Ecca Vandal is one of the most exciting new artists I’ve found all year. Making her debut with the infectious jam, White Flag; her music combines elements, and the spirit of punk, hip hop, jazz, electronic, rock, pop—pretty much a wonderful mash up of all the things I especially dig! I love that Ecca can’t be defined and her work goes beyond the music to showcase her unique creative chops visually too. She’s making her live debut at the upcoming Deathproof PR Christmas party this year sharing the stage with my friend Karina’s band, High Tension. I was stoked to interview Ecca about her journey so far, her hip hop education; we geeked out over our favourite Fugazi record, talked of growing up and not fitting in plus more.
BIANCA: I was reading an interview with you a little while back and I was so stoked that you mentioned that, The Argument by Fugazi is one of your favourite albums. That’s one of my favourites too!
EV: Ha! That’s awesome. It’s definitely one of the albums that have shaped my thoughts on music.
B: In what ways has it helped shaped your thoughts on?
EV: It changed my perception on simplicity in music. That album introduced me to Fugazi and I delved deeper and deeper; just their ethos, their thoughts and what they stand for and how they do their live shows. It was a trail that led me to the music that I really respond to, in a way it’s also helped shaped my songwriting.
B: What’s your favourite track on The Argument?
EV: I would probably say, Life And Limb. There are so many great songs on that album though, that one stands out the most for me.
B: I like the track that’s just before it, Epic Problem. I just love how the music builds and then it has that little quiet part near the end.
EV: It’s so great! I could listen to that album over and over. I remember having a chat with my friend, Joelistics about records and that record in particular and it really helped spark us working together. I told him he really has to listen to that record, so he went out and did. He said, “I really dig it and the fact you really dig it too, well let’s start something together”. From there we decided to work on a track together. It’s been a really pivotal record for me.
B: You were born in South Africa; do you remember much from growing up there?
EV: I was four when we moved here, but strangely enough I do remember a bit of it. I have many fond memories of South Africa, especially when I hear the South African accent. I have fond memories of the music. My parents would hold meetings in or home for the black South African who were seeking refuge and that wanted to talk with others about what they are going through. I have vivid memories of South Africans singing music that has five part harmonies. I have photos of people doing this in our lounge room. I was really young, maybe the photos help piece together my memories in my mind. The sound of it is what spoke to me most.
Another memory I have is of a really lovely lady that used to take care of me, she’d carry me around in sheets on her back.
B: Your parents are both Sri Lankan; when you moved to Australia did you have any challenges “fitting in”?
EV: We had quite a bit of family here. We mainly moved to Melbourne, Australia because we had so many aunties and uncles already set up here. In terms of the transition there were times for sure. At school there wasn’t many Sri Lankan or Indian or coloured people around. On a whole I think it was a smooth transition. I have older sisters that guided me through those things. Melbourne is pretty multicultural. I’ve definitely had moments of not feeling like I fit in and that I feel quite different. I think that has to do with, not only the colour of my skin but, the things that I was interested in like, the type of music I listen to. I was always interested in the outside world more than I was school. All those things contributed.
B: Didn’t you learn about hip hop from your sisters?
EV: Yeah [laughs] well…my sisters are older than me, they’re closer in age and they’d go out together at night and I’d beg them to please take me with them! They were like, “No, no, you can’t come out with us until you are older.” When they would leave I’d go through all their CDs and stuff and that would be my night in. I’d blast their records, from A Tribe Called Quest to 2Pac and more—the golden era of hip hop. All of their records was my education. I’d listen to them and read the covers and lyric sheets from front to back and take in the cover art. In those times I feel like I really educated myself on hip hop and would just dance my heart out. I’d try on all their clothes as well! [laughs].
B: Ha! I was like that too but with my brother’s record collection. He’s about 7 years older than me and I’d want to go out to concerts or skateboarding with him but was told I was too young so I’d devour his music collection while he was out, punk rock, hip hop, all that good stuff. Raiding his records was so much fun. I felt like they gave me an education too.
