EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH EDEN XO

Eden xo

Eden xo is ready for pop domination.

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, 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 towww.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.

eden-xo-2

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH BONNIE MCKEE

bonnie-mckeeBonnie McKee is no stranger to the top of the Billboard charts.

Over the past three years, McKee has been responsible for penning nine No. 1 pop anthems and has sold more than 28 million records worldwide. She’s worked with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Ke$ha, Adam Lambert, and Kylie Minogue, and her biggest smashes to date include Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me,” Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite,” and a whole slew of Katy Perry’s greatest hits – including “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” “Part of Me,” and the current #1 single in the country, “Roar.”

But earlier this summer, McKee decided to step out from behind the scenes and revisit her dreams of becoming a performing artist. Thus, with the release of “American Girl,” the debut single (available on iTunes) from her upcoming album, the California-born singer/songwriter made the transition from just being the voice behind the lyrics to actually being the voice singing them.

As she prepares for the release of her as-of-yet-untitled album (slated to be released by Epic Records in 2014), McKee chatted with me about the release of “American Girl,” her creative process, her secret recipe for songwriting success, how she plans to balance her performing and songwriting career, and much more!

Congratulations on the success of “American Girl” so far!

Thank you so much! We’re still in the grind so I won’t be happy until it’s gone all the way.

You’re responsible for writing nine of the biggest pop songs of the past few years. Which one would you say is your favorite and which one would you say is your crowning achievement?

Let’s see. Well, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Teenage Dream.” That’s a big one for me. But I think my favorite right now is “Roar,” the new one that I wrote for Katy Perry.

You started out as a performer then switched to exclusively songwriting for a little while. Why did you decide that now was the perfect time for you to re-emerge as a performer again?

Well, after I released my first album, I got dropped from my label, and I kind of had to start writing out of necessity. It was always my secret plan to be an artist again, so I just knew that I had to come back ripe with ammunition. I needed to have a story and I needed to catch people’s attention. I was good at songwriting and I hoped that through that, I could get back to being my own artist again.

How indicative is “American Girl” of the sound of your upcoming album?

Very. It’s all very colorful and full of pop anthems. I’m pulling a lot from my influences like Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. It’s definitely going to be really big and fun!

Do you have a title and/or release date planned yet?

Not yet. I’m still writing. Most of it’s done, but I like to write up until the last minute. You never know, it could be that last song you write that’s a spark of genius and could be the title of the album. So I’m going to wait until I decide what I’m going to call it.

Why did you choose “American Girl” as your re-introduction to the pop world?

Well I felt like “American Girl” was the quintessential Bonnie McKee song. I’m known for my lyrics and big melodies, so I felt like it was very me. I pulled from my own real life experiences and it just seemed like the most obvious choice.

The video for “American Girl” is filled with so many familiar faces. How did you get all of these celebrities to participate?

Most of them are friends of mine. I just sent out a mass text and e-mail. I wasn’t expecting that many people to participate! It was really moving actually. When I got the Tommy Lee video back of him in drag as me flying upside down in the air and playing the drums, I literally was bawling. I was crying. I filmed a reaction video and sent it to him and was like, “look what you’ve done to me, Tommy!” It was just so overwhelming because that song had been on my hard drive forever and no one had really heard it. So for the first people to be hearing it to be these people, and then for them to get so creative with it, was really over the top and overwhelming.

How is your creative process different when writing for yourself versus writing for other artists?

When I’m writing with other artists, most of the time, I have that artist in the room. It’s like a therapy session in a way because I’m picking their brains about what they’re going through and what they want to say. So they share their feelings and I take that and I turn it into a pop song. When it comes to myself, I have to dig a little deeper. I’ve written so many songs in my life that I really have to push myself. There really are so many things to write about in a pop song, so I like to get really creative with my lyrics and try to say something kinda quirky that I don’t think a lot of artists would want to say. So yeah, I’d say I get a little quirkier with my own lyrics.

For the fans that have been following you from the start of your career, will the songs you had featured on your MySpace in between your first album and now ever be available to download or buy?

Yes! There was one song called “Thunder” that got remixed by Rusko – he’s a really awesome DJ. I sent him the acapella and he did this whole thing to breathe new life into it, so that one got kind of a life again. “Stars In Your Heart” may actually make the album. I’m actually planning on making a video for that one either way, even if it’s just for online release. And then I think “Love Spell” will have a new life too. That’s a song that a lot of big names have recorded. A lot of people have wanted that song and I’ve heard so many great, famous voices on it. But I don’t want to give it up! It’s a song that I wrote for myself and is very personal to me, so I’m excited to sing it.

You’ve also written a lot with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, who are pop songwriting legends in their own rights. What’s the best piece of advice they’ve ever given you?

