Jonathon Ng, the 22-year-old musician who performs as EDEN, released his first studio album, “vertigo,” earlier this year, and since then has been touring across the country performing the new project.
I spoke to the Irish-born musician about the new project, which has been met with positive critical review, and about what he hopes to bring to his music in his next move.
Kaitlyn Peterson: You first started releasing music publicly in 2013. What instilled the passion for music in you, and how did your experiences as a child and adolescent shape your music and journey?
Jonathon Ng: I started making music when I was 7 or 8. My parents put me into violin lessons around the same time, which kind of introduced me to the world of music. From there I discovered that I was better at music than I was at any particular instrument and I preferred writing songs to playing instruments. It was more like music was a thing all in itself — more than just specific instruments for me.
So from there, I kept writing music up to a point, and then through dance music I found out about how people could make guitar songs by themselves with just a computer, and that blew my mind, so I dove into that.
KP: The EDEN Project was what first established your name in the music world. How do you think you’ve grown from that into EDEN, and how is that represented in your new album?
Jonathon Ng: I think it was different stages of the same thing. The Eden Project was more dance-oriented because that’s what I was listening to at the time. The more I made dance music, the more I became interested in not doing that anymore. The more you do something, the more boring it becomes and you look for something new. The EDEN project was never a permanent name — I never really felt it was something that I would stick with forever and eventually I just made the switch.
I’m not really sure how that’s affected my current album. I guess there are still elements of sounds that I used before. There’s definitely a strong electronic presence in everything I make now because of how I began making dance music in an intricate way.
So even when I make simple things like, for example, when there’s background noise going on, a lot of that is just for the recording, but in other songs with background noise going on, it’s very deliberate and specific, so it has definitely influenced me moving forward.
KP: “vertigo” marks a new era of your career. What was your main inspiration while writing the tracks, and what makes this project different from the others?
Jonathon Ng: I think the main focus for me when I sat down to really get into the album was that I just wanted it all to feel instinctive. I don’t know — it just needed to feel right.
So whether that was me saying the second chorus needed no vocals and then taking the vocals away, or it was me doing something by accident that sounded way better and then keeping it, I was really just trying to be instinctive rather than have any blueprints about what I would make. That was the driving force behind it.
KP: Your newest single, “gold,” is raw, which is what I love so much about your music. One of the most compelling lines is, “I’m so done with singing words I don’t believe in no more.” How is this idea present in “vertigo,” and what words do you want to sing instead?
Jonathon Ng: I feel like especially when I was growing up, there was this weird barrier between what you know and feel, and how you can express that. So music is an amazing tool because for me it’s all about the instrumental behind the words.
The chord progressions and how the instruments interact with each other, they can sometimes speak so much more than any words can. But at the same time, words, like in poetry, can still have the same effect, so it’s a weird marriage of the two.
I just felt this album was a lot more personal than anything I’ve ever made before. I think I saw a quote from another artist about how when he was younger he would write sad songs about going through a breakup and then his dad would ask, “Who broke your heart? I didn’t even know you had a girlfriend!”
That’s the weird thing — it’s just the language you’ve almost been brainwashed into using because you hear it on the radio all the time and you see it on TV. And it feels right because it’s the emotion you’re feeling, even if it comes from a different place. But singing about a breakup isn’t what I want to do if I’m not going through a breakup. It’s really about trying to find better ways of saying what I mean.
KP: What does your writing process look like?
Jonathon Ng: It varies a lot. Sometimes it starts with just a voice note or a vocal idea I have; sometimes it starts with a chord progression or something I make in the computer. I think it’s about finding things that you like and pushing them further. I don’t know, it’s a really difficult question to answer.
KP: Does it start more lyrically?
Jonathon Ng: It doesn’t start any way more often than any other way. As soon as you get an idea, just run with it and see how far you can take it. Sometimes, after being inspired for 20 – 30 minutes and making something, you’re like, “Ugh, that needs to change,” but the important thing is not to hinder yourself when the idea is coming.
You can always change a song after it’s been penned, but if you stop yourself from writing it down because you’re like, “Oh it could be better,” then you’ll forget the whole thing or you’ll lose the intimacy. So if you have an idea just take it and run with it. It’s kinda like shoot first and ask questions later. Just roll with it, and if it turns out to be shit then it’s shit, but at least it’s something you made.
KP: You’re currently on tour: What goals do you have for yourself, as EDEN, and your music as you perform across the world? People can get caught up in the lights and energy of concerts, but you seem to be mostly focused on the messages and lyrics in each of your songs. How do you manage that balance when it’s just you on stage?
Jonathon Ng: Well I’ve recently added other musicians to the stage, so I think that, in an unexpected way, actually frees me up to do more. I think the live show for me was always something I dreaded. It would stress me out or I’d be really nervous or anxious about it, and the more I performed live the more I realized … I guess I was approaching it in the wrong way.
Performing isn’t about me being entertaining 100 percent of the time; it was more so about the whole experience of putting it on. It was another opportunity of presenting the music that I made in a cool way, so I think the tour is all about presenting music in a way that I feel is engaging and hopefully moving.
KP: What has kept you focused on music your entire career? With the pressure to conform to pop standards and achieve the top-chart sound, it must be difficult to maintain the individuality of your sound. What has given you the strength to pursue music despite the challenges?
Jonathon Ng: I think music for me is a compulsion; it’s something I would really do regardless of other people listening to it or thinking it’s good or it being my job.
The other part I should mention is how you keep from straying into just making things for success rather than for making the thing itself. It’s actually quite difficult, and you can feel like you’re making it for yourself or artistic merit or emotional merit or for whatever, or even just for experimentation, but you might really just be doing it for the charts even when you feel like you’re not.
It’s a difficult balance to strike sometimes, and I really think you have to trust yourself and try to disregard other people to a certain extent. Other people’s opinions are valuable to me, but if they tell me something’s shit and I really like it, I’ll ignore them because this is something that I’m making for myself. That way it’s something for yourself that you can be proud of. As soon as you’re making it for someone else you’ll never be satisfied with it — that’s the goal at least.