tale that is often told on how Ethan Holtzman started the six-piece
Silver Lake-based Dengue Fever is as follows: While on a six-month
adventure through Asia IN 1997, Ethan Holtzman had a revelatory
moment by the ruins of Angkor Wat, near Phnom Penh. Holtzman's Scottish
traveling companion Russ had been bitten by a mosquito, and during
their ride to the ruins Russ turned pale and began to sweat. Their
driver was blaring Cambodian oldies from the '60s, a buzzy psych-rock
with eerily provocative female vocals. And Holtzman, a multi-instrumentalist
with an ear for musical texture, fell into a trance. At that time,
he realized he needed to start a band that used Cambodian music
as its template Teaming up with his brother, they went on a long
search for the right singer before they found Nimol. Listed below
are interviews that provide some "stories" behind "The
- Head Scientist of the Band of Polyglot Musical Inventors
Asians: Regarding the band - how was the trust
essential to the creative development of the band developed
within the band considering the language and cultural issues
(Ch’hom learning English and the band learning Khmer,
Ch’hom’s love to dance while the other band members
loving to talk, Ch'hom’s love for shimmering Cambodian
silk garments/ala “old-school royalty” and the
other band members’ rock and roll attire, Ch’hom’s
ability to bring the entire venue to a hush compared to the
band’s ability to “smash the place up=,”)
– along with what does the future hold with Ch’hom
increased fluency and ability to sing in English?
was a big issue for the birth of Dengue Fever. At the beginning
Nimol and her sister Chorvin were very distrustful of us.
They did not speak any English and the idea of playing music
with us seemed suspicious. What did we really want? My brother
had a three foot beard at the time, and my moustache was thin
and greasy. We must have visited the Dragon House, where Nimol
used to work, six or seven times before she finally agreed
to come practice with us. When she finally came to the studio
to sing with us, from the first note she sang, we all felt
a powerful connection.
There were cultural differences as well.
For example if we scheduled a band practice at 7pm, Nimol
would arrive at 9pm. This became the norm. After traveling
to Cambodia we realized that Cambodians were more laid back
on punctuality. They take a relaxed approach to life and
time. In order to be more productive in the band, we would
always pad the time we needed Nimol to be in the studio.
So if we were recording her vocals at 7pm we would tell
her 5pm and it worked out fine for a while. Now, Nimol speaks
more English and says, “What time do you really need
me to be there?”
Asians: Acknowledging that Nimol provided
legitimacy to the band’s Cambodian pop sensitivities
and that a degree of fluency is generally needed to understand
the culture and the music that stem from its people, how
did the band’s journey of incorporating Nimol’s
vocal and learning Khmer transformed the band’s music
that includes various forms of instrumentation that provided
impeccable representations of quality Cambodian music?
started our band focusing on some great music that was created
in Cambodia in the late sixties. We found major inspirations
from this music and Nimol was the best singer alive to give
these great Cambodian songs justice.
It didn't take very long before we realized the importance
of these songs for all Cambodians. These original musicians
were killed for playing music. By shining more light on
this incredible body of work, it allows more people to learn
what happened when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over
Cambodia. It must never happen again.
with Zac Holtzman
circumstances or situations (considering that your dad played
guitar at the summer camps that you attended as a kid) prompted
your purchase of Cambodian music during your stay with a friend
in San Francisco, along with what attracted you to these songs,
considering the other “PC” choices with radio
filled with boy bands, etc.?
Holtzman: I never got into the "boy
band" thing. I grew up listening to Devo, the Beach
Boys (I guess they could be a "boy band"), the
Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and what ever else
came my way. We camped out a lot growing up, and would always
bring instruments and sing murder ballads and rail road
songs around the fire. I lived in SF (San Francisco) for
ten years and my friend Byram worked at Aquarius Records.
He was always recommending good stuff. The Cambodian music
he suggested was one of many great albums.
Asians: Could you describe your transition
from Dieselhed’s blend of country, punk and pseudo-classic
rock in 2000, while working with producers such as Dwight
Yoakam’s engineer Dustry Wakeman and working with
Link Wray, to entering the exotic world of Dengue Fever
Holtzman: The "transition" from
Dieselhed to Dengue Fever; In Dieslhed we wrote songs about
things that we saw or felt while walking around on this
world. Sometimes it's tiny things that point to bigger truths.
We do the same thing in Dengue Fever. I guess one difference
is that some songs we translate into Khmer for Nimol, and
sometimes Nimol tells her story and pulls songs into totally
different directions. We don't worry about sounding a certain
way. We just pull from all our inspirations and when something
works and feels good we keep going with it.
to Read the Interviews with Senon Williams, David Ralicke
and Paul Smith
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