Literally every time I write with them, I learn something new. I always try and let the professionals do their thing and I try to pick up as much as I can. But I think the most important thing I’ve learned is simplicity. It’s easy to try to get overly clever, but I think it’s important to instead just pick and choose the moments where you want to be clever and let the record just be accessible. So yeah, I’d say simplicity is definitely the most important thing I’ve learned from Max Martin and Dr. Luke.

So is keeping it simple your secret formula for writing so many #1 hits?

I guess so. It also helps working with all of these amazing artists and songwriters, so it’s always a collaborative effort. But yes, I think that’s the key – writing a song that people can relate to, even if they don’t speak English. As long as you can sing along to it and still feel something, that’s what works. So phonetics are also really important.

I know you yourself weren’t present at the VMA’s this year, but what were your thoughts on the mob of redheads who were all chanting your name on camera?

I thought it was amazing! It was so cute. I didn’t even know that was coming, so when I saw it, I was like, “Oh my god!” It was quite a surprise. It was really cool. It’s awesome to know that you can have a Bonnie McKee costume – and the fact that it’s recognizable is really awesome. It really warmed my heart.

That must have been a really big moment for you!

Yeah! It was a big moment for me. It was one of those moments that I was like, “oh my god, this is really real,” so it was pretty cool.

Speaking of the VMAs, what was your favorite performance of the night?

There were some really good ones! It was a really exciting year this year. I feel like the past couple years have been pretty dull. I really enjoyed Lady Gaga’s performance because she always brings 110%. And of course, Katy. She’s always great. It’s always exciting to hear the songs that I wrote being performed. Every time I’ve seen someone perform a song live that we wrote together, I cry. Every single time. I’m a big cry-baby. So that’s always exciting. And of course, Bruno Mars.

It must be really interesting to see all the visual narratives and choreography and production value added to the performances of these songs that you wrote and seeing how all those things play out on stage together.

Yeah, it’s really cool! I’m always excited to see the music videos too because I feel like every time I write a song, I have a video for it in my head. I’m always imagining what the video for the song would look like. That’s kind of how I write, so it’s always fun to see how they turn out.

As a co-writer of “Roar,” what is your response to the allegations that the song sounds too similar to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”?

Yeah, I heard about that. It’s funny because people forget that we wrote this song months ago. We wrote the song before “Brave” came out and I had never actually heard it. Then when I listened to it, I was like, “oh yeah, I guess that is kind of reminiscent,” but it’s a total coincidence. I had never heard the song before and I think it’s a great song, by the way. I love Sara. I think she’s so talented. And it happens all the time. I hear stuff on the radio that I’m like, “what?! I just wrote something like that!” but there’s no way that anyone could have copied that because nobody in the world’s ever heard it. But it’s just kind of something that happens and I think it happens all the time.

Will we be hearing more of your songs on Katy and/or Britney’s upcoming albums?

Yeah, I wrote 4 songs on the new Katy album, Prism. I’m really excited about those. We really had a lot of fun writing them together. They’re really different and fun. She likes to get experimental so they’re kind of a departure from her last album that I worked on with her. As far as Britney, I don’t know. If they call me, I’ll definitely do it. It’s always so exciting to hear an iconic voice like Britney’s singing the words that I’ve written.

That actually leads in nicely to my next question –  Do you ever get nervous or star-struck when collaborating with artists of that caliber? For instance, I heard you wrote a song on Cher’s upcoming album. That must have been quite an experience!

I know that Cher recorded a song that I wrote and that was really exciting, but I don’t know if it made the final cut of her album or not. That happens a lot – where the artist will record like 45 songs and they’ll pick the best from those, so I have no idea if she’ll be using it or not. But either way, it’s an honor to have her voice singing my song. She’s just an idol of mine. But yes, absolutely, I get nervous. Britney Spears is someone I grew up listening to and idolizing and watching and studying, so to see her in the flesh and to hear her voice was just really surreal. I’ve gotten to meet all kinds of people – like Steven Tyler was a big one for me. I got to sing for him and he got to sing for me, just me and him and a piano, so I’ve had tons of amazing experiences. It’s been very rewarding being behind the scenes.

What’s one song from the past year that you didn’t write but wish you had?

Hmm … “Call Me Maybe” is maybe 2-years-old now, but I wish I wrote that one. From top to bottom, it’s just a perfect pop song. There are no holes, no questions about it. It’s just a perfect pop song. And Carly Rae [Jepsen] is a total sweetheart.

After your album is released, how do you plan on balancing your career as a songwriter and your career as a popstar?

