ONE BROKE GIRL
Rising star ECCA VANDAL has a spellbinding voice, a HEALTHY disregard for MONEY, and a background as DIVERSE as the genres she bends.
Ecca Vandal has enchanted audiences with her unique voice and new approach to music
Ecca Vandal is undefinable. Many music commentators have tried to pin her down, describing her sound as an ear-blowing muddle of hip-hop, boom-bap rap, nu-metal, electro-punk and future-pop-meetspost-grunge. The Melbourne-based artist – who’s said to channel the swagger (and drop-crotch pants) of early-’90s Gwen Stefani – doesn’t actively dodge a definitive description. There are just no simple words to describe her.
“I don’t go out to try to destroy labels or try to cross genres on purpose to maintain a certain identity, it’s just how it has happened – and it keeps it exciting for me,” says Ecca, who’ll just as likely listen to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald as she will Led Zeppelin, Fugazi, Kendrick Lamar, and Björk. “I don’t like labels and pigeonholing people in general, because I think those kinds of things define people, and that divides people. So I don’t like to subscribe to that.”
Her sound is eclectic. Born to Tamil parents in Cape Town, Ecca’s love of Sri Lanka’s “big beats”, classic SouthernIndian sonics and the multi-layered harmonies of South Africa flavours the cultural melting pot that influences her music – albeit subconsciously. “It’s not really intentional,” she maintains. “Every time I write I don’t think, ‘I’ve got to put this in there’ or ‘I’ve got to somehow reference this sound.’ It’s all just absorbed and it’s been percolating for a few years, and come out, somehow, in this record.”
Her self-titled debut album, released in October of last year, also speaks to the struggles of its own creation. Largely written and recorded in the modest living room of the two-bedroom apartment Ecca shares with co-writer and producer Richie ‘Kidnot’ Buxton, the 12-track offering was made by the duo in true DIY spirit. “We’ve spent the last year writing this record and living on two-minute noodles, and really living hand to mouth,” says Ecca.
The second song on her album, an infectious jam entitled ‘Broke Days, Party Nights’, has been hailed as a millennial anthem – and sings out the message that you don’t need money to have a good time.
“We’re in a playlisting culture – a streaming culture – and there’s just not a lot of money. So it’s tough, but I think there are ways of being creative and there is opportunity out there,” she says. “It’s really easy in this day and age to create the music – we’ve all got the facilities on our laptops and our phones. But it’s [also] really easy to let it sit there on our hard drives, and be paralysed by insecurities. It’s about actually putting it out there for people to love – and there are going to be people out there who love it.” >
I don’t like LABELS and PIGEONHOLING people in general, because I think those kinds of things DEFINE people, and that DIVIDES people.
In 2014, Ecca uploaded her debut single ‘White Flag’ to Triple J Unearthed – the platform responsible for jumpstarting the careers of Flume, Courtney Barnett, and The Rubens. “[I wasn’t] driven by whether or not this was going to get played on the radio. We were going to make music and put it out there online, and just do it because we can. Because you can literally release music with the click of a button now,” says Ecca. “I think that was a really great mindset to be in – to not have any expectations.”
‘White Flag’ was a fast hit. And after adding ‘Battle Royal’ and ‘End of Time’ to her musical arsenal, in 2016, Ecca surprised fans with an EP she summoned on a whim, only a week after waking up one morning with the urge to put it out. “There’s a lot of noise out there in the world, particularly in the music industry, and I just feel as though I have to be very in tune with what I want and what I’m inspired by and what will make me happy,” she says. “I have to listen to my gut feeling, and usually that’s right.”
It’s little surprise, then, that she describes her creative process as “usually very organic, rather than structured”, but her remedy for writers’ block is decidedly disciplined: “Turn up. Set yourself a bit of a schedule, or try to start a routine if you’re not already in one, where you actually just turn up and start somewhere. Eventually you just lead into an idea and it sparks something for you.”
