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WHEN MUSIC POPS, WE TURN IT UP

Exclusive: PopBytes chats with Eden xo

Exclusive: PopBytes chats with Eden xo
December 18, 2014 ALEX NAGORSKI

Eden xo is ready for pop domination.

Eden xo

It took a few false starts before she emerged as the confident and exciting songstress that she is today. The 25-year-old musician started out in a female-fronted punk band, Shut Up Stella, before moving to England to collaborate as a songwriter with some of the biggest hit makers it pop. When she returned to the US, she fronted Jessie and the Toy Boys (interviewed by PopBytes back in 2011), but after a handful of singles and a successful tour, she found her true artistic calling by rebranding herself as Eden xo.

Her infectious debut single “Too Cool To Dance” (iTunes) is rapidly being added to radio stations across the country, has been featured on the smash compilation Now 52, and was named one of “Tomorrow’s Hits” by Billboard. With over 900k plays on Spotify, the single is slowly but surely exploding into the mainstream, paving the path for a huge and pivotal 2015 for Eden xo. I caught up with the singer about her inspiration behind the song, her upcoming EP and album, her Norma Jean moment, her aspirations for the future, and more.

“Too Cool to Dance” is very clearly influenced by Madonna’s early material. Will the rest of your music continue to incorporate this throwback ’80s pop sound with a contemporary spin?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s a little bit late ’70s and early ’80s for me. Definitely early Madonna or Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, and Sheila E. It’s funny because it’s obviously not my generation’s music at all. But being a dot com child of the internet, I discovered it recently and really fell in love with the musicality, the live horns, the guitars, and that whole feel. It was a real goal of mine to not just try and emulate that era, but really go to the source and try to make the record with people who were involved in that music. So the guitars were played by Paul Jackson, Jr., who played on a bunch of Madonna records. My favorite thing he did, though, was the rhythm guitar on “Thriller” for Michael Jackson. And then the horns are live. We have the guys from Earth, Wind and Fire – their horn sections play all those horns. So it’s absolutely throwback, you hit the nail on the head with the Madonna thing, but obviously with a 2015 spin.

You spent some formative years in the UK writing for Xenomania, singing backup for the Pet Shop Boys, and recording demos for Kylie Minogue. How did those experiences shape your identity as a solo artist?

Well, it made me realize I don’t want to be a songwriter. What I mean by that is I love writing songs for myself. If other people cut or use them, that’s great, but I always have this weird thing where it’s like, “Oh, those are my ideas, and this is strange that someone else is doing it.” When I was at Xenomania for a long time, I was kind of trapped in this writer role where I had all of these ideas, and Girls Aloud were coming in and singing them, and it was actually really frustrating in some ways, because, I was just like, “Ugh, this is not right…” It’s not how I intended it. So, the best thing I got out of it was I learned so much, because obviously working with Xenomania, and with Pet Shop Boys, and people like that, they’re just on another level. So they stepped up my game as a songwriter, but it just kind of reinforced how badly I want to be an artist myself and not only a songwriter.

Under the moniker of Jessie and the Toy Boys, you received the coveted honor of opening for Britney Spears on her 2011 Femme Fatale tour. What was that experience like and did she give you any advice on the road?

It was like everything I’m sure you’d imagine. I couldn’t believe that I was opening up for Britney Spears, arguably the queen of pop of our time. It was insane, especially for me. Growing up, Baby One More Time was one of the first CDs I owned. It was just like, “Wow, I can’t believe that she picked me,” you know? It was such an honor.

Advice? Not so much specifically like “Let me sit you down and tell you how it is,” but she has a great aura about her. Just being in her presence and seeing how her ship is run and how she operates and performs every night, you can’t help but to pick a few things up. It was great to be on that tour. I learned a lot and it was another stepping stone.

I bet! Have you seen her Vegas show yet?

No, I haven’t. I heard it’s really similar to the Femme Fatale tour though, because I think she basically just went from that tour to the Vegas show and then they added a couple numbers. So I feel like I’ve seen it, because I saw the other show every night for three months. But I haven’t seen the new show. I would love to. I love her. I will always be a fan.

What made you decide to drop the Jessie and the Toy Boys and reemerge as Eden xo?

Well, the truth of the matter is that after that tour, I was kind of in a very lost state. I mean, the tweets stopped coming in, the phone had stopped ringing, and I just was isolated and left kind of by myself. Because I was doing this thing, I was on this mission, like, “I’m independent,” you know, “fuck major labels, I don’t need you, whatever.” And, ultimately, it turns out that if you really want to have your music on the radio and out there to the masses, you can’t really do everything yourself and you need a little bit of help.

It was very humbling in some ways and I felt like I was such an underdog for so long. So I just threw myself into the studio and I was kind of in a depression. I started writing different stuff and I felt like I had changed so much and evolved so much as a person that I didn’t feel like I was the same person anymore. And so, I was thinking that maybe I should create a new project or whatever, just to have a fresh start.

Also with my sound changing and shifting from, you know, wanting to stray away from the electro thing and going more organic, I just felt like I was creating something new. And then when I thought of all of these names, I thought, “This is so lame.” I actually just wanted to strip away the gimmick and I just wanted to be myself. Then I was just staring at my driver’s license, because Eden is my middle name, and I looked at it and I was like, “Oh, there you are,” and it was staring me in the face my whole life and I just didn’t realize it. And now is the time. It’s almost like I had to go through everything to figure it all out. So now, when people call me Jessie, it’s actually strange to me. It’s really weird. I feel as though I’ve completely evolved. It was my Norma Jean/Marilyn moment.

What was it about “Too Cool to Dance” that made you decide it was the perfect debut single to launch this new chapter of your career with?

