In 2012, Ecca Vandal was holidaying in the UK with her sister when they discovered Erykah Badu was playing at the Brixton Academy. Ticketless, they managed to sweet talk a security guard into letting them in, upon which they ran into Badu's tour manager who – can you believe it? – offered them VIP passes, entitling them to a meet & greet with the American singer.
At the end of the night, once hands had been shaken and pleasantries exchanged, Vandal started exiting the venue and decided to pose for a quick photo on the stage. "We got the photo and I was like, 'I'd love to play here one day'," she recalls today, sitting in the Sydney offices of her record label, Dew Process. In December, that wish will come true when she tours the UK for the first time, as a guest of British punker Frank Carter, with the 5000-seater the venue for the London stop.
The UK shows will cap an intense three-year period for the singer, who first came to attention with 2014's "White Flag", and has since released a slew of well received singles such as "Battle Royal" and "End of Time". When not touring with Queens of the Stone Age or appearing on festivals such as Splendour in the Grass, Vandal has spent the past year-and-a-half working on her debut self-titled album, the majority of which she co-produced and recorded in her Melbourne living room alongside collaborator Kidnot (Richie Buxton).
Eschewing the notion of a plush studio was both a financial reality and in keeping with Vandal's DIY approach to her career, a value she's fought hard to protect. "I had to maintain that, but by going through the process of finding a place to release your music, it can start to slip away," she says. "Being DIY is at the creative centre, it really means a lot to me, and part of [my] development was going, 'OK, what do I want to maintain, what can I let other people do with my music?'"
It's an ethos, she says, that's led to "a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of all nighters" while overseeing everything from video clips to artwork. "Every part of this album is handmade when it comes to the creative side," she says proudly. Recording sessions comprised "every waking hour" for about a year, much to the chagrin of her neighbours, who were no doubt puzzled by the screams emanating from Vandal's apartment as she laid down vocals for the album's first single, "Broke Days, Party Nights".
Those same screams landed her in trouble in New York several months later while in town on a writing expedition. Having decided the Big Apple was the perfect place to record a guerilla-style video, she shocked a taxi driver by cueing up that part of the track on her iPhone, leaning out the window and miming along as a friend in the front seat captured the action. Suffice to say they were rapidly ejected. "For some reason when you're away you just feel like you can get away with it, right?" chuckles Vandal. "We got kicked out of grocery stores and people's houses, but most of the time we were welcomed in."
It was on that same trip that Vandal met former Letlive. vocalist Jason Aalon Butler, who agreed to be a guest on "Price of Living" alongside Refused's Dennis Lyxzén, whom Vandal met through her manager. The song essays the horrific conditions of offshore detention centres, a fierce political statement on an album that is otherwise intensely personal. "Cassettes, Lies and Videotapes", for example, is a comment on living in the now that references her past experiences in the psychologist's chair; "Out on the Inside" the temptation to feel you're alone in your predicament, and that everyone else's life is perfect. Also referenced is the "loneliness" Vandal says she felt during the album's creation as she attempted to shut out the "voices" and the "noise" of an industry demanding a debut album yesterday, and a society expecting her to pursue a traditional career path. "It took a little bit of protecting myself from what was happening, that noise," she says.
Those societal expectations are addressed in "Broke Days, Party Nights" in the line, "Are you gonna live worthless/A stupid clown that is penniless/Just a joke but it seems you're the only one that's laughing".
"I think my parents may have wondered, are you ever going to earn a proper income? Are you always going to be living hand to mouth?" she reflects. "They don't call me a stupid clown, but they say, 'Wake up, you've got to be sensible.' It was a massive commitment to go, no, I'm really going after this and giving it everything I can. And trusting that it will pay off one day and I'll be able to support myself from a career of creativity. I couldn't ignore that creative side."
This article is from issue #792 (November, 2017), available now.
Topics: Ecca Vandal