Ecca Vandal strips down genre codes to forge fierce and intricate blends of hip-hop and soulful electronica, nuanced with jazz, but rooted in punk-rock. Since the release of her debut EP End Of Time in February, Vandal has been honing her craft, traveling to New York and LA to write, record and collaborate on new tracks, to be released at the end of the year, and is set to play the Rolling Stone Live Lodge in Melbourne next month.
During a rare, quiet moment at last week's BigSound, Ecca Vandal chatted to us about fans connecting with her music, Brooklyn's Afro-punk festival and her upcoming music plans.
How has BigSound been?
Really good, first night was great, there were two back-to-back, which is a bit testing on the energy levels, but it got even better the second time around, which was awesome. Last night was great too. It was an interesting one, it was one of those ones where just all the technical gear decided to crash on us. So we just went, "what can we do?" Let's just get rid of all the computers and stuff and just keep it punk rock, and let's just go from there and see what happens. And it was just so much fun. We didn't know what was going to happen next, which was awesome.
That's the nature of music. It's twists and turns. Without any computers and beats or electronica, relying on that, we went raw, and were thrown into that. it was actually really fun and exciting because we just improvised through my material. I had a ball.
Had you guys rehearsed without any of the computers before or did you just dive straight into it?
It's quite intrinsic to my sound, in that it's sort of punk rock with electronic beats, and big synths and things like that. It's linked to the sound, even though the essence of it is punk rock. It was interesting that even taking that away, we still had a good time, we still were sort of able to improvise and create on the fly and see where it would take - push the songs in a different direction. It was really fun. The best part about it was the crowd was really with me, I really felt their support, and they showed their love, and were just dancing away with me, and that was really quite a special moment, just to see everyone there patiently waiting but when we got into it they were supporting and rocking out with me.
When you improvise, do you go for that free jazz movement where you try to find the dissonances, or, where do you go?
It was really interesting after discussing last night, and so many people were "that was so punk rock it reminded me of Bad Brains and it reminded me of raw Fugazi". We were so raw. But at the same time, I actually liken that to jazz, because it was, in the moment, as musicians on the fly, we were all communicating, we were having a dialogue, without talking to each other, knowing what each other were gonna do on stage.
That's sort of rare in this context where, you rehearse the set, you know what you're gonna do and you know how you're gonna play the songs. And so I felt that was just a jazz moment for me last night, because we were speaking to each other in those moments. In terms of the dissonance, punk rock goes, and art rock goes into those clashes — atonal guitars and distortion. And free jazz goes into those areas as well, in atonal kind of land and taking it into those zones that take you out and then take you back in.
It's so internal and so intimate. So even though yesterday was our biggest show, it was the most intimate because, yeah, it was so interesting. It was quite a special moment actually.
And you've just been overseas..?
Yeah, I was doing some recording, I was doing some writing, I also went over and shot a video clip while I was there, and just had fun and soaked up the inspiration of the city, of New York and LA. It was amazing. I was there for 2.5 weeks, but it felt longer, it was just jam packed.
With your writing, were you collaborating or were you in like a pseudo-Airbnb residency so you could hone in?
Yeah, we actually did. We got an Airbnb in New York, in the East Village, and just kind of parked there for two weeks, set up the home studio and did a bit of recording there. Then we collaborated with a couple of other artists. First in LA, we did a two day session there and walked out with a song after two days, which was great, I thought that was really fun. And then another one in New York as well, we did the same thing, two day session and we walked out with a really fun track. I think they're both stuff that I'm keen to keep working on, and I think we'll find those tracks and add them to something later on.
Yeah, because it wasn't that long ago that your last EP came out?
Yeah, well it came out in February this year. This year's flown by, even when I'm talking about February, it's crazy.
Are you already planning for the next record, do you have any ideas?
I do! I'm just writing as much as possible and I think it will be an album. It's sort of shaping up that way.
Are you seeing changes in the music that you're writing now from your last EP?
We're seeing it evolve and take a different shape. I'm collaborating with a few other people as well which is really great, they bring a few different ideas and perspectives to the tracks, sonically, and potentially lyrically, so it's been really great to just talk to other artists about that and bring them into the studio and vibe with them. So things have gone off on a little bit of a different direction, but it's essentially still Ecca Vandal. I think my music goes in those different directions anyway, so it maybe goes further into those zones.
