and ended up scrapping almost everything he’d begun. Once the second tour began, he found himself stressing a lot less, with the long bus journeys acting as a sort of medicine. “I was sitting in the back of a van, sometimes for like 20 plus hours, and I couldn’t do anything and that was like a weird re-set button for me, because I hadn’t been able to just sit and do nothing for about a year and a half at that point, and in a weird way by sitting in the back of a van I didn’t feel that I had to be productive, so I got to actually sit there and look out the window and not even think about doing things.” Once the tour ended it was all systems go. The majority of the album was written and recorded from November 2016 to May 2017, except one song which had a less traditional creation; “the intro and outro of Clash has been something I’ve been playing on guitar since I was fifteen or sixteen, all I had was the intro and outro of a song but I could never find something for the middle, and then fast forward to the start of 2017, I was living in New York for a couple of months and I came up with an idea and it just clicked, that was a piece of the puzzle I’d been missing.” Jonathon is unable to put an exact label on the sound that makes up the album, known as Vertigo, but he described the writing process as “off-script,” not wanting to restrict the sound by the use of any particular concept. Compared to his last EP, I Think You Think Too Much Of Me, which started off with an idea and a plan before any music was written, this was very much the letting go of concepts, and doing only what felt right. What was left was a collection of 13 songs, each unique yet connected, with EDEN’s own distinct rhythm and pacing that many artists spend their career trying to find. Despite this, some fans were left disappointed, and were wondering if he would ever return to the sound of earlier songs such as XO, Nocturne and End Credits. His response? “Probably not. I don’t really like… I’m not interested in making an ‘End Credits 2’ or an ‘XO 2’ you know? If there is a return to that sound it’s because it fits into something else, or it makes sense in a different way that it did when I made it the first time.”
And with that, our time is up. As his press manager gets ready to end the call, I ask one final question: now that the album is out, what next? Jonathan takes a moment to think, before answering “I’ve made and released an album, so I kind of just want to make things without such a weight attached to them, so maybe I’ll release a song here or there, who knows?” And with that, the line to Los Angeles goes dead, and EDEN begins another day on the journey to becoming one of Ireland’s leading musical exports. The question has quickly shifted from ‘if’ to ‘when’ and, if the past 18 months has been anything to go by, it looks like it will be very, very soon.
EDEN’s album, ‘Vertigo’, is out now on all streaming services and good music stores. He plays the Olympia in Dublin on April 24th 2018. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @iameden.