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The Sound and the Dandy: Art d'Ecco's Singular Aesthetic Transformed Him

Art d'Ecco never stops transforming.
Art d'Ecco never stops transforming. Big Hassle
Art d’Ecco took two tries.

That’s something d’Ecco can tell you from hindsight. He didn’t know it before he moved into his grandmother’s home in the Gulf Islands just northwest of the United States-Canada border. Prior to that, d'Ecco had been living in Vancouver, bouncing aimlessly between bands, tending bar and spinning his wheels. He was also deeply in debt.

So when his father suggested he move in with his grandmother, d'Ecco agreed, and so began his first attempt at becoming himself. His grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and suffered from debilitating anxiety attacks in the evening because of sundowning syndrome. She would panic over finding her daughter (dead for years after a drowning accident) and being stalked by her abusive ex-husband, whom she’d run from decades earlier in a midnight move. Straight away, d’Ecco wondered if he was in over his head and above his pay grade, but eventually he discovered that noodling on the piano — usually the intro to “Bohemian Rhapsody” — helped calm her during episodes.

During the day, d’Ecco cleared the property's overgrown lawn and rose garden, both obscured by three feet of grass. When his grandmother moved into an assisted-living facility, d'Ecco stayed in the house, spending evenings alone at the piano with a bottle of wine. On days when a renovation crew worked on getting the house ready to sell, he escaped to a dead-end road overlooking the mountains and recorded demos in the back seat of his car.

The result — and the first attempt at becoming himself — was a self-released debut album, Day Fevers. On the black-and-white cover, d’Ecco wears aviators that reflect the landscape, a couple days' worth of stubble visible across his chin. And Day Fevers did exactly what a huge amount of albums by virtually unknown artists do: It fizzled at the end of its album cycle. D’Ecco wasn’t having it.

“I was like, ‘That’s it? No one’s heard this album, and I feel like it’s done,’” he recalls. “I took it as a challenge. I was very egoic in that way. I was like, ‘I’m going to fucking do this right. Let me double down. Let me drain my bank account. Let me buy all the gear that I think I need to create this little musical language that I need to get my point across.’”

And that's what he did. He found his own cottage in the Gulf Islands, moved in with his vinyl, and, he says, “became very maniacal about the whole process.”

By now the persona and costuming of Art d’Ecco had begun to take shape. In full garb, he resembles a vaudeville dandy, pale-faced and perpetually wide-eyed, his mime-white makeup set off by a heavy slick of red lipstick and framed by a geometric bob (think Louise Brooks if she let it grow to her chin). The wig, it just so happens, was the catalyst for it all. After all, he saw it first.

It was just prior to the release of Day Fevers. D’Ecco was two shows in a small tour deep. The band had made it to Victoria, and d’Ecco stopped off at the Mayfair mall (also home to the muffin shop that gave him his first job) to get a few keys made.

“I was thinking a lot about the last show and my second show coming up that night, and I thought, ‘Let me do something impulsive and drastic,’” he says. “And that’s when I saw a wig store fifteen feet away from me. I’m like, ‘I’m going to spend $350 on a human-hair bob wig and see how this goes.’”

But he couldn't just wear the wig. He picked up makeup on the way out, and sprang the look in its entirety on his band just before that night's show.

Still, his persona didn’t properly reach the music or its zenith until last year’s Trespasser, aka attempt number two at being Art d’Ecco. The record is a stylish ode to glam rock and post-punk with the attendant influences: David Bowie’s Berlin period, Lou Reed, the Cure and New Order. “Nobody’s Home,” which pairs an agile bass line with shimmery synths, can’t hide its devotion to Soft Cell. “The Hunted” encases a vaguely country twang in reverb, in a distinctly Deerhunter move.

It's also the album that landed him a record deal, a manager and an agent. On its cover, d’Ecco sits with his arm draped over his knee, suited up and painted white, liner-heavy eyes gazing straight into the lens. It’s technically his second try, but d’Ecco intends Trespasser to be his initial artistic statement. He even pulled Day Fevers from streaming services at the advice of his team.

D’Ecco is also intent on honing the persona; to him, the best musicians are aesthetes. He likes Viagra Boys (“They look like five meth dealers”) and Australian punk outfit Amyl and the Sniffers (“The guitar player’s got a redheaded mullet, and there’s something charmingly AC/DC punk rock about it"). His personal icons include Lou Reed’s bleached-blond, skintight all-leather-everything phase, Joy Division’s ultra-utilitarian and pin-straight wardrobe, and Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford’s heavy-bondage look.

He also admires the decade’s most unexpected and seemingly unintentional sartorialist: Mac DeMarco, who shot normcore and post-slacker looks into the stratosphere with Salad Days (which d’Ecco loves) and convinced a generation of indie kids to choose Viceroys over Marlboros. But he also considers DeMarco a cautionary tale: “He was this goofy-looking normcore dork with a gap and a cigarette in it. He’s Mac; that was his thing. But when things become more saturated and it inspires a second and third wave, you’re now being a parody of yourself within this thing that you created.”

At present, d’Ecco doesn’t have a wave of imitators threatening to usurp his aesthetic credibility. But just in case, he isn’t opposed to the idea of a third, different Art d’Ecco.

“I don’t know what the next look is, but it’s certainly not going to be this forever. I like the idea of it evolving and changing. Maybe that’s the overt Bowie influence on me,” he says. “But I think a lot of really good bands evolve, change their sound and become not only dynamic songwriters, but dynamic in terms of their aesthetic.”

Art d'Ecco, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 18, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, $10-$12.
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Elle Carroll is a writer and photographer based in Denver. She has written for Westword since 2016.
Contact: Elle Carroll