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Interviews with Dengue Fever's Band Members
Senon Williams, Paul Smith & David Ralicke
(the "Seven Foot Black Guy," the Sax/Woodwinds Person & "Mr. Skins")

 

US Asians: Considering your taste in slo-core (ala Radar Brothers), punk and Charles Mingus – along with artists such as Untouchables, Haircuts That Kill, 45 Grave… - what attracted you to a provocative reinvented version of American music caked with reberb and distortion that integrated the sound of traditional Cambodian music and the ability of non-traditionalist musicians Zac and Ethan’s quasi-accidental creative fantasy (heard in songs such as “Seeing Hands”) to remain true to the roots of Cambodian rock music, especially considering that Nimol joined the band after you?

Senon Williams: We have no plans and never did plan on staying true to any roots. We set out to make good music that strayed away from what we and everyone else was doing in our neighborhood. We wanted our music to take us away...away to space or the deepest ocean where bio-luminescent creatures live, we wanted to make something pretty and familiar but unrecognisable. We wanted to do something fun that strikes our peers as something fresh and simple. We are not historians or purists, we are musicians who are having fun. I have always been attracted to having a good time and as soon as Zac called me and told me his idea.. I said where, when...who's bringing the beer?

US Asians: Remembering your words that "Well-written pop songs tend to have an emotional center" – how was the creative process to write these compositions he says. He adds that the songs offer room for some improvisation and introduction of diverse elements from rock and jazz that keep them interesting to perform.

Senon Williams: When we write, it is usually Zac, Paul, Ethan and myself working out the songs. Zac will work at home on the vocal ideas. Lately he has been coming to the "The Shoebox" studio with me and we will record many different ideas for Nimol. After we are finished, Nimol takes them and makes them her own. Now that we are singing more english tunes and Nimol understands the words - not just the sounds but the deeper meanings - her performances have become more emotionally charged.

Interview continues below

DAVID RALICKE (Mr. Sax/Woodwinds)
Considering your musical background (i.e. Beck, Ziggy Marley, Natalie Merchant, Ozomatli, Duke Spirit, The Bird and The Bee, Blues Traveler, Ben Harper, David Brown’s Brazzaville, Macy Gray, etc.), what prompted your interest in music that integrated various musical cultures throughout the world and joining Dengue Fever – as oppose to the safer route that players such as Kenny G. has taken?

For my listening pleasure I have very eclectic musical tastes. Since I was a kid I've been buying records and cd's of music created and played by great artists, well known and unknown, from around the world . I have also been curious about the many hybrids and extensions of genres created as musicians from different back-rounds gather to play and to learn each others music. I have also been part of such amalgamations before.

There is music I like and music that does not interest me regardless of genre or cultural origin. It is my view that music emanates from ones heart and to really play something well one must first deeply desire to do it. Though I have performed and recorded with various "popular" artists none of them had interest in me playing in a smooth jazz style for their music nor did I ever have a desire to do so. When Ethan asked me to sit in at Dengue Fever's first show I thought it would be enjoyable to play something in a new context. It seemed a natural extension to my interests and experiences in music thus far.

US Asians: What were the unexpected creative rewards during the band’s transition from doing covers to writing original music in Khmer and English – acknowledging the paths taken with Nimol and translators to properly embrace the spirit of the Cambodian pop music scene and its pioneering artists – as oppose to Martin Denny/Les Baxter/Arthur Lyman that views other cultures as exotica?

Senon Williams: The original artists that inspired us, Sinn Sisamouth, Ros Soreysothea, Pan Ron and many others will always be a part of our music. A piece of their soul is in every Cambodian.. They are true treasures and as long as Nimol is singing a song, she will embrace the spirit of Cambodian pop because it is in her fiber. We can do what every we want and we can't go astray. The combination of all of us and our attempt to push ourselves beyond what we have already done is in the true spirit of provocation and progress. We look to the future not the past. I think this is what gave 60s and 70s Cambodian pop its beauty and edge.

US Asians: Considering the structure of "Tiger Phone Card" (along with songs such “Sober Driver” that makes it one of Dengue Fever's more accessible tracks, especially since it sung entirely in English via Nimol Ch'hom and Zac Holtzman singing as a duet, how does the band balance maintaining its creative vision while having its music accessible?

Senon Williams: The thing about accessibility, it is the same as being innovative. We can copy some popular shit that has already been laid out before us that will fail miserably and we'd be left scratching our heads saying I (we) thought we were playing accessible music? We are forging our own path. We have no other hope then to get to the next stage...next fest...make the next soundtrack..and do it our way. I think because we are doing something that rests somewhere between two worlds we just got to hope that a few people from here and few people from there will find what we do makes them happy. and for the rest of the folks they can go to Kinko's to buy their next album.

PAUL SMITH (aka "Mr. Skins" on DW Drum)
Acknowledging your role as the group’s producer and skills in reading music, has this been strategic in playing Dengue Fever’s eclectic blend of a potpourri of music with a Cambodian foundation – especially with the Ethiopian-influenced longer melodic phrases with its unique syncopation and your musical influences (i.e. Fela Kuti/”Expensive Shit,” Portishead/”Threads,” Charles Mingus/”Haitian Fight Song,” Roy Ayers/”Everyone Loves the Sunshine” and The Roots/”The Seed 2.0”?

Nothing we do, creatively speaking, is really that strategic. We are a "from the gut" group of people. I did spend some years in the recording trenches which allows us to be more self contained. We can avoid working with outside producers and studios if need be. As far as my influences are concerned, I'm sure they leave an imprint, but, everyone in the band does have outside influences that creep in and keep it fresh so, ultimately, we all affect the end result.

What are your reflections on the event that happened on April 17th, 1975 (along with why it is important for the general public to know and remember) - the day that the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh (the capital of Cambodia) and this government's ban or removal of all artists (including musicians) from the city such as the prolific Ros Sereysothea and Sinn Sisamouth while prompting the creation of Dengue Fever – and the issues Dengue Fever faces reviving a type of foreign music destroyed as a by-product of an oppressive government?

What took place on April 17th, 1975 was an atrocity. The attempt to control the masses like that, for reasons like theirs, is the darkest part of mankind. The specificity of targeting people more likely to be free thinkers like artists, doctors, educators, and so on...is even more saddening. The issues that we face as a band, I believe to be mostly positive, though. For people who were around before and during this dark period it can be very cathartic to hear those songs again. When we were in Cambodia, this was something we were told several times and it was very touching for all of us.

Click HERE to Return to the Beginning of the Feature

Read the Interviews and Purchase Their Music by Clicking on the Graphics Below
Chhom Nimol
Ethan Holtzman
Zac Holtzman
Sean Williams
David Railke
Paul Smith
Bowers & Wilkins MySpace Home Facebook Documentary YouTube Channel

 

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