EDEN’s debut album vertigo is the intimate patchwork of a life lived, an emotional and nuanced musical journey that fully realizes the artist’s vision.
It started back in 2015 with a name: vertigo. Dublin-based singer/songwriter/producer Jonathon Ng, still in his late teens, had recently adopted a more stripped-down approach to his music – a significant contrast to the heavily layered electronic dance music he was previously making. To complete the transition, Ng assumed a new artistic identity: EDEN, a shortening of his former moniker, ‘The Eden Project.’ EDEN signified a fresh start for the Irish music-maker; it gave him an excuse to try new things, like embracing minimalism and exploring the confluence of electronic and pop music. Ng had no roadmap: The future was a total mystery.
But he knew the title of his debut album: vertigo. Back then, it was just a dream – a faraway fantasy.
Three years later, that dream has come true. Released January 19, 2018 via Astralwerks, EDEN’s debut album vertigo is the intimate patchwork of a life lived, an emotional and nuanced musical journey that realizes the full extent of Ng’s artistry. Thirteen tracks flow seamlessy into one another to create a standout cinematic experience. Best listened to from start to finish, vertigo leaves us feeling weightless and heavy, euphoric and unbalanced. It’s a provocative, expansive reflection on the past few years that uses a lot less, to create a lot more.
But I could be more
Isn’t there more?
Don’t you dream of forgetting this?
Have we forgotten what we want?
Counting the wars and broken bones
Haven’t we lost enough already?
Isn’t this more than what it’s worth?
Have we forgotten where we came from?
Long way from laying in the dirt
And if I can only dream of up from down there
God, help me, I’ll be gone
Have I lost sight of everything I’ve worked for?
Did I get this all wrong?
– “Wrong,” EDEN
There’s few better ways to begin a new year than by releasing your debut album, and EDEN is certainly starting 2018 off on a high point. Join Atwood Magazine and dive deeper into vertigo through our exclusive interview with EDEN, and be sure to take your time with this album: A brilliant and unique work of art, vertigo is full of special surprises.
vertigo – EDEN
A CONVERSATION WITH EDEN
Atwood Magazine: How do you feel about releasing your debut album?
EDEN: I’m kind of giddy about it. It’s really weird, because I finished writing it before last summer, and then finished mixing and mastering it around July… so it’s been done for six or seven months… It’s been my little project for so long, and now it’s in the world! And I guess it’s something I’ve done before – I’ve released music before; it’s not entirely novel, but this is the big one: I spent years on this, and longer than that thinking about it.
Why is this the big one?
EDEN: Because it’s the first one. You only get one first album. I guess it’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for EDEN as a project – this is it, this is my pinnacle [as a musician] to date… As a project from cover to cover, in a synergetic way Vertigo is more than its songs – bigger than the sum of its parts. This is the first time I’ve done a full length project.
When people ask what’s the goal, or when will I think I’ve made it… I have been able to make music and live comfortably from making music since mid-2015. That’s making it; everything after that is a bonus. I’d do this if no one was listening to it, and I get to do it and eat, and have a roof over my head: That’s making it.
Tell me about your transition from making music as The Eden Project to making music as EDEN.
EDEN: Dance music is a big thing in Europe; no matter what circle you’re in, you’re exposed to it – but it’s never something that I had fully taken a shining to. I never really thought about it or loved it, particularly. When my family first got a computer, I used to make beats with GarageBand, dragging around loops and stuff. When Skrillex and Deadmau5 exploded, I realized I could make the ideas I wanted to make without the rest of the band or orchestra. These guys were just sitting with their computers making music, so I dove headfirst into it then. I got really into EDM and electronic music, and I dove really deeply into the genre. When it stopped becoming new and interesting – when I found fewer things I liked and wanted to try out – I began realizing that I prefer more stripped-back music… The last music I released as The Eden Project was very close to what I do as EDEN, experimenting with stuff that I hadn’t yet released.
How do you describe EDEN's music? The word I use is nuanced.
EDEN: It’s definitely more minimal, for sure – and I think nuanced is pretty apt. I’m king of a megalomaniac and control freak about music – a perfectionist; if I feel like something is a little bit off, I just have to fix it… Double-entendres lyrically and musically are kind of the most fun thing for me, writing-wise; the minutiae of it is everything! Like, the smallest moments are the biggest things, and the biggest moments are kind of basic.
It takes time, I think, for someone to fully appreciate Vertigo.
EDEN: Maybe, but that happens with me sometimes. Sometimes I write something, and a few weeks or months later I realize, so that’s what that’s about! It’s an interesting process – a subconscious thing.
How did Vertigo begin?
