The Big Issue : Edition 547
VANDAL TAKES ECCA VANDAL WON’T FIT INTO CATEGORIES AND YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO BE OKAY WITH IT. EVEN OVER THE phone, I can tell that Ecca Vandal is rolling her eyes. “What Instagram post to put up, is it a good filter, what type of fine dining am I going to eat next…” Australian music’s most intriguing newcomer is rattling off the minor concerns she counts as first-world problems. “It just doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day. I personally think we’ve got bigger things to worry about.” Those “bigger things” are the major themes of Vandal’s songwriting. Vandal – not her real name – isn’t an artist much concerned with selfmythologising. In fact, she rarely puts herself at the centre of her songs. Born in South Africa – in the dying days of apartheid – to Sri Lankan parents, Vandal moved to Melbourne aged four. There, some years later, she started university at the Victorian College of the Arts, where a specialisation in jazz taught her how to improvise and think freely with music. That education culminated in ‘White Flag’, the 2014 single that launched Ecca Vandal as an artist with plenty of guts and no allegiance to any one genre. Three years down the track, she’s poised to hit the big time; you might have seen her support Queens of the Stone Age on their recent Australian tour, or play blistering solo sets at Laneway Festival or Splendour in the Grass. This year Vandal will release her selftitled debut album. She’s tried to make it a first-world-problem-free zone. “I was just struggling with the fact that the world is really grim at the moment and it seems to be getting worse,” Vandal tells me of the headspace that fed her album. “Here I am trying to be creative and write a record, but all of my insecurities and fears and concerns seemed really small in comparison to world issues. But at 30 THE BIG ISSUE 6 – 19 OCT 2017 the same time, they were very large in my mind. But when I zoomed out, what does it mean? Is it worth anything in the grand scheme of the world? How do I contribute? My way of dealing with those emotions was writing this record.” That disenchantment with the status quo comes through loud and clear on the album. Take, for instance, ‘Price of Living’ – one of the record’s standout tracks, which turns the spotlight on know what do with the 26-year-old. Vandal’s music is near-impossible to categorise: sometimes it’s heavy rock and punk, sometimes hip-hop and rap infused, all balls-out energy and Vandal screaming down the mic. But there’s other tracks on the album that are softer, more melodic. The wide range of emotions comes naturally: “It reflects all the different moods that I go through. Because “THE MUSIC INDUSTRY ON THE WHOLE IS BAFFLING TO ME, BECAUSE IT’S MEANT TO BE A CREATIVE INDUSTRY BUT ACTUALLY IT’S WAY MORE CORPORATE THAN I REALISED.” Australia’s refugee crisis. “We’re so blindfolded to how harsh the realities are for asylum seekers,” Vandal tells me. “We are in our little bubble. We are in a privileged society, and I acknowledge that and am grateful for it, but we are living the dream here. And we need to do something about it to help others.” Two big music names are featured on the song: Letlive vocalist Jason Aalon Butler and Dennis Lyxzén of iconic punk band Refused, who happens to be one of Vandal’s personal heroes. It’s not the only point of the album – or our interview – where Vandal speaks her mind. Another track, ‘Closing Ceremony’, takes aim at a subject close to home. “The music industry on the whole is baffling to me, because it’s meant to be a creative industry but actually it’s way more corporate than I realised,” she says. “That was a really hard pill for me to swallow. Because creating music is art. And I just felt that there’d be a lot more creative minds around. But it’s really as corporate as anything else.” It’s not hard to imagine why straight-laced label execs might not I’m not always angry, I’m not always happy, I’m not always loved up. It has energy and aggression and frustration, definitely, but there’s also a vulnerability and reflection and gratitude.” Whatever style she’s working in, Vandal stays defiant. “I definitely feel like a misfit in the music industry,” she explains. “I always have people scratching their heads going, ‘Where do we put you? Where do we place you?’ I don’t think there’s a particular area of music I feel at home and comfortable in. I sort of fit here and I sort of fit there, and the whole industry is about labelling and neatly pigeonholing people. When it came to making this record, I was like, well, I don’t want to change anything about myself so I’m going to put it all in.” She shrugs. “I’ve felt like I didn’t fit in my whole life, so it’s really nothing new. It’s okay to not fit in. I personally haven’t and I’m still standing.” by Katie Cunningham (@katiecunning) » Ecca Vandal is released on 20 October.