The concept was simple: Brothers Zac and Ethan Holtzman wanted to find a Cambodian singer and relive ’60s Cambodian pop. Things clicked into place when Chhom Nimol, a singer working a Cambodian lounge in Long Beach, agreed to join the band. The whole thing, says guitarist/singer Zac Holtzman, was supposed to be just for fun, but it ended up becoming Dengue Fever.
“We didn’t think about it that much,” he says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “We never thought about how it was gonna go over or anything like that. We had such a great time at the first couple of shows. Right off the bat, we were approached by Matt Dillon to have a song in his film City of Ghosts. It was just good timing. We decided to record an album.” Released in 2003, the self-titled CD was a fun, if dodgy, mix of psychedelia, surf, Cambodian pop melodies, and Nimol’s eerie ghost singing. Somehow, it caught on. Two years later, Dengue Fever was touring Cambodia, where they filmed the documentary Sleepwalking Through the Mekong. This year they released Cannibal Courtship, their seventh studio CD.
Dengue Fever recently posted an online contest to name Zac’s new creation, a stringed instrument made by combining one half of a Fender Jazzmaster electric guitar with one half of an indigenous Cambodian instrument with two strings called a chapei dong veng. The winning entry? Mastodong. “It has two necks,” says Holtzman. “I’ve been experimenting with strings on the chapei, and so far the best ones are weed-whacking strings from Home Depot. The green ones. They tune up nicely, and they have a good, long sustain.”
Maus Haus and DJ Claire also perform.
DENGUE FEVER: The Casbah, Friday, April 29, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $13 advance; $15 day of show.