"It's so internal. Even though yesterday was our biggest show, it was the most intimate."
What kinds of artists are you collaborating with?
One artist is more of an electronic beatmaker, and another one is a pop artist — she's an incredible pop artist in LA. It's really interesting. It's been a bit funny, I actually went in and didn't know much about their music, I just wanted to go in and play, and we just walked in to see what would happen. It was quite an exciting buzz to do that because we didn't have any pre-conceived ideas, we just got in the room and started from scratch.
Were there any artists in particular who you've been listening to lately and who've influenced the new record?
Not necessarily influencing. I guess I'm always listening to a lot of hip-hop music. My favourite hip hop at the moment is a chick called Rhapsody. I've also been listening to all the old punk rock stuff that I love still, like Minor Threat and Bad Brains. I went to AfroPunk Festival recently, and I got to see The Internet and Young Fathers, and they were incredible — I saw Ice Cube. So I think I'm in that zone at the moment. Listening to a lot of beats, and emcees, and soul.
That's a music niche that you don't get much of in Australia — it's there, but it's really small, but so many people love it.
So true. It was one of those festivals that was just unique. It was a great lineup, the curation of that festival is crazy.
Your music is quite genre-less, it blends together so many sounds and textures, and like you said, it's evolving. I'm just wondering how you would describe it sonically, at the moment
At the moment, I would describe it as beat-driven, punk rock at its core, guitar based, synths, analogue synths at times and energetic, frenetic vocals.
Some of your lyrics are more political, is that something you'd like to keep exploring?
Yeah, I don't always go into writing lyrics going 'okay, what's the current political issue I could talk about?'. I just want to talk about things that really strike a chord with me, that I'm passionate about. There are things I think, 'man, we need to talk more about it'. I've spoken a bit before about race issues and gender equality issues, and now I'm writing a song at the moment, or I've just finished a song actually, about refugees. The refugee crisis around the world and detention centres. These are topics I just feel really passionate about, I mean they're massive issues, and I just speak about my personal view point or opinion about it.
Do you get a lot of feedback from listeners or from your audience?
Sometimes it really connects with people, I do get that feedback. I've had somebody say to me about a song called "Battle Royal", you know I've had someone call me and tell me they were going through a really tough time — a really, serious moment in their life where they said 'what do I do?', and they said that that song got them through. I never expected that something like "Battle Royal" would [have that effect], but "End Of Time", clearly has that refuge in the chorus ["I'll stay to the end of time"]. It's just persevering essentially, and I've had people talk to me about that lyric, and that got them through a tough time. You know, those things mean a lot to me.
It blows me away that they've gone through such an epic, life changing moment, and my song helped them through that. And that's something that, I mean, that makes it all, kind of worthwhile. That really makes me feel joy for music. It's a beautiful thing, it's a beautiful exchange.
Going back, growing up, was your family musical?
Super musical. They always sing around the house. I grew up in South Africa. South Africans and Sri Lankans always get together, and when they're in groups they sing. They sing all the time. So they're all singers and that's kind of where I picked it up I think.
Do you think that those early choirs and groups influenced your music?
Not stylistically, but definitely just the group - that shared expression. I really love that. I think it's very powerful with group voices combined. It's a powerful energy and to be in the room with that, I love that. And I think that's influenced my love of harmony.
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
So for the rest of the year I'm just going to keep writing as much as I possibly can, and I'm going to release some more music at the end of the year which is really exciting. Then I'll be doing a few more shows towards the end of the year I think in December, and across January. And hopefully the record will be out early in the new year.
Can you give away any ideas of what the new music's like?
It's a super fun track. It's a ball of energy, all under three minutes at this stage. I think it's under three minutes. It's super fun, and I shot a video for it. Well we're still piecing [the video] together but it's just me running around like a maniac in New York, pretty much [laughs]. Just super fun, raucous, I was pretty much just partying on the streets of New York.
Ecca Vandal plays the Rolling Stone Live Lodge on September 23rd, tickets available here.
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