Once a soul-loving jazz student until a classmate introduced her to the experimental rock of Mr Bungle, today Ecca Vandal is redefining Australian rock.
“I grew up listening to a lot of gospel music, and that introduced me to soul music,” Ari recalls. “I got into my sister’s record collection, soul and hip hop and `90s RnB. And then I actually became obsessed with jazz music – I decided to study jazz at the Victorian College of the Arts for a few years.”
Until, of course, that fateful run-in with Mr Bungle set her on a new path. “Suddenly the whole world of punk rock opened up to me and I became obsessed,” she says. “Being in Australia I had come across rock music or grunge, but I didn’t really think it was for me.”
To listen to her 2017 self-titled album, it’s hard to believe her voice was made for anything else. Vandal spits and roars over distorted guitars and bracing drums, with tracks like Future Heroine evoking a mix of Gwen Stefani, fellow Tamil M.I.A. and Kanye West’s Black Skinhead.
“Especially coming from a jazz improvised background, I could see the expression and reckless abandon that came with punk rock music. Being able to express yourself in that way was something I really identified with.”
As part of this year’s RCC Fringe music program, Vandal shares billing with Russian punks Pussy Riot, just two potent examples of the enduring political power of distorted guitars. “Punk music is definitely very relevant, obviously because of its abrasive sound and it can be loud and often simplistic, so it can carry that message,” she says.
“In Australia it’s very specific; I feel there’s definitely the rap hip hop genre, and then there’s rock music and I don’t actually feel like there are a lot of crossing genres in Australia.”
Although the album is front-loaded with evidence of Vandal’s rock credentials, elements of hip hop and electronica soon rear their heads – a collaboration with Australian Music Prize-winning rapper Sampha The Great is an album highlight. In blurring those genre lines, Vandal brings together corners of Australia’s music scene that don’t always mix.
“In Australia it’s very specific; I feel there’s definitely the rap hip hop genre, and then there’s rock music and I don’t actually feel like there are a lot of crossing genres in Australia.” Vandal has noticed the crowds at her shows change over time, however, as rock and trip hop crowds increasingly mingle on the other side of the barrier. “I definitely have seen that there’s a crossover – it’s a mixed bag.”
That’s likely to only increase with her next release. On her last visit to Adelaide, Vandal collaborated with Adelaide hip hop giants the Hilltop Hoods on their upcoming album The Great Expanse. “I jumped on the plane to Adelaide just before I was about to leave for the UK and tracked them then and there,” she says. In the end, both songs they recorded, Be Yourself and Exit Sign, will appear when the album arrives on Friday, February 22 (“It’s an honour that they decided to put them on the album,” she says).
In the meantime, Vandal is happy to keep bringing her unique take on rock to the stage. “Today we’re in a very strange place with music in the world with streaming and music being [served by] an algorithm, and I think punk is really important right now because it’s really instruments plugged into real amps, it’s really raw. I want to see that still at the forefront, especially women in that genre.”
The Attic, RCC Fringe
Saturday, February 16