“Before it was partly Cambodian and partly indie rock,” explains Williams of the band’s evolution. “Now it’s 100 percent both.”
Plunging headlong into their second decade as a band, DENGUE FEVER’s new album, The Deepest Lake, their fifth full-length of all-new material, comes at a critical juncture in the band’s career. In 2013, after forming their own label Tuk Tuk Records, the band crossed over into a brave new world as both artist and record label owner’s. Today they find themselves able to wear two hats – as creative musicians with no boundaries as well as label owners who make their own decisions on where, when and how to fabricate their career.
The net result is the aforementioned, The Deepest Lake, a record with more musical diversions than the Mekong River itself. Released in January 27, 2015 – US/Canada & February 2, 2015 in the rest of the world, the ten tracks on The Deepest Lake will satiate longtime fans as well as newcomers looking for something altogether different. Widely recognized for their trademark blend of 60’s Cambodian pop and psychedelic rock, Dengue Fever’s latest release expands their musical palette to include Khmer rap, Latin grooves, Afro percussion, layered Stax-like horns and more.
From the keyboard and percussion heavy opening track, “Tokay”, lead singer Chhom Nimol’s unmistakable bird-like Khmer vocals lead the band on a evolutionary musical journey on The Deepest Lake. Be it the John Doe & Exene boy/girl vocals on “Rom Say Sok” that gets your indie grooves on or the six plus minute psychedelic jam on “Cardboard Castles”, it’s pretty evident that this is a band looking to take chances and not play it safe. By following their instincts on this record and letting many of the final tracks come out of extended jams when demo’ing the album, the band played to their musical strengths. No longer was there a need to ‘find’ a song, the songs on The Deepest Lake came to them.
The band’s newly established independence as both label owner and artist marks yet another chapter in the continual evolution of a group unlike many other bands in the Los Angeles music scene. It all began in 2002 when Dengue Fever formed and released their eponymous debut (2003). Packed chock full of ‘lost’ Khmer covers, the band paid homage to Khmer rock, a hybrid of Vietnam War era surf, psych and classic rock performed by Cambodian giants like Ros Sereysothea, Pan Ron and Sinn Sisamouth.
The band’s critically acclaimed sophomore follow-up, Escape from Dragon House (2005) found them writing and performing original material in earnest. Amazon.com named Dragon House the #1 international release for 2005, and Mojo magazine named it in their Top 10 World Music releases of 2006.
In 2008, their third release Venus on Earth became the band’s best selling album. It garnered praise from both critics and fans the world over. In fact, Venus on Earth found support from iconic musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Ray Davies who each made mention of the band in the press.
DENGUE FEVER’s fourth release, Cannibal Courtship (Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group), was released in April 2011 and found the band expanding beyond their usual comfort zone and experimenting with new vocal harmonies and sounds.
The roots of the band began in the late 1990’s with a 6-month trek through Southeast Asia by Keyboardist Ethan Holtzman. Returning to Los Angeles with a suitcase crammed full of Cambodian cassette tapes, Holtzman and his brother Zac – who had discovered the same music through a friend working at a record store in San Francisco – reunited. The brothers soon bonded over their love of vintage Cambodian rock and in 2002 founded the band with saxophonist, David Ralicke (Beck/Brazzaville); drummer, Paul Dreux Smith; and bassist, Senon Williams (Radar Brothers). Shortly thereafter the members were on hot pursuit for the ideal Cambodian chanteuse to complete their outfit. After a short period of musical courtship that began at a Cambodian nightclub in Long Beach, CA., Nimol joined the band when she realized the band shared a genuine passion for the music and culture of her homeland.
It’s that cross pollination of Khmer rock, garage rock, psychedelic rock and the British Invasion sound that has pushed the band to heights they could only dream of in 2002. DENGUE FEVER has performed in front of thousands of fans at such noted music festivals as WOMAD (UK, AUS, NZ), WOMEX (Spain), Melbourne Festival (AUS), Glastonbury (UK), Bumerbshoot, (USA), Transmusicales (France), Roskilde (Denmark), Electric Picnic (Ireland), Peace and Love (Sweden), Treasure Island (USA) among many others. Their songs have appeared in films such as City of Ghosts, Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, The Hangover 2, the Showtime series Weeds, the HBO’s hit series True Blood (who named an entire episode after one of their songs) and featured the band’s music, CBS’ series CSI: Las Vegas and numerous independent documentaries.
With band profiles in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Mojo, Uncut, Magnet, Wired, NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Radio Australia, KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and “World Café Live”, the time is truly ripe for at least another decade of breaking down more musical barriers. The Deepest Lake is the first, glorious musical step in that new direction.