Born in South Africa’s final years of the apartheid era of racial segregation, Ecca’s earliest memories are of being swaddled in a bed sheet, strapped to her carer, wandering around to the tune of three- and four-part harmonies.
“My family used to hold meetings in our house, mainly for the people in our area who were going through really tough times,” she says. “I remember the house being filled with music – they would break out into song. I think that’s where my love of music was rooted.”
After 10 years in South Africa, her parents moved with then four-yearold Ecca and her two older sisters to Melbourne. “[They] really wanted to forge paths for us and make sure we were safe and secure, and had a better life in Australia – a privileged life.” Ecca would later come to understand what being Tamil – a minority in Sri Lanka – and not fitting on either side of South Africa’s racial divide had meant for her parents. “They wanted to protect us from all of that, so they just didn’t like to talk about it. But I definitely think I absorbed some of that fighting spirit and that’s why I’m passionate about many topics to do with refugees, minorities and stereotypes.” (Her song ‘Price of Living’, featuring Swedish punk doyen Dennis Lyxzén, makes a statement on the harsh realities facing asylum seekers.)
“I found it really hard as a young kid in school working out which culture I identified with the most,” says Ecca, who found a childhood hero in Apu, the animated Indian immigrant character in The Simpsons. “You just didn’t see many role models in the press, and especially in the entertainment industry. I hardly saw anybody of colour. So my sisters were really important in being that role model, and Apu, and [native Tamil, British singer-songwriter] M.I.A. when she came onto the scene.”
Those sisters – one of whom works for Google – are also in large part to thank for Ecca’s pursuit of music.
“They’re amazing career women. They’ve got really strong opinions, and aren’t scared to make them known. When I was making the decision about whether I was going to do music as a career, it was really based on their encouragement, because I wasn’t sure if it was the right choice at the time.”
Turning down a business scholarship, Ecca instead studied jazz at the Victorian College of Arts, where she would meet her main collaborator, Kidnot.
“I’d probably be in a very stable job at the moment if I went down that [business] path, but I just couldn’t picture myself at a desk, in an office somewhere, nine to five, grinding. I’m still grinding, but I’m doing what I love and what inspires me,” she says, pointing out that being a musician, in itself, requires a certain level of business acumen.
“There are times when I think, is it really wise to do a gig for $200 when it’s going to cost me $1000 to get there? Artists are sometimes paying for the privilege to play music – that’s something that I’ve learned – so I have to be smart, and luckily I’ve got people around me who have done this before and can give me great advice.”
Her initial team included Deathproof PR – a music agency that put Ecca onstage at their Christmas party, where she connected with Universal Music Australia (who released her LP).
“They seemed like they were very passionate about what I’m passionate about. We had a chat, and that was that.”
In the months before her album dropped, she opened for Queens Of The Stone Age and played Splendour in the Grass before touring her album around the country, and seeing out the year in the UK supporting Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.
“I feed off the energy of the creatives around me,” says Ecca, who worked with “like-minded” acts like US indie band Darwin Deez, and Zambian poet and singersongwriter Sampa The Great on her album. “One of my favourite things in life is meeting new creatives,” she adds.
She’s also fostering creatives through a number of initiatives she’s part of, including Melbourne’s Voice for Change mentorship program, tackling youth violence, and high-school songwriting workshop Rock Academy Australia. “It’s really important to be mentored and to mentor somebody. Find someone to mentor, take them under your wing, and teach them what you know. We’ve got to pass it on somehow, don’t we?”
Her moniker, much like her music, honours her multifaceted makeup – which is a combination of the traditional Sri Lankan contraction of her name, Rebecca (“I’ve always been called Ecca”), and self-appropriated ‘Vandal’.
“I wanted something that represented defacing music and culture and doing it my way. I want to maintain that integrity, rather than just doing something because it’s what people like. So I think that, in essence, that’s rebelling against what’s hot right now.”
It’s really IMPORTANT to be mentored and to MENTOR somebody. FIND someone to mentor, take THEM UNDER your wing, and TEACH them what you know.