BRING THE HEAT
By Simon Weedn
The term “melting pot” gets thrown around a lot these days, especially as more contemporary acts embrace a variety of influence and styles. However, none may exemplify or define the term, musically, more perfectly than Los Angeles’ own, Dengue Fever. Drawing inspiration from indie, surf and psychedelic rock, and blending it with the distinct, foreign flavors of Cambodian regional and pop music, Dengue Fever may have one of the most unique and diverse sounds in not just the United States, but the entire world.
With over a decade worth of experience as a band, and five records to its name, Dengue Fever continues to demonstrate a combination of talented and skillful songwriting and re-interpretation, as well as incredible, brilliant live shows. In addition to its records, the band was also the focal point of a documentary, Sleepwalking Through The Mekong, which captured the band’s experience touring through some of the major and rural areas of Cambodia in 2005. Though the band has stayed fairly active since its 2001 inception, 2013 has managed to be one of the band’s busiest years yet.
First, the band released its fifth studio LP, In The Ley Lines, which it had the awesome privilege to record at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios out in the countyside of England. “When we did that recording, they invited us to stay and record during the middle of our tour in England,” explains founding member and the band’s organist, Ethan Holtzman.
“When we were driving out there, we drove past Stonehenge and I know there’s these ‘Ley Lines’ that are pathways for unexplained energy . . . and then we were talking about it with the people over at Real World, and they were saying the lines ran right through Real World Recording Studio. So that’s why we put that name out and it stuck.”
The record features a variety of material for fans including new recordings and arrangements of previously released material, two of the band’s newer tunes recorded for the first time and an awesome five song live set that was tracked in front of an audience. Though the record only contains a modicum of new songs, long time fans will be enthralled by the re-imagining of older material, while newcomers will get a taste of one of the things the band is most known for, stunning live performances.
Second, the band has just released a three song EP entitled, Girl From The North, which provides fans with a first glimpse of some of the completely new material that the band has been working on in the later part of this year. About the title track, Holtzman comments, “It has sort of a Cambodian/Thai/hill tribe/traditional vibe to it. The guitar lines stem from that, and Nimol, our singer, grew up in Cambodia, and she also lived in a Thai refugee camp. There’s a style of music out of there called Thai Mor Lam music, and that one song is influenced by it.”
Lastly, and probably the biggest news for Dengue Fever this year, was the band announcing the start of its very own independent record label, Tuk Tuk Records. In The Ley Lines and Girl From The North marked the label’s first releases, and the band hopes the label can be an exceptional vehicle for its own music. “It’s nice to do whatever we want and have our own deadlines and we’re excited to see where we can go with it,” says Holtzman. However, when asked about it, Ethan doesn’t rule out the possibility of Tuk Tuk Records growing to take on releasing work by other artists as well. “For now we’re going to try to just do our own music, but we’re totally open to the idea of signing other bands and putting stuff out. But right now it’s just a matter of getting the ball rolling, getting some songs out, and seeing how we do.”
With so much to look back and reflect on in 2013, as the band plays a final set of West Coast shows to round out the year, there’s a lot for Dengue Fever to be proud of. While most bands might be overwhelmed by the amount of work that just an LP, an EP or an independent record label might present, Dengue Fever seems to look forward to and thrive on the challenge of it all. One thing that seems most present, especially in Ethan Holtzman’s voice, as he talks about all of these various projects, is that the band is genuinely enjoying all of this work. Dengue Fever is looking forward to taking on new challenges and making more new art for its fans all over the world in the coming year.
Dengue Fever at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Rd., Pioneertown, (760) 365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com. Sat, Dec. 7. 9pm. $1