EDEN: Vertigo is an idea that I’ve had since 2014/2015. Ever since then, I knew [my debut album] would be called “Vertigo”; it just felt right. I was kind of scared of the idea; at the time I was having meetings with labels, and I would tell them I didn’t want to think about my first album. In reality I knew it was going to be called and I was thinking about it, but I was too scared to touch it – I didn’t want to start making this music in a place where I couldn’t make it to the standard that I wanted to make it, whether that’s production-wise, writing-wise, mixing or mastering, whatever. I wanted to be confident that it was going to be realized to the fullest [extent] it should be. In 2015, I wrote a few songs – the last song on the album, “falling in reverse,” has essentially been finished since 2015!
It's the oldest song on the album?
EDEN: No! One older than that is “lost//found,” and older than that too is the intro and outro to “crash” – I’m not sure what year I wrote that, but it’s something I’ve played one guitar since I was maybe 16 or something. I never knew what would go in-between back then, and then fast-forward to 2017, I was living in New York, something stressful was happening… I was sitting, in the middle of the night, in this apartment with this old guitar… My favorite moments on this album are all just kind of very in-the-moment, instinctive, freestyle/train of thoughts. So I was just playing, and I take notes on my phone all the time – so I opened that and started playing these chords, started recording it just for the idea, and it was just one of my favorite memories of writing music ever. Suddenly I was singing this middle section completely through, kind of like half going through these random sentences on my notes on my phone, and I guess just coming up with it on the spot. I think the album, for me, was a lot of work like that: Little moments of now this fits together. Two completely separate ideas now make sense.
A patchwork of your life.
EDEN: That’s a really good way to put it, yeah!
I remember reading that you struggled, at first, to make this album?
EDEN: I think I know the context – the sentence is, “I lost myself to writing with too much intent.” But it’s reflective of more than that – at 2015, I was 18 years old and was thrown into the music industry. I had never talked to anyone from the industry and suddenly I’m being flown to meetings, having label people coming to me… I lost myself! I didn’t go off the rails or do anything crazy, but being able to just slow down for a second was something I just couldn’t do for a year and a half. I felt kind of… I dont know what the right word is. This is why I make music: I struggle to describe things all the time, and that’s what the album is, you know?
But the second tour I did in 2016, I was in a van going around America. I can’t sleep sitting down, so I’m sitting kind of across the back row of this van, just looking out the other side of the window for 20 hours, and it was great! This was the first time in two years that I got to sit and do nothing: Not think of anything, not have to reply to emails. I was on tour; I was in a van; and I was only thinking about tour. Tour’s stressful – it’s always been kind of stressful for me – but I got to just sit there and think about things, and look out the window. I didn’t put pressure on myself to be doing something productive, and I think that was helpful – not to mention, seeing people who love the music was a nice reminder of the actual scale of this. It’s easy to look at a number on the internet and think of it as a statistic, rather than human beings.
So I got home from tour, and I made “start//end,” and that was the keystone moment of the album for me. Previously, I could never make anything longer than 20 seconds. I made “start//end” out of a bunch of ideas that randomly came together, and the end result felt really cool. With the whole album, I just chased this feeling: If it was weird and I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it felt right and I thought it sounded cool and was exciting, I went for it.
Vertigo is full of those special, different moments - no two verses or choruses are the same.
EDEN: Exactly! I was really trying to not have any of that; I wanted every second to feel right, and to feel like it’s a progression. That’s why the album became quite asymmetrical, amorphic, or modular in its structure; it’s like a weird, deconstructed pop album. I haven’t changed the way I wrote things; I’ve always had that kind of straightness and vocally-centric music… But I can’t copy and paste the first half of the song into the second half and change some words; that doesn’t cut it for me. This is the way that I’ve enjoyed myself most while making the music. I guess, maybe that’s why I’m so excited… With Vertigo, I had no preconceptions, no ideas going into it. I just made things! That’s exciting, in a nervous laughter kind of way sometimes, but it’s exciting.
People ask me what’s the album about: “How would you describe the album?” And like, if I could tell you what I’m trying to say on the album, I’d just tell you or write it down and show it to you. The album is the best description of the album!
It’s like a weird, deconstructed pop album.
Vertigo feels very personal - your lyrics are very me/I-centric. Are these songs from your perspective?
EDEN: That’s the thing, I don’t think I write like that: I’m not trying to tell anyone anything, aside from myself. The lyrics aren’t there for me to tell you, or explain how I am. The lyrics are sometimes there for me to try and make sense of the world, but those two things are not the same; I’m not trying to validate myself, and the goal is not for you to listen to the song and be able to understand what I think. It’s probably the case, but it’s not the goal. I’m trying to make things that resonate with me, and if that’s because I’ve been confused, or thinking about something for too long, then me writing it is my disentanglement of whatever that knot is. If it sounds like an explanation, then that’s just my way of doing it.
