Big things are about to happen to Eden xo. Or as the 29-year-old singer, songwriter and popcultural polymath puts it herself: “I feel like I’m standing in a room with a million doors.” Where once this versatile pop talent might have been daunted by the choice, the precision and clarity of her outlook is now so strong that in 2019 a million doors simply means a million exciting opportunities. And this multi-dimensional artist is prepared to kick down each and every one of those doors in her pursuit of… Well, whatever lies beyond.
Behind door number one: an EP that fizzes with future-facing pop flair and classic songwriting, on brilliantly expressive songs like Lucky and Have It All. It’s the first of two EPs that deliver a delicious one-two punch capturing, respectively, the light and the dark of an artist for whom complementary extremes have proven a longterm obsession — it’s no coincidence that when it came to naming her freshly-minted record label, Eden and manager/creative director Alexander Patrick Mullen of .apmmedia, chose AlphaOmega.
And unmistakable in each of the tracks — but particularly notable in Sorry For Myself, which explicitly namechecks the likes of Madonna and Dolly Parton — is Eden’s debt to strong female songwriters and performers who’ve schooled several generations on what it is to be bold, brave and creative. “I remember I was having something of a pity party,” Eden says of the song’s genesis, “and I was just really down. I was like: ‘Forget all of this — I want to put on some records that cheer me up.’ So on my drive to the studio I listened to The Immaculate Collection and some Dolly Parton.” When Eden arrived at the studio, she wrote Sorry For Myself in thirty minutes. “I hate when people say they wrote a song in thirty minutes, because good songs take longer than half an hour, but there it was,” Eden smiles. “I also hate it when people say that being on the mic is like therapy. Because, no it’s not. But when I wrote this song, I finally understood that feeling.”
Another new song, Lucky, came to life as Eden was walking through Stockholm city centre with Bruce Springsteen on her headphones. ”When you listen to one of his songs it’s like looking at a sunset for the last time,” she begins. “I was thinking about how my life didn’t go the way I thought it was going to go when I was 16, when I thought I’d immediately be a star. But I also thought: I am so lucky, I’m in Stockholm, I’m listening to Springsteen, I’m in love, I make a living from writing songs: what do I have to complain about?”
As well as the Stockholm sessions Eden’s newest music was largely recorded in the UK, which Eden regards as her spiritual pop home, with an array of like-minded collaborators such as Jarly, David Sneddon, Teddybears, Hannah Robinson, Anu and Fred Falke. Eden instinctively found herself swerving the LA songwriting circuit (apart from sessions in LA with, well, Cirkut), where the current style of songwriting is often out of line with Eden’s own MO. “In LA it’s often a matter of‘here’s a beat, here’s one idea, the song’s finished, let’s go to lunch then smoke a joint and go to a party’,” Eden elaborates. “If something takes more than 30 minutes people start getting frustrated. Which, in turn, frustrates me.” She mentions something one of her acting teachers once told her: “Van Gogh had a seven-year relationship with his irises before he finished painting them — and that’s the difference between a masterpiece and just a painting of some flowers.”
Eden’s own painting has also been some years in the making. Jessie Eden Malakouti formed her first band and signed with Epic Records at age 16; one memorable recording session in the UK led to Eden’s big break after the band’s split — working with UK pop production powerhouse Xenomania. “I was 17 and had nothing tying me down,” Eden recalls, “so I moved to England.” Being based at Xenomania gave Eden the chance to write for acts like Kylie and Girls Aloud, at one point even singing backing vocals for the Pet Shop Boys. She also released music of her own, before inspiration struck again and she launched standalone project Jessie and The Toy Boys, which saw Eden touring with Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj and playing alongside the likes of Avicii and Steve Aoki, and which in turn led to a deal with Virgin Records, and another rebrand — this time as Eden xo, derived from her middle name and how she signs off emails. “Everyone calls me Eden, it’s my Starbucks cup name,” she laughs. “My father named me Jessica and my mother named me Eden — she told me she got the name from a character in a soap opera she used to watch when she was pregnant with me. I was already starting to write from a much more personal place, so it made sense that I stuck with the name that rooted me to the source of creation.” Singles like Too Cool To Dance, El Barrio and The Weekend followed, along with support from the likes of TIME, Paper, Gay Times, Glamour, Elle and Vevo DSCVR.
December 2018 saw the cathartic low-key release of Dirty Blonde, a statement of independence and something of a palate cleanser ahead of 2019, the creation of new record label AlphaOmega, and Eden’s strongest collection of songs to date. Amid all this: a recalibration of Eden’s own ambitions. “I wanted the Taylor Swift world, for a long time,” she says now. “But now I think… She can have it. I’ve been up close to that world, and it’s not for me.” These days artists such as Robyn, Lana Del Rey and Sia prove more inspiring, with Lady Gaga’s shapeshifting, cross-discipline presence being another strong influence. “I think of her every single day,” Eden comments. “Look what she did. Everyone said she couldn’t sing and act, but she’s done all of it, and she’s done cartwheels around all of us, and she’s done it her way.” And then, in the way only Eden can, she starts talking about Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, who once said: “People go into a dark room to see great things before them.” Eden’s interpretation of this is clear: “You have to go into a dark place of not breaking through, and you have to reach a real point of make or break, so that you can go really back out into the world and make something new.”
Particularly important in the last couple of years has been Eden’s songwriting partnership with Bonnie McKee (Katy Perry, Sky Ferreira, Ellie Goulding), which more recently has led to the pair writing songs for Kygo, Ava Max and Armin Van Buurin. It’s based on a friendship neither party saw coming — their first encounter, several years before a mutual friend suggested reconnection, ended up in a physical brawl. When they met again, Eden remembers, “we clicked. We shared a brain. We finished each other’s lines. The producer just sat in the corner with his mouth open. Almost everything we’ve written together has been cut.” Central to Eden now taking her final form is an artist having learned to trust her instincts for the first time — a shift in mindset she partly attributes to close female collaborators and mentors such as McKee, Xenomania’s Miranda Cooper, and The Matrix’s Lauren Christy.
“I’ve experienced years in an industry that’s very male dominant, with men going: ‘This is shit, rework it’, then trying to grab my ass,” Eden notes, “but amid all that I’ve also been so blessed to have really strong women in my life. Women who’ve had worldwide number ones several times over who tell me: you can do it, trust yourself, you got it. It gave me my confidence back, so when I went to make this music in London and Sweden by myself I felt confident in my decision. I thought: ‘I’ve put in the 10,000+ hours, I know what I’m doing, I know what I want to say.’”
Eden smiles. “I just can’t play the game by the fucking rules,” she says. “I know that if I could, this might have happened a lot faster.” She pauses briefly and it’s obvious what she’s thinking: any success that came, however quickly, through playing by the rules, would not be success worth having. It wouldn’t be what she has now. “Whatever happens,” she adds, “I’ll know that I’ve always spoken my truth.”