In a testament to his brilliant, ongoing exercise in mythmaking, one has to seriously wonder where exactly Art d’Ecco is when he’s reached by phone on a rainy West Coast fall afternoon.
His official story is he’s ensconced in a cabin in a remote coastal location that he has no interest in revealing. The closest he’ll get to discussing his coordinates is citing one of British Columbia’s lush and magical Gulf Islands.
“The fog is rolling in off the ocean—I can see it through the trees,” d’Ecco says mystically. “It’s a shining prewinter fall day that’s also, I dunno, like something from a weird dreary Pacific Northwest nursery mystery novel.”
Consider this the latest page in a story he’s spent the past few years writing. His back story includes fleeing Vancouver years ago to hole up in a sprawling island home to care for an ailing grandmother, the relative solitude giving him ample time to invent the character that would become analogue-obsessed rocker Art d’Ecco. And what a great character that creation is, all pageboy hair, greasepaint-and-rouge makeup, and Rodney Bingenheimer fashion cues—right down to the retina-searing flares and platform shoes.
The persona brings to mind Letterman-appearance Crispin Hellion Glover, Blue Velvet’s candy-coloured-clown-loving Ben, Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill, and every glam, goth, and metal rock star who’s ever caked on ghost-white Celebré Pro-HD Cream Makeup. And if that doesn’t exactly line up with reality, d’Ecco isn’t overly worried. All the better if people want to imagine him hitting the local co-op or jogging along the roads of Saturna, Saltspring, Gabriola, Mudge, Mayne, or Pender island (go ahead and guess which one) in space-suit silver shorts and gold lamé boots with a feather-boa headband.
“At this point in the game, it’s very on brand to kind of blur the lines,” he says bemusedly. “The more the echo chamber writes absurd things about me, the more I don’t correct it.”
That d’Ecco has a flair for the dramatic during the interview process won’t shock anyone who’s heard his crazily accomplished new release, Trespasser, a record, it should be noted, that solidified his long transformation from one time Vancouver indie-scene bit player to ’70s-Berlin obsessive with a fantastically out-there vision.
Because of the way that d’Ecco looks, he’s been slapped with the glam label more than once, which, to be fair, fits as a descriptor for the stomping “Last in Line” and the ghost-of-Major-Tom reverie “The Hunted”.
But to suggest that Trespasser plants its flag in one genre does the album a massive disservice. “Joy” is classic ’60s paisley pop shot up with Jesus and Mary Chain distortion, “Mary” sweetens bubblegum rock with regal chamber-pop strings, and “Dark Days (Revisited)” jumps headfirst into the cold, black waters of classic goth. Through it all, d’Ecco sings in an often gauzy, pleasantly otherworldly voice that suggests a kinship with the McDonald brothers from Redd Kross.
The seeds of Trespasser were planted long ago. Born in Ottawa, d’Ecco moved around a lot as a kid, his family spending time in the States and eventually settling in Victoria. Piano lessons and classical music—consumed on vinyl—were part of his childhood from age six.
“I’m part of that last generation where your parents had a stack of rock ’n’ roll albums from the ’70s. You know—where you look at the album covers, and then look at your parents, and go ‘You guys were cool?’ I didn’t have that. Because we moved around so much, the only records that really stuck out were Beethoven and Chopin. But I was so fascinated by these black discs that would spin around with this tiny little needle amplifying things.”
D’Ecco got a crash course in pop and rock in his teens, while working as a line cook in restaurant kitchens where the radio was constantly on. Later, he’d get to know long-time Vancouver indie-scene stalwart Jason Corbett—who currently fronts the dark-wave outfit Actors—when his sister began dating him. Corbett would turn him on to game-changing giants like David Bowie and Iggy Pop, that serving as a gateway to a whole new world and leading to major left-field obsessions that include the solo works of Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese.
The future solo artist eventually joined one of Corbett’s earlier bands, Speed to Kill, among others, and while he was happy to be playing music, he wasn’t happy as a support player. He spent time in Vancouver doing nowhere bartending jobs, drinking too much, and sliding into bouts of self-doubt and depression.
“Eventually, people and your friends come out less and less to your shows,” d’Ecco relates. “It’s harder to get people interested, and you lose steam. And you develop this asshole jadedness. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that I was at a wedding in Palm Springs, 27 or 28 years old, and everyone was doing so fucking well. And I was the biggest loser at the table. It was like, ‘Oh, he plays in a band.’ And I was like, ‘I do, but do I really?’ ”
So d’Ecco’s father—recognizing that his son was going nowhere fast—came up with a plan. It involved the singer moving to a house in the Gulf Islands to care for his ailing grandmother, who was living with dementia. His caregiving role let him focus on music, which he’s always excelled at.
