Dengue Fever is an internationally celebrated band with strong Long Beach roots. With an eclectic sound that is comprised of Cambodian surf-garage, American psychedelic, and exotic female vocals, the band has four critically acclaimed albums under their belt. They currently have a residency coming up at the Federal Bar while working on their latest album. Together for over a decade, their popularity continues to soar. Their music has been featured in a variety of high profile film and television productions. The future holds no limits for the wild sounds of Dengue Fever. Guitarist and songwriter Zac Holtzman recently took some time with us to discuss the band’s current endeavors and unique history.
LBI: How does the band’s unique name tie into the music that you play?
Zac Holtzman: Well, my brother Ethan went to Cambodia in the early 90s with a friend who caught dengue fever. They had to take him to a hospital because he became very very sick. So they had to drive a truck over these really rough roads. My brother kept looking back through the cab to see how his friend was doing and he was pasty white, cold sweating and not doing so good. The whole time, the driver kept playing this tape over and over again during the ride. It was all 60s, early 70s Cambodian rock n roll. So, that’s how the dengue ties in with the band. At the same time, the band name reminded us of Dance Fever, Disco Fever, Saturday Night Fever (laughs).
Cambodian pop music of the 60s up until the mid-70s has a distinct surf/psychedelic sound. Why did Cambodian psychedelic rock have more of an influence than American psychedelic rock?
We grew up on the American and British psychedelic stuff, loved it. Then all of a sudden, we hear stuff that’s going on in other parts of the world like Cambodia, Turkey, and Iran. We realized that they were influenced by this music too. They had their own bands that were rocking out too. There’s a familiarity and an exotic aspect to it that’s really cool.
Did the breakout success of your debut LP surprise the band and how has your widespread popularity changed your lives over the past decade?
Yeah, we originally formed a band for just one show and it was such a crowded show, we were like hey, let’s play more shows and while we’re at it lets record an album. Then Matt Dillon used our song for his movie, City of Ghosts. It’s cool it got a such a big response from everybody. It has allowed all of us to travel the world and just make our music.
What was it like having your music featured in Hangover II and Showtime’s Weeds?
It’s cool and I really like the films of Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Coffee and Cigarettes, and Mystery Train to name a few). He included one of our songs in his movie, Broken Flowers…here he is, using our art for his film.
With each release, more experimentation with the band’s sound seems to take place. Do you find it limiting for the band to stay in just one style of music?
With this album that we’re doing now, we purposely doing a bit less production and making it a little bit more raw. We’re going for a smaller kind of sound. Let’s just set up the mics and play some music.
How was the process of using a pledge music campaign with your latest release different from recording for an established label?
In the past, labels would give us a budget and we would buy a little bit of gear for own little studio that we use. We would have to use bigger studios as well, to get better drum sounds. Now we have our own label that our fans have supported. We can put it all into our studio, sick colored vinyl, and stuff like that. We have more control even though we always did in the past. We’ve worked with some really great people over the years. Now we can spend wisely on people that we know, who do a good job.
What led up to your upcoming residency at the Federal Bar and what can audiences expect.
I think they’re affiliated with the Knitting Factory, where we’ve played a lot. We were one of the first rock n roll shows they did and it sold out. Everyone had a blast. So they asked if us if we’d want to play regularly, we said yeah, we’re working an album, and there’s nothing that gets a song into shape more than playing it live. Sometimes you record a song, play it on tour, and then end up thinking of different ways you should’ve recorded it.
If you had to pick one album from the past 30 years to remake, which band and album would it be?
The 13th Floor Elevators…that would be a cool one to do
After your residency at the Federal Bar, what plans does the have for the rest of the year?
We have shows coming up in Chicago and Madison. There’s talk of going to Asia and we’d like to do Europe as well. If we find a European label to work with, we can get back over there but we have distribution in Europe. In Europe, there is a lot of flying and festival playing that we do. In the United States it’s more just get in the van and bring your own gear.[adrotate banner=”4″]