Ecca Vandal: Of Space And Time
In case you haven’t heard, Ecca Vandal is grabbing the Australian punk scene by the balls. Without a doubt the Melbourne-based singer is the most exciting artist we’ve discovered in recent times, and it didn’t even take an album or EP to win us over. Just listen to her debut single, “White Flag”. Go on, we’ll wait. It was quite unlike anything else we’d heard – it still is. It’s a well-worn tale that females in the music industry are up against it, particularly those in the alternative scene. Add into that Vandal’s Sri Lankan heritage and it would seem the odds were not “ever in her favour”. But stick it to the man (and scene) she has. Following a string of singles, Vandal thrust her debut EP, End Of Time, into the world unannounced, catching people as off-guard as her genre-bending sound initially does. Few – if any – are able to blend punk rock, hip hop and electro in quite the same way. And if they are, they certainly aren’t delivering it with a badarse edge that seems to become amplified the moment they set foot on stage. Ahead of her national tour alongside Brisbane post-punks WAAX, we spoke to the Divine Miss V about her early success, her uncategorisable sound, and defying industry expectations in 2016.
After a string of singles, you released your debut EP, End Of Time, at the tail-end of last month. On the new track “Divided”, other than the scorching bassline, something that really jumped out at me were the lyrics, particularly “Dark eyes and brown skin … Did my family scare you off?/Was the curry too hot?” Is that a prime example of you plucking lyrics from your own real-life experiences?
Well, it is based on a true story but I can’t say it’s my own. It actually stems from a conversation I was having with a girlfriend one night. We were just catching up and we were laughing, and she was retelling this story about a guy she met in college. They were really into each other, and he was really into her, but he basically said to her that the cultural differences were just too much for him and he had to walk away from the relationship, so we thought it was quite funny [laughs]. It was definitely good inspiration for the song.
Without an album to your name, Australian media and fans alike have flocked to your new singles with increasing fervour, and everything I’ve read about you has been overwhelmingly positive. What has it been like for you to experience such success so quickly in your career?
I can’t say it’s been something I expected; it’s certainly something I’m really grateful for. I feel like every time I have someone write to me and say they really like my music, whether that’s just online or the media or that sort of thing, I’m really grateful for that because there’s so much great music out there that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and I was really mindful of that when I started releasing my own. I was just like, ‘You know what? If there’s anyone who likes what I do, that is a bonus, that is frigging awesome because I love what I do, I have fun, and if anyone else is joining in with me, then that is frigging rad. If anyone has come up and said that they’re really feeling the music or feeling the live show, I’m just really grateful and feel like it’s a really cool thing to keep gathering more and more people to be part of the EV clan [laughs].
More so than musicians in any other era, you’re actually able to witness people’s reactions to your art and engage with them in real-time too – that would have been impossible a few decades ago. Have you found that you’ve been able to embrace that aspect of being a modern musician?
I think it’s a blessing and a curse to be honest. Sometimes it’s right there; you get every comment, you get every like or dislike – it’s right there. But the really cool thing is that you can reply and you can interact straight away. I love meeting new people all the time, so I make it a point to always engage, and to say hi and to get to know these people who are writing to me. But then also on the adverse side, it’s cluttering. It’s distracting. You’re not only seeing the things that are involved and directly related to your art and your craft, you’re seeing everybody else’s and you’re seeing the media and the news and the politics – there’s so much else that you get cluttered by and I actually have to sometimes step away from it and just go, ‘You know what? I need to just be in the studio, I need to be in the music, because this is what I’m doing. I’m not sitting there with one hand on the keyboard, one hand on my phone. Sometimes I just have to literally write a message to whoever I can and just say, ‘Look, I’m offline for a bit, I’m writing a song’ just to separate. But at the same time, it is really cool that it’s just one click of a button away to say hello to someone on the other side of the world. We’re definitely bombarded by it, but I also realised that it’s a choice, and that’s why I’ve had to make the choice sometimes to put it down and not feel like I have to be involved in it as much all the time.
“He just sort of sat me down and said, ‘Look, you’ve got years of people not getting it. At the same time, you are a female, and you’re brown’. And the sad thing about it is that I didn’t want to admit that he’s right.”
I remember seeing you at the Rolling Stone Awards last year at one of your first ever live shows and even then you already had a stage presence. Some musicians have to work for years to get to that level, but you had it almost instantly. Are there any musicians in particular whose stage presence you really admire?
Oh yeah, most definitely. I think the list is endless, but I’ll try to name a few. Number one I would say Dennis [Lyxzén] from Refused is an amazing performer; Chino [Moreno] from Deftones is also great. Not only is he absolutely screaming his lungs out, but he also has got great pocket and groove – his Latino groove comes out and I love watching him perform. It’s probably the same with Zack de la Rocha [Rage Against The Machine] as well. In terms of females, I think Beyoncé is an amazing performer, she’s just incredible. And probably Rihanna, because they’re both just hugely fit [laughs]. Oh and David Bowie of course, he’s one of the ultimates. I love watching people perform because there’s lots of different emotions you go through. I love watching a performer who can actually harness what they’re feeling in the moment, even if you’re feeling tired or if you’re feeling exhausted or sad or emotional or really happy or ecstatic… If you’re using that in the performance, it’s real.
