If 1960s Cambodian pop revival doesn't sound like your cup of tea, maybe you just haven't heard the multi-culti rock group Dengue Fever, brainchild of brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman, which has been making waves in the Los Angeles music scene. When Dengue came around recently to perform at Outside Lands, I sat down with Zac and lead singer Chhom Nimol to chat about vector-borne diseases, Long Beach's Little Phnom Penh, their genre-bending new album, and the revival of a musical style Pol Pot sought to wipe out.
Mother Jones: Gotta ask, what's with the name?
Zac Holtzman: When my brother was traveling in Cambodia, his traveling companion came down with dengue fever. When they were taking him to the hospital they were in this truck and driving on some crazy dirt roads. The music the driver was playing was a lot of old Cambodian tunes from the late '60s, the early '70s, the stuff we're all into—and that's how my brother heard it for the first time. So when we were thining of a name for the band he kind of went back to his sketchboook, and there it was. I heard it for the first time from my friend who was working at Aquarius Records here in San Francisco. I was playing it to my brother and he was like, 'Oh my god, these are all the same music as the tapes I collected when I was in Cambodia!' From there we were just like, we should form a band around this.
MJ: How did you find a singer?
Chhom Nimol: I was working at the Dragon House (a club in Long Beach). I worked there for three years, almost, and then I saw Zac and Ethan come; they wanted to talk to me and they ask me to be in their band. They needed a singer, and I said okay.
MJ: Is there a large Cambodian population in Long Beach?
CN: About 50,000. In Oakland, Stockton, Boston, and Texas there are communities. But in Long Beach we call it Little Phnom Penh.