Photo: Lauren Dukoff
Dengue Fever has roots in Echo Park and Silver Lake but also in Long Beach’s Little Cambodia. In anticipation of April’s Imprint Conference, I talked to lengthy bearded guitar player Zac Holtzman and otherworldly singer Chhom Nimol of the Cambodian psychedelic rock-inspired band about the first time I saw them play in the second largest population of Cambodians outside Southeast Asia, the Khmer music scene, and the group’s latest music and new record label, TUK TUK.
ICL: What was the name of the Cambodian restaurant where I first met the band and saw you guys play with the house instruments?
ZH: Dragon House. Nimol used to sing there, and we had to turn down a lot of good shows on Friday and Saturday nights due to her commitment. Then, at some point, the band became more important. That’s why we called the album at the time Escape From Dragon House.
ICL: What was the dance where everyone went around in a large circle? That was amazing!
NC: In Khmer, it’s called a roamvong. It’s a traditional dance that everyone can do, boys and girls together. We dance every time we hear the roamvong music, but especially on New Year’s.
ICL: Can you talk a little bit about the music scene in Little Cambodia?
NC: Most of the musicians in Little Cambodia have been there for a long time. They are very professional and very talented, and usually work in the restaurants or clubs. There are a lot of singers that work in those clubs, but sometimes a special one will come over from Cambodia to do a show. Not very many Cambodian bands tour so we do not see them very much, but there are some good shops in Little Cambodia also that sell karaoke DVDs and CDs and always have new popular music.
ICL: Got any favorite restaurants in Little Cambodia that you recommend?
NC: There’s so much good food in Little Cambodia, but my three favorites are Sophy’s for the beef jerky and catfish, La Lune for their beef lok lak fried rice, and New Paradise makes a great rice porridge breakfast.
Photo: Lauren Dukoff
ICL: Have you found other pockets of Cambodian culture around the U.S.?
NC: Yes, there are Cambodian communities all across the United States. Everywhere from Fresno, CA to Manassas, VA. Each community is different but all share the same love of Cambodian culture: food, music, family. I get a chance to travel and meet a lot of people in the different communities, and no matter what city I’m in, when I see my Cambodian community, I feel like I’m home.
ICL: The band just launched its own label. Can you talk about TUK TUK’s upcoming releases?
ZH: We recorded an album at Peter Gabriel’s studio in England. I think that’s the first release we have planned. And then we have an album of our last tour in Cambodia. We’ve also been working a lot in our studio on a handful of new songs. I’ve been driving around listening to the rough mixes, and I’m liking the new directions we’re drifting in.
Next week: A Q&A with Cara Mullio and Jennifer Mulland, authors of Long Beach Architecture: The Unexpected Metropolis.