Ecca Vandal is fired up. “I feel like these are the rawest recordings I’ve made,” she declares with excitement. “There’s a vulnerability in there, and looking back, it really represented some of the things I’ve been going through over the past year. Some were even the first take when I was in the early writing process but they had a vibe and emotional honesty to it so we kept it all in there.”
The Melbourne-based, genre-defying, immeasurably talented artist is excited with good reason. She’s now more than a year removed from the surprise release of her debut EP – the then peak of her steady rise through the ranks as one of the most attention grabbing new acts in music. That period since though, has seen her widely celebrated, and cut a path that has led her to where we stand now, poised at the release of her debut album – the self-titled Ecca Vandal.
“This record has been a journey,” she laughs with a sense of both passion and weariness. “It’s been a year of challenges, but I’ve seen myself overcome them by learning to trust myself a lot more. Being out of my comfort zone, being alone and kind of isolated, put me in a place where I really needed to pick myself back up. I learnt to back myself and to trust my gut instincts, and doing that was definitely a growing experience for me.”
With an arsenal of hits already under her belt (‘White Flag,’ ‘End Of Time’, ‘Truth To Trade,’ ‘Battle Royal,’ and her collab track with Moonbase ‘Oblivion’), Vandal sought to push herself and experiment through the recording of Ecca Vandal. And although the old identifiers are still there – Vandal’s commanding aggression, vocal dexterity, natural magnetism and unique ability to meld rock, punk, rap, soul and pretty much whatever she felt like – what really stands out about this record is its explosive, irrepressible energy.
The walloping first hit, ‘Broke Days Party Nights,’ lands with the same ferocity of her very first hit, ‘White Flag’. It’s a song that pulsates with the same frenetic percussion and angular, piercing guitar lines that populate the likes of Mars Volta’s ‘Inertiatic Esp’, but ‘BDPN’ retains Ecca’s signature, bombastic delivery as it rains down like a carpet bombing raid. In true punk form, it’s an anthem for the frustrations of generations of young people – especially this one. A call to arms to live life to its peak and to never let finances or rulebooks stop you from tearing the roof off the joint and having a great time.
“I hope people feel energised by it,” she beams. “The message of no matter what, money doesn’t actually matter and we can still have a good time – that’s autobiographical really. There’s been so many times where I’ve been eating two minute noodles while making this record in my lounge room that, at the end of the day, I had to check that I was actually having fun and enjoying the process even though I was dirt broke.”
A thunderous punk rock opener kicking off the album is to be expected, sure. But if you think this record is just like the Ecca you’ve come to know and adore – you’re in for some rude surprises.
Take, for instance, the other-worldly hip hop sound of ‘Your Orbit’. Featuring guest verses from the inimitable voice of Sampa The Great and co-written with the radar-detecting Darwin Deez, the song is an intergalactic voyage through universes normally only populated by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, Outkast and Lauryn Hill. The result is unlike anything that exists in Ecca’s repertoire, let alone anything on the current Australian hip hop landscape, but it’s definitely set to make those in it sit up at attention.
Speaking of features, it would be remiss to ignore that Vandal was also able to secure the services of bone fide punk rock legend and her personal hero Dennis Lyxen of Refused fame to guest alongside her on the mammoth ‘Price Of Living.’ Not only that, but they’re also joined by Letlive powerhouse vocalist Jason Butler on the track for a triple threat of some of the most dynamic vocalists in the rock and roll game.
“He’s punk rock royalty really,” says Vandal of Lyxen’s cameo. “The Shape Of Punk To Come is one of the most influential and genre-leaping records ever, so for him to acknowledge me as an artist and to go, ‘Yeah great, I’d love to sing on one of your songs’ – it’s just a huge honour.
“And Jason and I were introduced through his wife, Gin Wigmore. He was super complimentary of my music so when I had this track I asked if he’d be keen to jump on it. I wasn’t sure if either Dennis or Jason would be keen but since they were both up for it I thought it would be kinda rad to take a hip-hop approach to this track. You know, we often see multiple guest MC’s jumping in on the same track. So, I thought it would work well for Price Of Living and have them trade through the chorus’. I’m just honoured to sing alongside both of them on this track. I’m so into who they are as artists.”
Aussie collaboration continues as well on ‘Dead Wait’,where she reunites with Sydney bass master Moonbase, following up on the couple’s successful 2016 pairing, ‘Oblivion’, that appeared on Moonbase’s 2016 Orthodox EP.
“He has a cool, fresh approach, so when he came into the studio, we decided to go for a UK garage feel for it, which was really fitting I thought. He’s a great at taking things in different directions and it was really easy to work with him. He’s a legend.”
The huge guests are another signifier of what lies at the core of this album – Vandal’s desire to push the boundaries of who she is as an artist and her willingness to work with some of the best artists she knows in order to make that dream a reality. The fact that she managed to do it all by recording the entire album DIY style out of her home studio, along with the help of her co-writing partner Kidnot (Richie Buxton), makes the end result all the more remarkable. "Richie is a true innovator and I feel privileged to get to work with him,” she says of her main collaborator, " I mean he's practically a walking music encyclopedia and he really pushed me out of my comfort zone at times to bring out sides of myself that I've never shared before - which have actually become some of my favourite moments on this record"
It’s that partnership that has enabled Vandal to push the boundaries and continue to develop across the music of Ecca Vandal.
“I wanted to push it forward. I wanted it to authentically capture all sides of my musical personality and my character. I wanted to make sure that people got a really honest representation of who I am and that includes all sides of it. Some people were like ‘Are you going to lose the heavy side of it at some point?’ or ‘Do you think it will morph more into this direction at some point?’ and my answer is no because that wouldn’t authentically represent who I am. Also, I think the world needs diversity. As human beings, we are curious and crave variation. Personally, that's what drives me, I’m certainly not dictated by trying to fit in - I just don’t waste any time trying to figure that out. There are very few surprises in life, especially when it comes to music these days, so I choose to embrace every single one of them.”
The themes are indeed rich and varied across the album.
Opener ‘Your Way’ addresses the personal enlightenment of realizing someone else's way of doing something may be the better that your own; ‘Price Of Living’ is close to her heart, looking at the global refugee crisis and the inhumane conditions of detention centres; ‘Closing Ceremony’ takes aim at the music industry and the wanky corporate types that choose what sells over art every time; ‘Cassettes, Lies and Videotape’ is all about being in the moment in a permanently online world; ‘Your Orbit’ is an observation on the modern day booty call; the previously released, ‘End Of Time’ is devoted to sticking by something/someone even though it messes you up; ‘Cold Of The World’ – a classic love song written against the backdrop of the shitty current state of the world; ‘Out On The Inside’ – adult-teen-hood angst about the internal struggles we all go through no matter our status; ‘Bad Habit’ being put out by someone else's bad choices; and finally ‘Dead Wait’ – all about the art of cutting that relationship / person off from your life.
It’s true, there’s plenty to absorb across Ecca Vandal the album’s truly original tracks – but each one builds upon and reinforces the next. What’s undeniable when you reach its end though, is that Ecca Vandal, the artist, sure has made it hard to predict the shape of punk, rock, and hip hop to come.