Well, it was the first song I finished, so that helped. The message of the song really resonated because of everything that I have gone through. It’s a fun pop song but, I’m tired of being in the corner, taking selfies and not dancing, in all forms life. I just felt like it was time to let loose and ask, “Who cares?”

And so “Too Cool to Dance” to me really hits a lot of points personally that I wanted to put out there, which is like, “Don’t care about what other people think, let’s not be too cool to dance,” and “let’s just enjoy life and have fun.” You can waste away worrying about what other people think and I just don’t care anymore.

The music video is super cute too. It features you stuck in a retirement home with your grandparents until your friends show up and save the day by getting everyone in the community to dance. How did you come up with the concept?

Thank you! I actually originally made a gif video myself. I did that version first and then the director saw that and it kind of inspired her to write the treatment she wrote with the older people. Because in mine, I have the random Asian Jazzercise club at the end and she was like, “Oh, my gosh. This is so brilliant,” and was like, “What if we did Palm Springs?” and la, la.

So, that’s kind of how it came together. And I liked her style, I liked her photography a lot. I hadn’t seen a lot of her videos but I kind of decided to work with her more based on her fashion photography, because I love fashion so much and I thought she had a good vision. So it was something we tried to focus on in the video with nailing the look of everything, and the clothes, and whatnot.

Do you have any ideas regarding the titles and/or release dates of your upcoming 5-song EP and your debut album?

Yeah, I do. I know that I’m not allowed to say the title. So lame, I know. But I do have the title. I have all songs mixed and mastered, everything’s done, and the EP is coming out in March. I don’t think they’ve given a date on the album, but it’s close to being done too. It’s at least all written. The album is on the way, but mostly the EP is the focus right now, five songs. It’s going to be awesome.

Which producers and songwriters are you working with to craft both of these records?

I worked a lot with this guy named Jesse Shatkin. I met him a few years ago and he, at the time, was Greg Kurstin’s assistant engineer and we had a writing session. We just had an instant creative connection, and we wrote something like eight songs in two weeks. So we were like, “Whoa, we’ve got to keep working together,” so we did. And I’m so proud of him, because he wrote “Chandelier” with Sia and had a massive year with her and that song, and now he’s up for Grammy for Best Record. I also worked with Tony Kanal from No Doubt and Jimmy Harry on a couple of songs. And then there was another collaboration with Fred Falke and Ron Fair, who I did “Too Cool to Dance” with. There’s another song called “Savoring Up My Love” on the EP that we did together, and I think that’s it.

Oh, and a lot of French influence somehow. There is this other French producer named Will Simms, who oddly enough does all these K-pop records but he is one of the freshest programmers I’ve ever heard. He had this beat, this idea, and we called the song we did together, “The Weekend.” That’s another song where we got the Earth, Wind and Fire horns in, and so it’s kind of another one of those mixed fusion moments of the old and the new.

Music isn’t your only forte. You also had a recurring role on the soap opera, One Life to Live. Do you foresee doing any more TV or film acting in the future?

I would really love to act more. I actually got my first movie offer a couple of months ago and I had to turn it down because it was at the exact same time I got the green light to put out “Too Cool to Dance,” so it was impossible to do both. It was kind of a weird and bittersweet moment where I was like, “Oh my God, I’ve been waiting for all of these things to happen and they’re both happening now,” and I had to make a decision. But music is my first love so, you know, that’s kind of why. But I think acting would be great. I’d like to find the right kind of role. I mean, One Life to Live was a good learning experience. It was like the basics, but if I’m to continue acting, I’d like to kind of pay my dues in acting the way I have in music – maybe start out in an indie feature or something like that.

What’s at the top of your holiday wish list this year?

Oh, my God. Sleep. No, I’m just kidding. I know it’s weird, but probably furniture. That’s such an adult answer. Where before it would be clothes and whatever, now I’m into furniture. I’m into design and … like, this is so weird. Any time I have a moment off, I’m watching HGTV and watching shows about flipping houses. And I’m like, “Oh, I want this like antique settee.”

What’s been your favorite album of 2014 so far?

Probably Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey. I really love that. She’s incredible. I also love the new record that the Arctic Monkeys put out, AM. I listen to it all the time. It’s my jam.

Tell me a little bit about this online dance competition that you recently launched. I know that it’s happening now through December 31st, and it’s called “Are You Too Cool to Dance?”

Yeah. Basically, given the message of the song about dancing like nobody’s watching, it’s this fun opportunity I’m giving fans to win a trip to LA for two and to be in my next video for “The Weekend,” which will be filming at the end of January. All they have to do is make a video and upload it to www.toocooltodance.com. Dancing wherever they want. Some people think, “Oh, I’ve got to put a lot of thought into it, it’s got to be really creative,” but really, the simpler the better. It’s just whatever you feel. If you’re grocery shopping and you just want to break out and dance, just do it; capture it on film, and you could win a trip to LA and be in my next video.

So, just to wrap up, with all of the music you have coming out and all of the exciting things you have to look forward to over the next few months, where do you hope to see yourself this time next year?

I hope to have a #1 album, I hope to have Grammy nominations and I hope to be on fucking top. Finally. I really want a full album out. Because I just know that once people get to peel the other layers of the onion, it’s just going to change the game. There is so much I want to say, so much I want to do, and there is so much creatively that’s out there. So, really, as long as I can keep doing what I love to do and not have to wait tables, I’ll be happy.

ARE YOU TOO COOL TO DANCE?
WIN A FREE TRIP TO LOS ANGELES AND BE IN EDEN XO’S NEXT MUSIC VIDEO!

VISIT TOOCOOLTODANCE.COM

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Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex spent several years living in New York before moving full-time to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.