Almost everyone who hears you finds it impossible to classify you – and I know that that could get to some people because humans seem to be driven by this insatiable urge to categorise everything. Do you kind of relish that fact? That you can drift fluidly between genres?
I like the fluidity, yes, I enjoy the freedom of it because I personally don’t put those restrictions on myself, like, ‘Oh I need to write another song that sounds like that’. I don’t need to write a song that sounds “rock” or “dance” or whatever; I enjoy the freedom and that’s actually when I feel the most creative. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m really disorganised as well; people like to categorise things maybe because they’re organised in life – I don’t even file things properly. I don’t know what the link is, but I enjoy the fact that it’s music that I want to hear, and that’s kind of all there is to it to be honest. You have to stand by it and you have to love it. I just like being real and I love putting everything I have into something. And if that’s me standing up on stage and singing with absolutely everything I’ve got in that moment, I need to make sure that I’m writing stuff that I’m really feeling.
I find that, not only are people very taken with your sound, but they’re also captivated by your striking video clips and live shows. How important is it for you to be hands-on and have a say in all these aspects of your image?
I am quite involved in terms of taking photos and videos and it basically sort of started with [debut single] “White Flag” because I had done a video for it, and it wasn’t right. It started then. The producer that I work with, Kidnot, we were like, ‘Actually, we should just do this ourselves’ so we bought a camera, we got into a room, and we filmed it. Since then, it’s been the same sort of process with everything else. We’ve taken our own photos, most videos have been shot or directed or we’ve had a really big hand in the direction of the video… It’s mainly because it’s your image, it’s your photo… It’s not the fact that it’s controlled, it’s just the fact that I like being involved, I love the creative process, I love the visuals, I like being creative in terms of dressing up in different outfits. I also love finding people to collaborate with who kind of have the same sort of taste and style; the last video, Matt Chung directed it because I think he has a really great eye and is a great director himself. It was a hugely improvised process, it was very spontaneous, and that was pretty cool too.
“There’s been many times in the music industry where I’ve had men being inappropriate and I’ve really related to her when she said that she didn’t know what to do in those times.”
Your control of your image almost brings to mind someone like David Bowie, who, even as he was dying, somehow managed to make death his final performance. You made a contribution to a recent Guardian article on him and you mention how he “never succumbed to the expectations of the music industry or current trends; he simply created his own”. Being a female musician in particular, how difficult is it to defy industry expectations in 2016?
Well, there are expectations unfortunately – especially on women in the industry. But I think we are progressing, barriers are getting broken down, women are starting to speak out a lot more about certain issues around the industry, certain problems that are faced, so I think that in itself is disarming some of the expectations that have been there. In terms of 2016, I think we’ve still got a long way to go. I was having a really good conversation with Alloysious [Massaquoi] from Young Fathers, I recently supported them, and it was a really interesting conversation because they also have found themselves to be uncategorisable and they’ve spent years not getting any attention, and he just sort of sat me down and said, ‘Look, you’ve got years of people not getting it. At the same time, you are a female, and you’re brown’. And the sad thing about it is that I didn’t want to admit that he’s right and the truth of the matter is that he is right, and there are certain expectations. I was doing a really great festival in Tassie where it was all hardcore bands, and I was the only female on the whole bill. It was sort of like, ‘Wow, okay, I’m the only female on the whole bill let alone the only black person in the whole room’, you know? It’s things like that that make you realise, ‘Okay, there are some barriers here’ but luckily we’re in a really great country, especially in Melbourne – it’s really multicultural and people are really open-minded. I feel like I’ve had some great support so far, but there are still some barriers that I think we need to break through and I don’t think we’re too far away from doing that.
I noticed on your Facebook page that you shared links to Amber Coffman’s Twitter after everything that’s come to light about Life Or Death PR publicist Heathcliff Berru. Being a female in the industry, have you experienced anything similar to this?
I was really happy and proud to see all of that come out. There’s been many times in the music industry where I’ve had men being inappropriate and I’ve really related to her when she said that she didn’t know what to do in those times, and it’s only been through a delayed reaction that she’s been able to be like, ‘I now have the courage to speak up about it’. I’ve also felt that many times before, and I’ve just gone, ‘I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do about this’. So unfortunately, yes, there have been times where I’ve experienced that, so I was just really happy to see her open up the conversation and see the response of women around the world share their stories and support each other.
I think it’s one of the more brilliant aspects of social media given information like this can travel so quickly and justice can have a chance at being served. I’m quite sure he’s been let go from his PR company.
I think he stepped down. He probably felt the shame, but you know, it’s probably time he felt the shame because imagine how many times those women have felt ashamed from his shithouse actions? Track one [“Running At People Exiting”] on the EP actually talks a bit about that.
Ecca Vandal / WAAX Tour Dates
Thu Feb 25th – The Foundry, Brisbane (18+)
Fri Feb 26th – Rocket Bar, Adelaide (18+)
Sat Feb 27th – Howler, Melbourne (18+)
Wed Mar 3rd – The Small Ballroom, Newcastle (18+)
Thu Mar 4th – Newtown Social Club, Sydney (18+)