Reflecting on Golden Rail Motel, his first album in over a decade, Eamon is quick to identify the source of his growth as a songwriter.
“Honesty,” he says, his New York accent unsullied by seven years and counting in L.A. “I know that’s crazy because people heard the ‘Fuck It’ song and were like, how much more vulnerable can you get? But what’s helped my songwriting is desperation. I’m really singing every single song like my life is on the line.”
The image of the singer born Eamon Jonathan Doyle imprinted on most fans' minds is that of the 20-year-old who scored one of the new millennium’s most unlikely novelty hits with 2003’s “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back).” The cathartic single became an instant New York radio phenomenon for its juxtaposition of smooth balladry with resentfully explicit lyrics, which sported eight F-bombs in the chorus alone. Then there was the response record, “F.U.R.B. (Fuck You Right Back),” purporting to tell the ex-girlfriend’s side of the story, turning Billboard’s R&B charts into a veritable battle of the sexes and pushing Eamon’s full-length debut I Don’t Want You Back to sales of nearly 600,000.
Even at that early juncture, Eamon was an experienced performer, having toured with his father’s doo-wop group since childhood, and I Don’t Want You Back was a clever synthesis of the Staten Island native’s old-soul bona fides with a contemporary hip-hop blueprint. While the album's best songs flashed the feel-good bubblegum nostalgia of teen pop, the darker tracks revealed the vindictive, jilted lover Eamon was at the time, as he traversed all the stages of relationship grief and found hollow solace only in his own puffed-up machismo. It was, in both conceit and affect, an adolescent breakup tape.
“I was just a rebellious kid going through relationship stuff,” Eamon says of the I Don’t Want You Back sessions. “What’s trippy was, we shopped that record to everybody, and literally no one got it. They were like, ‘This is cool and all, but it’ll never get played.’ When they got it was when the Star & Buc Wild Show [a popular NYC morning radio show] played ‘Fuck It’ it on Hot 97, and people were calling in saying, ‘Oh my goodness, we wanna hear that song again!’ All the labels called back and everybody jumped on the bandwagon, like, ‘We get it now! We get it now!’”
But when his sophomore effort for Jive Records arrived, a well-written, nuanced album titled Love and Pain, a confluence of business factors and substance abuse issues left the record dead in the water. “There was a lot of back-and-forth between the production company I was signed to and the record label, different directions they thought I should go with my sound,” Eamon says. “And for me, personally, there was a lot of addiction situations. I was just struggling, man, and there was a lot of self-sabotage going on. After coming off that fame it was just like, man, I didn’t know what I signed up for.
“I don’t think anybody’s created to be famous," he admits. "When people look up to you, there’s so much expectation. People fall short. I always say that expectations are premeditated resentments. So when a record company expects something from you, a manager expects something of you, fans expect something from you, and you don’t live up to that, you put false hopes on yourself. A lot of things that I didn’t live up to, I beat myself up about it, pointing fingers at other people but in reality blaming myself.”
Love and Pain found some success overseas but never saw a domestic release, and Eamon retreated from the spotlight, surfacing on periodic guest appearances and finally facing his addiction head-on. “There was a God-shaped hole in my life,” he says. “At the time, I made drugs my god, or relationships my god, or gambling or money. And it’s all because I couldn’t get honest about what was really going on. There’s a shame factor — like, man, if you really knew what goes on in my head and what I’m really scared of, or the things that I’m really dealing with, the anxiety I feel, you’d look at me another way, talk down to me.
“The secrets that grow in the dark get exposed in the light. To say, I’ve got a problem, I don’t know how to stop — people look at that person as weak, but I look at that person as a champion. With addiction, surrender doesn’t make you a sucker, it makes you honest: Here it is, I’ve got a problem, I need help.”
It was at this point that he relocated to L.A. full time. “I came out here in 2010 because I wanted to get away,” he says. “I just needed a change. I said I’d try it out for six months, wound up getting a place, and made a lot of good friends. That six months turned into seven years — of course, the weather is better than having to shovel a foot of snow in front of your house.”
As he eased back into recording, Eamon established working relationships with a series of hardcore hip-hop favorites from the East Coast such as R.A. the Rugged Man and Jedi Mind Tricks. After Eamon appeared on two songs from Jedi Mind Tricks’ The Thief and the Fallen in 2015, JMT producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind approached him about doing some additional studio work, which begat the Golden Rail Motel sessions in L.A.
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Listeners familiar with Stoupe’s past compositions may do a double-take upon hearing Eamon’s new record, which takes an unadulterated soul approach down to the recording equipment and vocal effects. The full-bodied Motown arrangement on “Be My Girl” soars with emphatic horns and background vocals; elsewhere, he channels a working man's blues on "Before I Die" and deploys a full orchestra for the album's somber finale, "Requiem."
Lush with live instrumentation, Golden Rail Motel has no illusions of hip-hop crossover and is Eamon’s most accomplished record to date. “It’s in me to write heavy stuff,” he says. “It’s in my bloodline to do throwback, soulful music. On my second record, after the success of I Don’t Want You Back, I was trying to write another hit. Now I’ll get some chords down, and from there just let the melody and cadence of the lyrics shape the song. Sometimes I just hum, and I’ll go someplace melodically where I’m belting out a note. That drives me to write something that really hits me in the heart.”
Golden Rail Motel’s title and album cover evoke an overnight stopover, but for Eamon, the album represents a longer journey, the product of 11 years’ growth. “Going through battles, letdowns, just life, has matured me so much as a songwriter,” he says. “You see more things, go through more things, deal with more things, and your writing just grows and gets better.”