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16 novembre 2008

Fever Pitch

Music Interview - Dengue Fever / Sugar Club

Rachel McMahon (The Event guide) speak to Zac Holtzman of American/Cambodian psychedelic sextet, Dengue Fever.

Sung mostly in Khmer (one of the exceptions being the seductive but comically manipulative duet ‘Sober Driver’), LA-based six-piece Dengue Fever is a blend of American psychedelic sounds and 60’s Cambodian pop. Guitarist and vocalist Zac Holtzman explains how he and his brother Ethan were first drawn to the music of 1960’s wartime Cambodia; “In the 90’s, my brother (Ethan) went to Cambodia and collected a bunch of tapes of old music. I was living in San Francisco at the time. And then he got back and I moved from San Francisco down to LA and I, on my own, had a CD with some of the old, really neat music from Cambodia. Then when I was playing it, he was like ‘Where did you get that?’ and he showed me his tapes and then we just started talking about it and we just thought it would be a neat idea to bring back a band that was based on that body of music.”

With their newfound inspiration, the guys set out in search of an authentic Cambodian singer. “We started driving down to Long Beach because there’s a big population of Cambodians, probably 50,000 people. So we started driving down there and going to the nightclubs and seeing just different singers perform,” the guitarist recollects. “Then we went into this one club called the ‘Dragon House’ and we saw (Chhom) Nimol on stage singing with a band, and then as soon as we saw her we were really hoping that she would be the one who would sing for us. So we approached her that night and we gave her a CD and at the time she didn’t speak any English, she was just able to say ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank you’ and so we asked her if she wanted to join the band and she said ‘Yes. Thank you’”, says Zac.

As well as their American/Cambodian fusion, Zac acknowledges the influence of other cultures; “A lot of us were really into all that Ethiopian jazz music. So some of our grooves have that kind of a feel. I like a lot of like Krautrock, like German sort of electronic music, and so some of our songs have sort of that feel but (with) instruments playing, that kind of a feel.”

In 2005, the band made the trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where they performed a number of shows and recorded some new material. Zac recalls their reception; “When we first got there, we played the biggest television show which is called CTN –Cambodian Television Network. They had us on for like a two-hour episode and then they heard that we were going to be there for like two weeks, so they aired it like three or four times a day for the entire time that we were there, so it was pretty crazy. It was like they instantly got us. So we played about six shows - some of them were like smaller clubs where there would be a mixture of Cambodians and people that were over in Cambodia doing work, for NGOs or Embassy workers, or just people over there doing humanitarian type of work, and so it was kind of a mixed crowd. And those shows - everyone kind of picked up on the vibe and went crazy, kind of rock n’ roll/punk rock style.” He adds however, “But then we also played some shows that were entirely made up of a Cambodian audience and kind of in a very poor neighbourhood, and so at that show everyone tended top be more reserved and just kind of checking us out, kind of just tripping out on what they were seeing.”

From Cambodia, Nimol was given a warm welcome, as Zac explains, “They were really happy that Nimol came back, because she hadn’t been home for five years. So they were really happy that when she did come home that she was playing Cambodian music and staying true to her roots, instead of being like just completely Westernised, you know, a Hollywood pop singer.” Whether their performances will encourage other bands to start up in Cambodia, Zac is optimistic; “I hope so, because the music scene there is a little bit in need of that, you know. I mean there are a few bands that, for the most part, is just a lot of karaoke going on.”
After releasing their last record ‘Venus on Earth’ in June, plans for a new album are already well underway, as Zac explains, “We’re going to record it in December and January…we’ve got about probably seven or eight songs so far. And we recorded two of them when we were in England, because we are working with Real World and so we went to their studio for a week.” Getting involved with Peter Gabriel’s record label, Real World, began when the label “Saw us in Spain once at this festival and then I think they were very interested and wanted to see us play a few more times. So then they came to a couple of our shows in England. And after that they wanted to work together. We put out our last record with them, just in Europe, and I think we’re going to hopefully do another one,” says the guitarist/vocalist.

Contemplating Dengue Fever’s possible future developments, Zac considers, “There’s this Cambodian instrument called a chapei dong veng, which means like a long-necked guitar - it’s kind of like a long-necked banjo instrument that has a really deep kerplunky kind of a sound and I’d like to get one of those. I think that would be really cool to have an electric chapei.” Zac muses, “So we badly need to get one of those. And then I feel a couple of our tunes that we’ve been jamming in the studio have sort of a psychedelic disco kind of feel, so that’s a direction that I feel it’s sort of going”.

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