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Dazed and Confused: How I found myself playing hard rock with Sangvar Day

In the collective imaginary rock bands rehearse in dark dusty basements, with plenty of booze and other substances at their disposal to “enhance” their creativity. I certainly didn’t expect anything different when I first listened to Sangvar Day’s alternative rock tracks on line. I called the band to answer their ad for a singer and the drummer, ‘Juju’, told me: “Yeah, let’s meet at the French elementary school. We’ll jam there. It’s perfect”.

And there I was, in a clean white-walled music classroom with history posters and pictures of kids on the walls, adding a bluesy touch to the angry sound of the band. “Those are all original pieces. What do you think? Can you sing on them?” Julian, the main songwriter, asked me. Most pieces were a mix of Julian’s diabolic guitar riffs married to Juju’s funky drumming mayhem - not exactly what I was used to but they had been looking for a singer for months and I was looking for something hard. The songs quickly started to come together and along with them came our first gig.

Sharky Bar was fond of Sangvar Day even before I was part of the band. The managers hired us for a gig immediately when they heard the band had a new singer. What they probably didn’t know was that the new guy (yeah, that would be me) didn’t even have the time to put together some decent lyrics. I had all the melodies in my head but no specific words to voice them. On the night of the gig I got up on stage hoping that everyone was drunk enough to ignore my collage of meaningless words. I had experience on my side because I had frequently come up with random lines on stage back in Italy. Most of the crowd at Sharkys however would be native speakers and, therefore, I wouldn’t be able to fool them.

Luckily that night the audience seemed to be more interested in the band’s sound and attitude than (the lack of) my poetic skills. People welcomed the songs with head-banging and shouting, and glasses were raised in appreciation. At the end of the concert, proud to have gotten away with it, I realized that I hadn’t run that big of a risk. If people were interested in pretty lyrics, they would have been home listening to some James Blunt tunes, not unleashing their demons with us. 

We played Sharky several times before venturing into other venues - Cherry Bomb, Equinox, and Slur Bar followed. Every time we were paired up with other bands. Seasoned guitar masters and punk teenagers alike - we hit the stage hard and convinced everyone of the fact that the rock scene in Cambodia is a serious thing. At the beginning we often opened for Splitter, one of the veteran bands on the hard rock scene. With their wall of sound, a frontman who seems to be dancing with Satan when on stage, and plenty of powerful originals - they always put on a great show. It was hard for me to live up to the infernal vitality of Splitter’s lead singer Sean because I was coming from a songwriting background and was used to sitting with a guitar on my lap.

After months of concerts our identity was consolidated and we were ready to answer the famous, hated and constantly-asked question: “What do you sound like?”. Personally, I agree with those who say our sound is in debt to bands like Rage against the Machine, The Incubus, Pearl Jam and The Red Hot Chili Peppers - after all I grew up with albums like “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” and “Ten”. However, if you ask Mat (our eclectic bass player) or Juju, both of whom have a more progressive-rock background, they’ll probably say something completely different and we’ll all end up in a fight. Fights happen every time we modify one verse in a song, or choose a track list for a concert, with absurd conversations and explanations to support our claims. It’s like going back to being teenagers - sometimes we are just arguing for the sake of it.

We owe a lot to Cambodia for the inspiration our songs. The rage you hear in our music comes from living here in the Kingdom - even if we haven’t included Khmer traditional elements like most of the more popular bands are doing at the moment. Our lyrics often refer to the politics of Cambodia. For example, the song ‘Mekong Drums’ talks about the construction of huge hydropower dams on the Mekong River. This dam will have a horrible impact on Cambodian people. These are complicated themes - but I must say that it was relatively easy to give words to our songs. There is plenty to talk about when you live in Cambodia. On any given day of the week you may encounter prostitutes, corrupted cops, fugitives and other characters.

Rob, from Sangvar Day


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