“I don’t know if it’s ADD just applied in the right manner, but when it comes to music and learning an instrument or learning how to write songs, or learning how to do music production, I literally have to remind myself to eat food,” he says.
First, in 2016, came a genre-jumping, wonderfully weird solo debut titled Day Fevers, notable today partly for the way that the singer looks on the cover—trimmed beard, short hair, and mirrored sunglasses; think Depeche Mode by way of late-period George Michael.
Trespasser builds fantastically on the idiosyncrasies of that debut. After recording the demos for Day Fevers with only a piano and an iPhone, d’Ecco began investing in recording and musical equipment for the follow-up, including vintage synths.
“I was creating in a vacuum, without any outside interference,” he says of writing and tweaking Trespasser’s songs in a cabin off the grid. “I couldn’t just check out and go for coffee with my girlfriend down the street.”
Not surprisingly, given the slaving he did over the songs, it’s the little things that often stand out on Trespasser, from the double-reverbed guitars and retro sax solo in “Never Tell” to the John Carpenter synth spookiness in the wraithlike “Who Is It Now?” to the Peter Hook–brand bass line in “Trespasser”.
The metamorphosis into Art d’Ecco was also something that he thought about a lot.
“You watch A Star Is Born, and Bradley Cooper’s character is considered the biggest rock star in this fictitious world that they’ve created,” d’Ecco muses. “He’s got this stubbly beard, he drinks Jack Daniel’s, has greasy hair, and it’s like ‘Go fuck yourself!—that’s not rock ’n’ roll.’ It’s so fucking campy to me, and the complete opposite of dangerous. I wanna be Iggy Pop with lipstick smeared on his face and no shirt and leather pants, smearing peanut butter on his chest. That’s rock ’n’ roll.”
He continues with, “I wanna see Bauhaus and men wearing makeup to challenge the status quo That avant garde, punk-rock attitude is so much more rock’n’ roll that we have right now. This safe glut of vanilla, whitebread, milquetoast crap. It was like ‘Am I going to be part of that problem? Or am I going to do something in my own little world to stand out and do something different?”
When he finally locked onto a look for himself, it was almost by accident. He remembers being at the decidedly un-cool locale of Victoria Mayfield Mall, in a bad mood, doing everyday mundane chores before deciding to make an impulse purchase.
“I was getting my keys cut, and kind of stewing while I waiting,” the singer recalls with laugh. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw a wig store that had this $300 human-hair bob wig. I was like ‘I’ve never been more excited in my entire life.’ I was walking through the Bay on the way back to my car at after getting my keys cut, and figured I might as well go whole hog and buy some makeup. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just freewheeling.”
And when he was ready to put it all together, no one was more shocked than his bandmates.
“We were all staying in this hotel room together, and I had all the guys in my suite and some friends over as well,” d’Ecco says excitedly. “I was like ‘Okay, I’m going to take a shower and get ready.’ There was a curtain that seperated the master room from the living room where everyone was drinking beers and hanging out. My hand was shaking as I was putting on the final stroke of lipstick on my pale face. I put the bob wig on with a suit and tie. It was some weird mix of Carol Pope from Rough Trade’s ‘High School Confidential’ meets Emo Philips meets Peter Murphy from Bauhaus.
“I don’t know what I was going for,” he continues, “but I was like ‘Fuck it.’ I swung the curtain open and was like ‘Hey guys!!!’ And they all looked at me and went ‘What. The. Fuck?’ It was the greatest moment of glee in my life. The band loved it, so it was like ‘Well, this is how I’m going to look from now on.’ ”
Today, d’Ecoo understands he comes on as fixated with a time he never knew, making him something of an outlier at a point in history when hip-hop rules the charts and the indie trenches are filled with acts cut from the same post-slacker fabric.
“We don’t need an eight-millionth Mac DeMarco–lite coming through the indie-rock channel, or Arcade Fire with big woah-woah choruses,” d’Ecco says. “By the way, I love both those bands. But that’s now done—as soon as you’ve caught that lightning in a bottle, there’s no need for someone else to do it. Being different and marching to the beat of your own drum should be the only pivot point by which an artist goes.”
There are days (most of them, actually) on whatever remote island he’s living on when Art d’Ecco isn’t slapping on the greasepaint and donning the page-boy wig.
“It’s great, because you could walk right by me on the street and not even know that it’s me,” he says. “I love that anonymity.”
As he continues to write his story, though, he’s always Art d’Ecco inside.
“For years, I chased something that wasn’t there,” he admits proudly. “All it took was some introspection and self-actualization to put something into gear that was honest.”
Art d’Ecco plays a Trespasser album-release party at the Biltmore Cabaret on November 16.