During the first week of her radio tour, Eden met Hilary Hoover, who worked as a promotions director at the time for her record label. The two started dating, and soon Eden was happier than she had ever been. But when she came out to several people in the industry — and specifically to some who worked on her team — she was met with a warning.
“If you want to keep your career,” they told her, “you need to keep this quiet.”
And she did. Eden was a rising artist well aware that among a certain set in Nashville, female country singers are expected to date male country singers, and are advised against potentially upsetting conservative fans in general. So she kept her relationship with Hoover under wraps. That is until last year, when Eden realized she was exhausted by essentially living a double life. And she was done staying quiet.
Eden’s journey has culminated in her first new music in four years, a trilogy of joyful songs that tell the story of emerging from a dark place and finding yourself in a healthy relationship. “No Shade” dropped last month, and “Sunroof” debuted Friday. (A third song, “Got No Choice,” will premiere in mid-April.) Hoover co-stars in the “Sunroof” music video, which features her and Eden on a road trip, making it the rare country video to feature a same-sex couple.
In January, Eden (who had already been posting photos of herself and Hoover on Instagram for months) formally introduced Hoover as her soul mate: “We kept our love a secret for 3.5 years. It was awful. 10/10 don’t recommend,” she wrote under a video montage of their relationship. “About a year ago, we decided we wouldn’t be silenced anymore and started living our love out loud.”
Their years of secrecy are still painful to recall. Eden wants to be candid about that time with her fans, but isn’t ready to tell them everything yet.
“There was a whole other side to this that a lot of people probably won’t see for a while, just because right now we’re putting out this really happy music,” Eden, 32, said this week in an interview from her home in Nashville. “But it wasn’t always this sunshine and rainbows.”
Eden maintained that those who cautioned her years ago just wanted to protect her. Though they no longer work on her team, they likely regret saying anything, she said, because “the fear of it was way worse than the actual reality of it.” Eden has seen a very supportive reaction from the industry and her fans, similar to T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne, who last month came out as the first openly gay male artist on a major country label.
“It was never, ‘We’re homophobic.’ It was, ‘We’re afraid that other people are going to be homophobic,’ ” Eden said. “ ‘So because of that, let’s mute you, let’s silence you, let’s keep this a secret in order to protect you.’ ”
It wasn’t until last year that Eden had what she calls her “lightbulb moment.” She was reading “Untamed,” the best-selling memoir by Glennon Doyle, when she came across a paragraph about how integrity means being the same person on the outside that you are on the inside. The words were a gut punch.
“I was one person in our house and within our bubble of trusted friends and family. And then I was a completely different person to my fans and at parties where I had to be a certain way or act a certain way or not speak about Hilary,” Eden said. “And I was just like, ‘No one should have to live like this.’ ”
Keeping everything “hush-hush” for years was exhausting, and it was demoralizing to never open up about her personal life — particularly as an “open book” singer-songwriter who poured her real experiences into lyrics.
“I just didn’t want to continue living a life where I wasn’t being fully myself,” Eden said. “This is not just about me anymore. I want to help the kid who lives in Alabama and has never been around an LGBTQ person before, who can be like, ‘Oh wait, I’m not alone.’ ”
Eden also hopes her latest series of songs will inspire people looking for silver linings in their struggles. “No Shade” is about the glorious moment of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after a dark stretch. “Sunroof” centers on when you meet someone who makes you feel like you do on that first good-weather day of the year. “Got No Choice” follows that same loving relationship.
The songs are all co-produced by Jesse Frasure, Eden’s longtime collaborator that she knew could expertly tap into the “retro soulful country sound” she wanted in her new music. All of the videos, directed by Eden’s friend Ford Fairchild, were filmed in Eden’s hometown in South Florida. They set several scenes at the bar where Eden performed every Saturday night after graduating college so she could earn money to move to Nashville to embark on a singing career, making it a true full-circle moment.
What makes it even sweeter now, Eden said, is that she can be authentic in her songwriting. Singles that didn’t climb the country radio charts in the beginning of her career, such as “Daddy’s Money” and “Act Like You Don’t,” had a grittier edge that mirrored her outlook on life at the time. She soon began to feel burned out, and her doctor advised her to take time off — words she took to heart as she scaled back on touring and focused on writing songs that reflected her new, much happier perspective.
“It became no question to me as to why my music didn’t work the first time around, because I wasn’t able to be fully me,” Eden said. “Hilary is such a huge part of my life, and she’s such a huge part of my happiness, that there’s no way that I can’t talk about her now. I wouldn’t be able to put out this music if I didn’t talk about our love.”
The country music industry is going through a long overdue reckoning on race, and Eden said she “boldly believes” that the genre is going “in a much more progressive direction” overall, which will only benefit the format in the long run.
“I think the more progressive we get, the more listenership we will have as a genre,” she said. “And I also think that just as we move forward as a world, the only way that we can move forward is with love. And hating love is not an option these days.”