EV: [Laughs]. I’d try on my sisters’ tops and heels and strut around their room! I think in time they found out about it.
B: Yeah my bro did too. He’s like, “Have you been going through my records?” I’m like, nope! [laughs].
EV: Exactly! Busted!
EV & B: [Laughter].
B: You grew up studying jazz, didn’t you?
EV: I did. From my sisters’ taste in music – not just hip hop but also ‘90s RnB: Janet [Jackson], Witney [Houston] and Mariah [Carey]! – I transitioned from RnB to soul music to stuff like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. That kind of morphed into jazz territory as well. It’s all very linked to me. I went and started jazz for a few years at college. It was a really fun time, it broadened my scope on music. It taught me that it’s cool to improvise and to push the limits.
B: I love the freedom of the jazz freestyle.
EV: Yeah, that improvisation was something I was really drawn to. Not just stuff that’s considered beautiful in jazz standards but the taking it to push it to other extremes, like South Indian traditional music or folk songs of different cultures. To see the bent, warped nature of where melodies can go is the kind of stuff that really makes me tick.
B: When did you start creating your own music?
EV: I’ve created since I was a child. I’d make up songs and taught myself piano and guitar. I’d make up songs with my friends all the time and rope them in [laughs] on lunch breaks. We’d find a piano at school and we’d create together. I really started to take it seriously after I finished school, I thought, I really enjoy creating and writing music, singing and experimenting with different sounds. Transitioning from college to learning jazz I really started to experiment with songs and writing in different genres. I was really enjoying it and wanted to do more of it.
B: I have a lot of friends that have gone to university to study music and most of them I’ve found after they’ve been doing it for a little while just get disheartened and stop making music. Some have told me that they get really bogged down in all the theory and formula and the “this-is-how-a-song-is-made” stuff. The joy they got from music is gone. I’m glad your experience has been a positive one.
EV: I had elements at times where I felt confined by it. In the earlier years I thought, oh there’s a structure to this. Half way through I realised that I can go beyond these structures and beyond the boundaries; that’s what the improvisation and experimentation meant to me. When I had the realisation I felt like I had absorbed a whole amount of it and I’ll use that but kind of forget about it and start writing music that is organic. I wanted to see what would just come out of me and just use what I’d learnt and absorbed as tools. There was limitations but I reached passed my schooling.
B: You record, mix and master much of your own stuff as well as write it how do you approach these things?
EV: With the mixing and the mastering, in terms of co-production, I collaborated with a couple of guys on my single, White Flag. That was with Kidnot, he does quite a bit of the programming. I do very minimal on that side of things. When it came to mixing I worked with Hadyn Buxton, he’s a gun engineer! Some of the ideas he brought to it goes beyond your usual engineer, he added some “gold” stuff to the production, so did Kidnot. When it came to mastering, I actually took it over to Sterling [Sound] in New York. Ryan Smith from Sterling mastered, White Flag. He did a bang up job.
B: The film clip for White Flag is visually very strong and you’ve mentioned previously that you realy dig having strong visuals; what are your thoughts of Beyonce’s visual album she dropped pretty much outta nowhere?
EV: Whaaaaw, Beyonce! She’s great. Her visuals are always strong and I love the concept of releasing bits of art for each track. I saw her live show earlier this year and she’s just brilliant. A brilliant singer and performer, her visuals were up to that same level…did you see the show?
B: No not this time, I saw the previous tour where she walked out on stage in a floor length silver dress and stood like a goddess while pyrotechnics were happening in the background. That was epic.
EV: Cool! I missed that, I said I wouldn’t miss another show. The screen was as big as the stage! It was important for her because of her strong visuals, the whole show was accompanied by visuals. Even when she wasn’t on stage there was still visuals, it went from something really cinematic to something really raw with manipulated visuals. It was phenomenal how they brought it all together. It’s all at such a stellar level.
B: When you’re working on your own visuals; what’s your process? Do you use moodboards or anything like that?