Other times, my lyrics are more abstract and just me being expressive. None of it is really to paint a picture of myself. I guess I use writing as a way to come to terms with myself, and the things around me in my life: The good, the bad, and whatever happens. It’s my way of dealing with things.
The very beginning of your album has the sense of, something has ended. What follows feels like a journey back in time, to the beginning.
EDEN: [smiles] Personally, if you think of my personal journey as an artist… The last song is one of the oldest, and that first song is the question. I guess that speaks to a sense of what the album content is about. It’s like, situationally, nothing has really changed; I haven’t climbed a mountain and seen this beautiful view at the end: I’m still at the bottom of the mountain, but it’s a mindset switch. Everyone has these moments where everything is overwhelming, weird or new. It takes a split second – and it might take a day, a year to feel like that – but you feel better about stuff. And nothing’s changed – you haven’t moved, given up anything or done anything; you just feel better about it, and that’s kind of what the album is.
The world hasn't changed, but you've changed.
EDEN: Exactly. So much of life is about trying to get the mountain to come to you. This is, I guess, the moment where neither you, nor the mountain, have moved, but you understand it now. You get it. The whole album is me talking to myself about it, I guess.
Are there specific events that did transpire - loss, etc - to create this framework?
EDEN: I’m thinking really hard about this, just to make sure… ‘Cause everyone assumes all my songs are about breakups. There’s not a breakup song on this album; it’s a selfish piece of work. It’s introspective; I’m not thinking about other people. Take the first line of “take care”: “How could you be so careless? I sweat this, I swear,” is not about the other person. It’s about me – this means so much to me – and it’s me thinking about that. I’ve actually had this feeling a lot, in my life, in the last year and a half, that I’ve tried way too hard for this shit to be happening to me, when things go wrong.
There’s not a breakup song on this album; it’s a selfish piece of work.
For me, Vertigo is one massive experiential album. You don't look at boundaries between individual songs.
EDEN: No, I definitely don’t. I’m making songs aware of other ones – so, the album is an album idea from the get-go. Calling it Vertigo, I kind of had this concept of how I wanted the album to be – to mean something different in reverse… All of the songs are there for a reason; it’s not filler, it’s purposeful. That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I wanted to create.
I kind of had this concept of how I wanted the album to be – to mean something different in reverse.
Do you have specific favorite moments on the album?
EDEN: I guess at the moment – ’cause it’ll change over time – I love the second half of “wings,” and I love the middle section of “icarus” in-between the two drum bits. Why? I don’t know… I love “wrong,” and I love the first verse of “take care”… I love the end of “forever//over.” I love it all, and all of it is where it’s supposed to be, and feels right – but those are my favorite bits. I’m sure it’ll change in a few weeks or a few days.
For me, there's something really special about the first half of the album.
EDEN: It’s really stuck together at the start, for sure. I was talking about “gold” and “crash” with some people earlier, and how they’ve reacted as singles… I was kind of thinking how, in the context of the album, “crash” is a much more interesting song, and outside the context of the album, it’s a little more generic. This speaks to how, like, you can write a sentence and the things that come before and after are what make that sentence either genius, or normal and ordinary.
I get the sense that you don't necessarily love diving too deep into your songs.
EDEN: I feel like sometimes it’ll ruin people’s interpretations. And I feel like sometimes, even what I say about [my music] might (or might not) be 100% what I mean. Words don’t reflect what the song is, to me; the song does. So I made the song, so I don’t think I can describe it that well to you, and if I did, I might have a different description or perspective on it soon. On top of that, I don’t want people to think, oh, that’s not what I thought, and then lose their connection to that piece of music. You know, the point about this – about any art – is the fact that I can look at a painting, or read a poem, and get a different insight or interpretation to it than you can.
Any last thoughts on vertigo?
EDEN: I hope my album makes others feel okay. The whole thing kind of revolves around little things feeling massive, and maybe massive things not mattering that much. As I said, those seconds… like, the transition from “crash” to “gold,” you feel like everything’s shit or overwhelmed. Then your mindset changes, and you know everything’s going to be okay.
That’s the thing: I guess, I’d had this internal freakout the last year and a half before I started making the album, not understanding what’s going on around me and being thrown into this new world, and then it’s just, trying to get your feet planted on the floor again.
It’s clear that EDEN retains a deeply intimate connection to his music, and that vertigo means so much more than an “album” to him. It is its own little world, both a reflection of, and the result of the past few years of his life – a pastiche of thoughts, emotions, sounds and ideas that don’t mean much on their own, but gain new significance when stitched together. Spend some time with this record, and pay close attention to the “little things,” as Ng calls them – the various clips that make up a soundscape; the changing directions of a guitar riff. Ultimately, it is these fleeting details that make vertigo great, and help EDEN soar.
:: stream/purchase Vertigo here ::
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photo © Jimmy Fontaine