Saccharin sweet with dark glimmers of dance percussion flickering at the periphery, Eden xo’s ‘The Question’ appears to demonstrate the cumulative workings and revisions the Californian has developed in the last decade as a recording artist. It feels fresh and sounds like the beginnings of Eden Malakouti stretching her wings, establishing herself, and putting her years working in the industry to fruitful ends.
Eden introduced herself to tmrw and told us about her new EP, her songwriting process, and her experience with a medium who allegedly read Oprah Winfrey.
At the time of this interview, Eden had just got back from Israel, having been to the ‘REALITY’ personal leadership retreat with a selection of industry personalities. As someone of Iranian descent, Eden xo reflects on her experience.
“It was cool to be in the Middle East. I wasn’t obviously in Iran, I was in Israel, and they’re very different places,” Eden xo explained. “At the same time, I sensed a lot of cultural similarities just from my family growing up, and they were all very positive things. The hospitality, the food, and even the way they love to entertain guests.”
Eden further shares her experiences as a guest in the home of a musician called George Sama’an. “I had really cool moments when I was a guest in this Arab-Israeli musician’s home. It was really cool to be in [George’s] home. He played the lute and the oud for us, and we all sat around campfire-style. What was cool was that he reminded me of an uncle or something.”
We move on to her EP. Eden describes the rationale behind the lyrical content of ‘The Question’. Lyrically, the EP revolves around the themes of unconditional love and – as may be gleaned from its title – a marriage proposal.
“Well, I’m deeply in love,” Eden confesses. “[with] ‘The Question’, the title track is sort of all about the moment when everything in my life shifted [and] when my now-husband and at the time fiancé popped the question. It’s funny because people, on first listen, don’t realise it’s an engagement song. [T]hat decision to want to spend forever with someone is just so beautiful.
Eden continues, discussing how her husband’s proposal and the consequent feelings and moments following that provided an abundance of musical inspiration. It allowed her, additionally, to reflect further on her own life.
“It inspired this [EP]. I almost hit this well spring within my creativity that had been buried for a while. I hadn’t written love songs and all of a sudden, I had a plethora of thoughts and things. Then obviously ‘So Lucky’ was sort of like an analysis of where I’m at in life, [being] lucky in love, and looking back on things that were pitfalls, or missteps, or false starts concerning different labels and stuff like that. [It was] a little bit of what I felt was bad luck or things not going my way [but ‘So Lucky’ is] realising, at the end of the day, having love is so much better.”
“I really am so lucky,” Eden continues, “and if this is it, if this is as good as it gets, I’m set because nothing will beat this feeling. I’ve played arenas, I’ve played on TV, and I’ve done all of that. It’s an amazing high, and it feels really good to feel loved, but at the end of the day, during those times I’d still come home and wrestle with [thoughts like] ‘was I really good? Did they really like it?’. I just come home now and have just unconditional love.”
Eden describes how she has adopted a new method of songwriting. Inspired by listening to artists such as Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen, Eden now takes a more ground up approach to music; starting initially with the stripped back chord progressions and melodies, as well as ensuring each track has a strong narrative present in its lyrics.
“For ‘The Question’ EP,” Eden explains, detailing her process, “every song I started on a straightforward acoustic instrument, either a guitar or a piano. [Then I] built in the sonic world around it once I really knew I was happy with how it sounded just stripped down to a single instrument and a vocal. That’s been really new for me. I really feel fulfilled that way.”
“My tastes have evolved and matured,” Eden continues. “I started this thing where I wanted to study one of the “greats” every month that I didn’t know anything about or that I missed for whatever reason. I started listening to Springsteen when I was in Stockholm, Sweden, writing some of these tracks. I was walking to the studio listening [to him]. It [is] just classical, beautiful songwriting. The narrative is just so powerful. No detail is left out. I get really frustrated when producers or A&R say ‘oh, the lyrics don’t matter! Say whatever.’ I hate that! The lyrics fucking matter, bitch.”
Moving on from the lyrical approach of Springsteen, Eden cites Fleetwood Mac’s instrumental choices. “So, I … moved on to Fleetwood Mac. Just listening to how simple those chord changes are with those songs. Sometimes it’s not more than two or three chords at the most, so that’s when I made the decision to strip [everything] down to the essence of how to write a good song and then you can add all the bells and whistles and all the electronic effects that I love after that.”
Considering this, I had initially suggested that perhaps the stripped back approach helps to provide the skeleton of a given track. “Not even the skeleton,” Eden explains. “[It’s] to fully realise it, add the muscle, add the tissue, add the connective tissue. Add it all. Then all the sounds on top are the clothes or something; they’re just the styling it up. Build the human, put the heartbeat into it and go from there, as opposed to the other way around, which is [how] a lot electronic music starts.”
Eden strikes me as an individual who is spiritually ‘in touch’. As opposed to the sobriety of a pure atheism, I gathered the impression that Eden appears to believe in a kind of fatalism. It might be easy to assume that artists of Eden’s stature may hold these believes as a result of their success. However, Eden’s idea of fate seems to concern itself with other facets. Speaking generally about songwriting, Eden describes the ‘prophecy’ of songs.
“Songs … sort of find their way when they’re supposed to. I feel like songs are psychic [or] self-fulfilling prophecies. Sometimes something I’ve written about that I thought was all imagination-driven [would] then a week later or a year later happen in my life. I’ve talked about this with a lot of other songwriters and artists and they’ve all said the same thing.” Eden concludes laughingly, “freaky stuff happens the fortune-telling of songwriting.”
As well as the prophecy of songwriting, Eden was recommended a medium to go and see after finding herself anxious and waking up in the night.
“I’ve only [seen a medium] once, and it was crazy,” Eden says. “I was basically just waking up in these pools of sweat and feeling really anxious. My friend told me about this medium [who’s] worked with Oprah’. I’ve never substantiated that claim, and I won’t be able to, because two months after he did my reading, he died. So, we’ll never know if he worked with Oprah or not,” Eden pauses before laughing, “we’ll have to ask Oprah.”
“I did go and see him, and he told me my aura was extremely bright and, because it was really bright, darkness [is] attracted to it,” Eden explains. “[He said] at that time I had attracted these bad demons eating away at my aura. I spent the first half of the reading thinking that [it] was all bullshit, [but] I did feel relieved after he sort of “worked” on me. It ended with me feeling extremely emotional and much better.”
Returning to the subject of music, but considering the similar theme of the mystical, Eden describes ‘Heaven is a Place With You’, the concluding track on her debut EP. The story around the track situates itself around Eden’s love for her husband, Ryan.
“I love Ryan so much. I could never imagine a world, whether it’s this world or the next, where we are not together. ‘Heaven is a Place With You’ supposed to feel like a conversational piece between us talking about that. I don’t know what I believe in, whether we all die and go to the pearly gates [or not]. I just know that we have soul mates in this universe and I do believe we find those soul mates again. Whether it’s your children, or your dogs, or your best friend, I do feel that there are – that we do live a lot of lives and I think we find each other when we’re supposed to.”
Eden’s latest EP ‘The Question’ is available on all major streaming services, and you can check out the music video to ‘So Lucky’ below.
Photographer: Randy Tran @rtranphoto
Videographer: Sarah Kinsumba @sarahk.studio
Stylist: Star Burleigh @starburleigh
Makeup Artist: Jenny Ventura @jen.ventura
Hair Stylist: Victor Mendoza @mendozavicf
Photo Assistants: Azusa Takano @azusatakano
Dorian Qi @dorianqd