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.

Collective Hub - - CONTENTS - WORDS ME­LANIE DIM­MITT

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.

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