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December/January 2020

by Ben Mollison

Lontalius: In Search of Eddie J’s Pop DNA

by Ben Mollison

Lontalius: In Search of Eddie J’s Pop DNA

It has been four years since NZM last caught up with Eddie Johnston, aka Lontalius, but one thing hasn’t changed – his music is still as honest as it gets, tapping right into his emotions – something his fans across the globe evidently appreciate in a world of Insta-perfection. Following 2016’s ‘I’ll Forget 17’, his spring 2019 release ‘All I Have’ again displays those disarmingly raw, emotive lyrics, though with the help of a new LA-based team, the sound has evolved from guitar-based indie rock to be slicker, more contemporary layerered pop. Ben Mollison had a chat with him.

Three years have fallen between the two albums in Eddie Johnston’s discography. The newest, ‘All I Have’, is a by-product of the artist’s journey over this time, as he moved from his hometown of Wellington to the big leagues of the LA music scene, a period of massive creative and personal growth.

“The main reason it took a long time was just because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Eddie reasons. “I was just kind of working myself out that whole time musically, and also when you’re 18-19 you’re working things out anyway.”

Released when he was 18, his first Lontalius album, ‘I’ll Forget 17’, began as a passion project that he would work on after school. It went on to be professionally produced, and released with Partisan Records in 2016. This guitar-based project had electronic and RnB influences, with subject matter that discussed adolescence. The songs were restrained, reservedly affecting, and certainly “melancholic,” as Eddie classes much of his content.

Production skills honed and practised during the process of making this content, led to his starting another project, under the alias of Race Banyon, with a more electronic, beat-focused leaning.

Race Banyon brought more success and acclaim for Eddie, including international opportunities, most notably in the form of a set at Lollapalooza in 2016. However, Lontalius remained an essential artistic undertaking because of the different music created under both pseudonyms.

“There were always just very different parts of my brain I’ve found. You know, I like dance music and I like electronic music, but there’s part of me that still just wants to sing sad songs and do that thing.”

Moving to LA allowed a mental shift as well – Eddie wanting to inject more energy into his Lontalius music in order to create something audiences could connect with or sing along to. The dream was to become a prolific producer of pop artists and “write a Rihanna song,” but trying to turn this into reality while in LA, Eddie found that his experience and abilities at the time didn’t equip him for that provider role.

“I think I kind of realised that my skills and my strengths were better in my own music,” he admits. “I would still love to do more pop stuff, but I think I just haven’t worked it out yet.”

The realisation allowed Eddie to focus attention on his next release, the result being ‘All I Have’, a genre-bending Lontalius album that rides the lines between pop, RnB, electronic and a fusion of still more musical styles.

“It’s pretty introspective and it was definitely born out of the feeling of listening to music at 3am in a bedroom. That’s the kind of stuff I like, that’s the kind of feeling that I like to invoke.”

Hype has seemed to follow Eddie and his musical output since he began creating bedroom music as a teen, but ‘All I Have’ was somehow given a supremely quiet release. His split with Partisan Records no doubt played a factor, but that resulting independence hasn’t deterred Eddie from continuing to be ambitious in his production and songwriting.

The new album touches on similar themes of growing up as did ‘I’ll Forget 17’, but sees Eddie/Lontalius also contemplating the shift from youth into adulthood – a period of life he spent in LA that was isolating at times.

“‘All I have’ was kind of a lyric that kept coming up in a bunch of different songs I was writing,” he says of the album title. “Sometimes when I was in LA it felt like music is all I have. And then other times it felt like love was all I had, or even just that friends were all I had. I kind of enjoyed that sentiment.”

The lyrics offer reflection, nostalgia, and often uncertainty on behalf of the author, and concentrate throughout the album on encounters and memories.

“I think the only thing I want to write about is what I’m experiencing, so I’ve always found it to be both empowering and liberating on a personal side. I just try to write about my life and it’s nice having albums that become little time capsules.”

Unlike his first Lontalius album, the majority of songs on ‘All I Have’ began as collaborations with seasoned members of the industry – including Jim Fairchild (Modest Mouse), Roy Blair, Instupendo, and Mr Hudson. Working with others provided musical ideas that Eddie would subsequently restructure and rearrange.

The most significant partnership was with producer Om’Mas Keith, a co-operative relationship that developed throughout the album’s creation. Keith made a significant impression on Eddie through his work on Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’.

“I was definitely very intimidated and stressed about it. I think I was scared that he would come in and then just put in some, I don’t know, hip hop drums on my songs and be done with it,” he reflects. “He actually ended up kind of understanding it all much more, and we ended up just making ambient, drony loops for hours!”

A lot of the recording process began with Eddie alone at home, tracing back to his music-making roots. He’d then take the songs to a studio, most often Om’Mas Keith’s workspace, to add more pieces and layers.

“It was very rewarding, but it was very difficult, and in a song like Make My Dreams Come True I just remember how stressful it was trying to make it into a pop song, because that kind of pop song is not in my DNA. It involves a lot of pushing myself and getting other people’s help to really flesh out ideas.”

Seeing fellow Kiwi musicians in the US, like Chelsea Jade and Emily Edrosa, was a big deal according to Eddie, helping him remain grounded.

“LA is so much pressure and it’s easy to get very jaded about music. I ended up listening to a lot of the music I loved when I was a kid – bands like U2 and Coldplay – and kind of rediscovering bands like R.E.M. and stuff, from an older perspective. I found that I was listening to a lot of that because it gave me a kind of childish joy in music, which I think was really beneficial.”

‘All I Have’ shows a different side of Lontalius, and Eddie hopes to continue to push his compositions to different places, and touring with new releases.

“But, I think it is core to the Lontalius experience that the songwriting is honest and it’s intimate,” he finishes.