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Interview with Chhom Nimol of Dengue Fever

'We've been doing very well on our own...'
Dengue Fever, 2015. pic: Marc Walker
This year Dengue Fever released their fifth full-length studio album entitled 'The Deepest Lake'. It has been released through their own imprint called 'Tuk-Tuk Records'. Having played music together for over 14 years now, the band has more recently been taking care of business on their own terms and without the backing of any major record label.

The music of Dengue Fever has featured in highly successful Hollywood productions such as 'The Hangover: Part 2', and the hit television series 'True Blood'. The band were the subject of a 2007 documentary by John Pirozzi entitled 'Sleepwalking Through The Mekong'. Dengue Fever have appeared at many major international music festivals such as Glastonbury and WOMAD. Last year the band headlined the first-ever Cambodian Music Festival at the Ford Theatre in Hollywood.

pic: Chhom Nimol Facebook

Chhom Nimol has been the lead singer with Dengue Fever ever since the band formed in 2002. She sings (and also raps) in both Cambodian and English. This week, the golden-voiced singer travels to New York City to take part in a series of concerts in association with John Pirozzi's Cambodian music documentary, 'Don't Think I've Forgotten'.

Joe Wrigley managed to say 'Happy New Year Nimol' in Khmer, then conducted the rest of the interview in English. Nimol chatted about checking out Jimmy Kiss on Facebook, playing to a Mexican audience in El Paso and starring in a film directed by the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk...

Hi Nimol, how was your Khmer New Year?

This year I had time to stay home and celebrate Khmer New Year with friends. I went to the temple right after our tour was finished.

Dengue Fever just finished up a U.S. tour - you guys went to a lot of places, including Las Vegas, Texas, Salt Lake City...

It was great, we went to cities we have never been to before – like El Paso, Albuquerque. Everyone was excited about our new album which had been released just a couple of months before we toured. We played both large venues and small venues, which was fun because they were such great crowds. We made a lot of new fans. It was a very long drive but we had so much fun.

Did you see a lot of Cambodian faces in the crowds?

In Texas we had more Cambodian people coming to the shows, but in El Paso definitely not. A lot of Mexican people showed up in El Paso because it's close to Mexico. They were so much fun and don't speak much English but they came to the show and they were very sweet.

Cambodian audience enjoying a Dengue Fever performance - pic: http://denguefevermusic.com/

Now that you guys have your own record label can you tell me who organises the tours? Who looks after you now?
We feel free, comfortable and we do whatever we want to do. We try to do our own style, we try to do new stuff. We have a booking agent that books the tours and we have a manager that takes care of the details – that is the same as it always has been - even when we were with a major label. The major label didn't do very much for the band at all and so we started our own label. We knew we could do it better ourselves and it's been going very well ever since we started.

I guess in the future we'll see more and more bands around the world doing it 'on their own'. Perhaps Dengue Fever will inspire Cambodian artists to produce and release their own music. The music industry in Cambodia is dominated by karaoke production companies and television stations.

pic: http://denguefevermusic.com/
I know Town Productions and Hang Meas Productions. They are very successful in Cambodia. I am very sure that Cambodian people don't like the production companies that copy from other countries. I heard a lot of people say not nice things about each other: 'Oh my God this song I heard from Korea, Vietnam, Thailand...'. They just copy each other but for me - I don't want to see it. For us, we just want to do whatever we want to do and not copy people. We just want to play music from the heart and from our own ideas. Over here we don't have any company like Town or Hang Meas to produce us because I don't think they like us. They just like to make easy money from Cambodia.

I've lived in The States for fifteen years now. I was singing in Cambodia before I came to The States. I'm out of that now. When I was in Cambodia there was a company called Chlong Den Productions but now they are not there any more. Ten years ago there were a lot of different production companies in Cambodia but they are mostly not there any more - only a couple remain. Ten years ago a lot of production companies were inviting me to sing and to be on their CDs. All the songs were covers from Thailand, China, America. 
 

When I started with Dengue Fever, I felt different. I could have my own opinion, my own style. We wouldn't copy anybody. I learnt that when you are successful with your own thing then it makes everybody proud - right? I don't like people copying. I want the production companies of Cambodia to write new songs and new melodies. Please, I want them to do that, to grow. I don't want them to just copy songs from next-door and translate it into Khmer and then put it on a record and sell it. Those songs are only around for one month and then next month it all changes to another song.


