- 16 Feb 18
Having already amassed millions of online hits and sold out venues across America, Dublin electro sensation Jonathon Ng, aka EDEN, is set to go truly supernova in 2018. He talks to Peter McGoran about early influences, touring the globe, and his stunning debut album Vertigo.
December 19. The Library Bar, Dublin. Seated opposite your Hot Press correspondent is a gentleman so relaxed, so fresh-faced, that I have to do a double-take to make sure I’ve prepared for the right interview. Surely this can’t be the same man who’s sold-out venues across North America, amassed a bewildering amount of followers across the world, and produced some of the most ambitious, innovative music that Ireland has seen in years?
It’s more my own ignorance than anyone else’s that leads me to question myself. When it comes to this classically-trained electronic artist, Irish music industry types have been playing a long game of catch-up. Having grown his fanbase organically by posting videos straight onto the internet under his moniker of The EDEN Project in 2013, things moved quickly for Jonathon Ng.
Millions of YouTube views, a 33-date tour across North America, and a deal with major electronic label Astalwerks later, the Dublin artist had firmly established himself in international music. Now, less than two years after his first live performance, he’s just released his debut album. While it may seem like success suddenly fell into his lap in a short space of time, the singer tells me it was always in the forefront of his mind.
“For as long as I can remember, I just imagined doing music professionally,” he says. “Weirdly enough it all came from the fact that I really didn’t want to go to university. I wanted to go straight from school to doing things professionally. My parents put me into violin lessons when I was six, then from whatever age I can remember I was singing along to the radio. If I didn’t know the words or couldn’t make sense of them, I’d just sing along the gibberish syllables in a tune. It was a compulsion. It was never that feeling of one day saying, ‘Oh I’d like to be a musician’, it was always there.”
Did he appreciate the ‘classical training’ approach that his parents advocated?
“Initially I hated the violin,” he laughs. “I was told to practice for 10 minutes a day and hated every minute of it. But it was valuable because it helped me understand music. I think I understand ‘music’ better than I understand singing, or guitar, or piano. And so from playing violin I understood chords and I could teach myself other things. And I knew that my parents were giving me an opportunity that they’d never had, so I always appreciated that.”
What would his earliest influences have been?
“I remember I had this fake iPod thing when I was about five or six and I used to listen incessantly to Queen and Michael Jackson,” remembers EDEN. “I’d listen to them just to allow myself to sing. Then my first real obsession came with Westlife when I was small. Then from boybands it went directly into the big rap names of the day, Eminem and Lil Wayne. Listening to them was the first time that I started writing songs. I’d just take the entire flow of an Eminem song and replace the lyrics. Needless to say, it was awful, but it taught me to write.
“From there, I would’ve gone into guitar music, and finally dance music when it really exploded. The thing that did it for me – I listened to dance music and thought, ‘Now I don’t need the rest of the band’. That was big for me, because I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. I got kicked out of a band when I was 13 because I was being too bossy and everyone else was just trying to have fun. So the idea of dance production meant I could sit in my room and make music and not hurt anyone!”
Had it not been for the work of Jonathon Ng’s PR team and the shrewdness of the commissioning people at Hot Press, a face-to-face interview with the musician might never have happened. Thanks to a relentless regime of recording, touring and travelling, he’s hardly had a day to himself all 2017, and 2018 is set to be even more intense. “I’ll be living out a suitcase for the next 12 months,” he admits.
So does it all ever get overwhelming?
“It’s been weird,” says EDEN. “It’s been a learning curve for sure. It’s not overwhelming, but I think the thing with touring and performing was all about learning to enjoy myself. It’s a mindset which I’ve only started to figure out recently. It’s something I discovered when I was playing at festivals over the summer, a mindset change. I always loved being on stage, the adrenaline rush, but for two days before, I’d be unable to eat and stressing myself out. Those highs and lows were sometimes difficult to deal with, whereas this summer I feel like I’ve started to crack the code a little bit. Just doing things that help me enjoy the show.
“The same thing goes with doing so many big performances in different countries. Sometimes it’s fine, then other times it’s like ‘Holy shit’. I think it’s down to the fact that this whole thing grew from the internet. So, you know, you’d have the big statistics on the screen, but it has this dissociative effect. You see a massive amount of plays on a song and hundreds of comments saying ‘Love this!’ and it almost begins to feel unreal. Then when you’re playing a show, you see thousands of people in the crowd. That’s when it hits. But it’s split for me, because I’m equally ambitious when I see it and overwhelmed by it all.”
Forget about the tens of thousands of social media followers and millions of streams for a second, or the condescending suggestions that might come with his young age, by anyone’s standards, EDEN has already built up a seriously impressive body of work in a very short space of time. His debut album is a work of lo-fi brilliance that resembles, by turns, the introversion of Frank Ocean’s Blonde, coupled with the indie innovation of Justin Vernon. It unapologetically switches from vulnerable minimalism to indie-rock in a heartbeat. Made entirely in EDEN’s bedroom, the album speaks to a new generation of artists who are embracing technology as the norm, and it also shows how the influence of electronic music has allowed mainstream pop to become more pioneering in recent years.
“Straight after my last EP I Think You Think Too Much Of Much came out in 2016, I wanted to work on new music, but I found that I couldn’t write anything. Or anything that I did write would turn out shit. Then I went on tour at the end of that year, played 30 shows in the space of three months, got vocal training so I wouldn’t wreck my voice, and while I was spending all that time in the back of a van, I started making voice notes to myself.
“After that, I was home for a period up until Christmas 2016 and that’s when I started putting together fragments of what I had. So the drums from something else turned out to be what went into my first single ‘Start//End’. The intro was from another thing. Then the second verse was an idea that was maybe three years old. All of these ideas that I hadn’t been able to finish for years just came together all at once. Then I’d finishing writing the album by April/May. So within the space of six months, it went from being nothing but half-formed things to being fully finished. It’s been a long process of being almost too scared to start the album because I had too much expectations. But in the end I went for whatever felt right.”
Having already blazed a trail for himself on the festival circuit this summer, and with a dedicated fanbase behind him, EDEN had positioned himself for an incredible 2018 months – even years – in advance. Vertigo heralds the fully-formed arrival of one the brightest and most promising stars Ireland has seen for a long time.