EV: Sometimes I have visuals come to me while I am writing the music. I have some tracks on my EP where I just know what visuals I want to see when I present it to the world, whether it’s a still or moving image. With White Flag it was important for me to visually capture the energy of the track. To have that translated the best way I could think of was to have a borderline live performance. With some of the other art work I have, I’ve been inspired by movies and documentaries. My logos and other art references have come from documentaries like, Rat-Bones, the 70s skate-punk culture, I was very influenced by that. Powell Peralta imagery too. I took it to an awesome artist called MSG and told him they were my references, then he came up with something and was like, “What about this?” He was very pivotal in helping me come up with my art stuff, like the “no face” image. I like collaborating with people and being able to give them strong references to work with. I think working with other people I’m really open to be inspired by their ideas as well.
B: What can you tell us about your first Ecca Vandal EP that’s on its way?
EV: The EP is due to come out early 2015. There’s a few tracks that made me take a different turn to where White Flag is, in terms of sonically. I worked with the same team of guys, Kidnot and Hadyn Buxton. We’ve been shaping up a couple of the tracks, where actually in the studio at the moment. It’s not far away, which is exciting!
B: Are you still writing lyrics for it?
EV: There’s one track that I’ve been finishing of lyrics for. Most of them are fully formed though. It’s off to mastering pretty soon.
B: What themes are you exploring lyrically?
EV: Lyrically things come from different angles for me. It can be quite personal references, a situation or observation. I’m inspired by movies, characters too. So, personal, observational and stories is where I write from.
B: Have you seen any films lately that have stuck in your mind?
EV: The last documentary that stuck in my mind was, A Band Called Death. Have you seen it?
B: I sure have. I interviewed one of the brothers from Death for it when it first came out.
EV: Wow! It’s such an amazing story. I was blown away by that. It really stuck in my mind, it stayed with me for months after and I’ve told everyone about it since. MSG the artist I mentioned before I was collaborating with told me I must watch it! I watched it and halfway through I thought it was coming to an end, I realised it still have 45 minutes to go and it made me just think, where can this possibly go? I really, really dug it.
B: When I first heard their song, Politicians In My Eye, it blew me away! Like, they were making that in the ‘60s! Before punk rock was even a thing.
EV: Yeah, I was blown away like you. It made me really dig further into their music.
B: I know you’ve performed live with various people over the years but have you played live as Ecca Vandal yet?
EV: No, not yet. We’re just working on our set. We have a really cool gig coming up, a fun Christmas party with the Deathproof PR crew. I’m pumped to be playing that with rad bands like High Tension, Clowns and a couple of others.
B: I love High Tension! Their frontwoman Karina Utomo is fucking amazing! I just saw her on the weekend actually, she was in town for a show and after years of corresponding and supporting each other’s work we finally met.
EV: How awesome! She is really cool man, I’m looking forward to meeting her myself. It’s awesome to see another female singer of colour doing some seriously gritty music [laughs].
B: Yeah. When I first heard both Karina’s old band Young & Restless and your music, I heard that before I knew what the person making the noise looked like. When I saw you both I was stoked to see fierce strong women of colour making the kind of music I love. I wish I could find more of us!
EV: I was always drawn to that with Y&R and High Tension. It’s cool to see even women just doing tough vocals. It’s cool to see it happening in Melbs [laughs].
B: When I was growing up and listening to punk rock I couldn’t really find many female artists I could identify with except for maybe Alice Bag. She’s an amazing Chicana musician, artist, author and feminist archivist and activist. Do you ever get nervous before you perform?
EV: Yeah definitely [laughs]. I love performing, it’s such a release—the energy that just happens on a live stage is something that can’t be bottled. I eve have trouble trying to explain it. When I walk out on stage though, something just clicks. I’m really interested and excited to see how everything goes now that I am performing my own music and have a killer band full of legends; they bring such a great vibe, energy and support.
B: I’m excited too. I can’t wait to see you live, I’ll be front row centre.
EV: Cool, thank you!
*All photos courtesy of Ecca’s IG.