We last saw you in Cambodia in January 2014 singing at a special concert with Drakkar Band and other artists at the Phnom Penh premiere screening of the documentary movie Don't Think I've Forgotten.

I'm going to New York City to play at the Don't Think I've Forgotten concert again. Drakkar Band are on the aeroplane right now. The concerts are all sold out. John Pirozzi, the director of Don't Think I've Forgotten, told me that every concert is sold out! I'm very excited to play with them again. Everybody will play a few songs, right after the movie. I'm singing four songs. I think I have a song to sing with Drakkar... I have one Sinn Sisamouth song, one by Pan Ron, one by Ros Sereysothea and another by Houy Meas. One of each! John had no idea, so I said 'how about I give you one of each?' - I can pretend to be each singer!


John asked me to sing the Pan Ron song 'Knyom Meun Sok Jet They'. Another song by Ros Sereysothea is called 'Don't Be Angry' [sings along to track playing on her phone, beautifully]. Both of those songs are high! Both the Ros Sereysothea and Pan Ron songs are such high-pitched songs, and I sing them in the same key as the original! The Sinn Sisamouth song is called 'Porb Somnang', and that's how Cambodian people know me – from that song. When I was young I appeared in a Royal movie. I sung the soundtrack for the movie and I was the main actress. King Norodom Sihanouk directed the movie. Everybody knows Chhom Nimol from this movie. It's a high key too. I can't sing it right now because I'm sitting down!


Do you have a vocal warm-up routine?

I do have some vocal warm-up exercises. I drink a lot of water, hot water. Especially, right now when I'm on tour I always bring my throat tea with me when I'm on stage. It is hot water and honey and lemon. When you sing too much, you wake up in the morning and your voice will sound like a man - a scratchy sound. Drink a lot of hot tea and warm water. Don't drink red wine, you will lose your voice! You will sound like a man!

Dengue Fever headlined the Cambodian Music Festival in Los Angeles last August. Tell us about your experience. Which other acts did you enjoy?

Everybody was surprised and especially many Cambodian people. They had never seen Dengue Fever before because we always play nightclubs. The music festival was the first time people could come to our show and they said 'Oh my God! Dengue Fever!'. We had so much fun and we received a lot of respect from people. We had a blast! So much fun to play with Cambodian people. It was a celebration! We saw many artists and they have such talent and such different styles.


For me, I love Bochan. Her voice is so sweet and she is so talented. She has a lot of emotion and she can really sing! Jay Chan sounded very sweet and is a good-looking guy. When you listen to him you can always smile from your heart. He is from Stockton, California and he sings in a Sinn Sisamouth style – pop songs and love songs. 
 

It would be great to see more performers making the trip from Cambodia to the U.S. for the upcoming Cambodian Music Festival 2015...

Jimmy Kiss, I've seen him on Facebook, he has a good voice too! I would love to see more talented stars come to the Cambodian Music Festival to show to the world. Sometimes I don't want to play - I just want to sit down and enjoy my life, I just to want to watch them.

pic: http://denguefevermusic.com/
When I'm performing I don't have a good time because I'm always stressed out about my the work - making sure we do the right thing and making sure we do great job. Do you think I looked relaxed on stage? I'm just stressed out... but I'm always smiling and and looking happy and laughing on stage - that's my style. The people who come to see us, they want to be happy.

When can we see you guys in Cambodia again?

We're looking to go back to Europe, go back to Asia and South-East Asia. We're excited to go back, especially to my country, Cambodia! We've never been to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia. Right now, we've just finished the west coast U.S. tour. Our manager is talking about an east coast tour in the summer: New York and Boston. We want to go back to Asia this year but it's difficult. We have six people in the band and that's a lot of aeroplane tickets!

Thanks a lot Nimol, and let us know when you return to Cambodia.

Happy New Year guys and thank you for helping Dengue Fever! See you in Cambodia!

CHHOM NIMOL 
- pic: Chhom Nimol Facebook

Find out more about the band Dengue Fever and purchase their superb new album 'The Deepest Lake' via their website.

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