Well I’m fortunate in that I’m able to pick and choose who I want to write for and what I want to do. But I think for now, I’m an artist. It was always my #1 goal to be on stage and to be able to move people with my own voice and have that experience of sharing my music with people. There’s just nothing like that. So I think I’m going to focus more on my own artist project. As far as songwriting stuff – I’ll do things that I can’t say no to. If Katy calls, I’m not going to say no. If Britney calls, I’m not going to say no. If Cher calls, I’m definitely not going to say no.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your album or any of your upcoming plans that we didn’t talk about?

I don’t think so! I guess just buy the “American Girl” single on iTunes!

bonnie-mckee1Originally published on PopBytes

FIERCE AND FEELING MIGHTY

A review of Kylie Minogue’s “Aphrodite” tour.
By Alex Nagorski

SAM_1478
Remember that level of Mario Kart called Rainbow Road? You know, the one where the track is just a massive rainbow with giant glittery obstacles for you to bypass? Well, imagine the player you’ve selected to use on this level is Princess Peach and the car you’ve chosen is a pink Barbie-esque Corvette to match your pretty princess dress and compliment your golden tiara. Every time the car turns, fairy dust comes out the end as you catch a star and sparkle harder than Edward Cullen on a Santa Barbara beach day. Now imagine that the game music is down and you’re playing while blasting the Burlesque soundtrack and are getting a pedicure from a naked Zac Efron and back rub from a nude Channing Tatum. Still following?

Well if you’re able to visualize all of this then it’s pretty safe assumption to think that what you’re imagining sounds like the gayest thing imaginable. Well guess again. Because compared to Kylie Minogue’s “Aphrodite” tour, that scenario is the motherfucking Superbowl and you’re scratching your balls with hands drenched in Dorito dust and Budweiser.

SAM_1479 Kylie knows her audience. Like, I can’t emphasize this point enough. Girl knows her audience, more commonly referred to as “that army of drunk homosexual men.” I say this because upon entering the Hammerstein Ballroom for Kylie’s final New York stop on her “Aphrodite” world tour last Wednesday, I felt like I was mounting a pride parade float custom designed by Christian Siriano.

SAM_1486 Greek columns framed the stage as the audience surrounded it to prepare to worship at the Temple Minogue. Screens in the background showed an undersea world full of flawlessly sculpted mermen, adding to the mythological ambiance the show was setting its audience up for. The lights dimmed and the crowd shrieked as Kylie emerged center stage, coming out of a golden shell looking fiercer than any Botticelli bombshell ever did.

Appropriately, Kylie opened the show with “Aphrodite,” the title track from her criminally underrated 2010 masterpiece of a pop album. As she descended down the stairs, followed by her two GaGa-esque backup singers and legion of hunky, half-naked male backup dancers, I immediately knew I was in for a night of epic proportions that would surely make my mother go to church to pray for my redemption.

SAM_1481 Kylie is a true veteran of the industry. Although she may not be as recognized this side of the Atlantic, she’s been around just as long as Madonna and has tons and tons of hits. She blended older songs like “On A Night Like This” and “Spinning Around” perfectly with more contemporary smashes such as “Get Outta My Way” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” within her over two-hour set. Name any Kylie song you can think of. Chances are she performed it.

Visually, the show was stunning. During “Cupid Boy,” for instance, her dancers fell from ribbons in the ceiling, doing mid-air aerobics throughout the song … sort of like a softcore gay porn parody of Pink’s “Glitter In The Air” Grammy performance.  Kylie changed costumes multiple times and would always re-enter the stage in a very dramatic fashion – like by popping up on a giant golden statue of Pegasus, the winged horse.

SAM_1510 While her interactions with the audience were minimal, whenever Kylie did take a break to talk to the crowd she was never anything but cute and funny. Constantly using words like “fierce” and “fabulous,” she was humble when talking about the amazing reception her three-night stint in New York has been. Despite her status as a pop icon, Kylie never seemed anything but humble. Humble but self-aware. The type of woman you would want to sit down for a quite coffee date with but also someone you’d play dress up with while doing tequila shots off each other’s bodies after.

SAM_1503 The “Aphrodite” tour was spectacular in every way. I honestly couldn’t have had a better time. It’s exactly what I think Britney’s upcoming “Femme Fatale” tour should be. Kylie is admittedly not a dancer. Therefore, despite the occasional dance break, she didn’t try to outdo herself and instead did flawless Tyra-esque struts and various other activities on stage. During Britney’s “Circus” tour, she tried too hard to give off the dancer impression. Here’s hoping she’ll take a page from Kylie’s book and find other things to do on stage while remaining entertaining and true to herself.

Kylie brought it hard with the “Aphrodite” tour. She may not be the household name in America that she is abroad, but girl owned the stage and had New York eating out of the palm of her hand. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect show to kick off my summer concert series.

 
Originally published on Crazytown Blog