I recently had the opportunity to talk to Zac Holtzman, the guitarist with the famously long beard in the Asian psychedelic-rock band Dengue Fever, about the band’s recent tour around Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, as well as their upcoming show on January 27th in Los Angeles at the El Rey Theater. The group is also performing along the whole West Coast, so if you’re not in LA, check out their full tour schedule below for a date near you. In the meantime, check out the convo between Zac and me.

I understand Dengue Fever just returned from their Southeast Asia Electric Mekong Tour. How did the band get the opportunity to work with the State Department?

We were in Cambodia about a year and a half ago for an event to celebrate the relationship between Cambodia and the U.S. There were 10,000 Cambodians there, the show went well, and we were invited back by the State Department through a grant to perform in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Can you tell me about an impactful experience you had during your SE Asia trip?

We played this pagoda with all these cool sculptures and structures where you had to take your hat and sunglasses off for respect to Buddha, and that night there were so many bugs that the stage was covered in piles of bugs. Our lead singer Chhom got two bugs in her throat, and our bass player had one on his eye, and the drummer had a huge bug on his leg during the set, so that was crazy. Then that night we had a police escort back to Phnom Penh.

How was this trip different from the last one?

Well, the last time we were there for about a week playing just in the capital city, Phnom Penh, and this time we were super busy playing in the Cambodian provinces. We performed for ex-pats, and we also performed for kids with special needs.

The show for the special needs kids was my favorite. Some of the kids were deaf, so they would put their hands on the bass amp to feel the vibrations. Then at one point kids jumped onstage and sang along to the songs.

We also performed in Vietnam and Laos, which was great. We had a great reception in those countries while playing for universities and music schools.

What’s the difference between playing for an international audience compared to an American audience?

International audiences tend to really like it when I try to sing in Cambodian. (LAUGHS) When we’re touring in the States, we’ll play in museums and cultural centers, and even nightclubs, so there will be people dancing and singing along. In Cambodia people are more reserved—-they do dance, but they don’t have a mosh pit.

Although your band is based in LA, you guys definitely have an international vibe. Where do you consider “home”?

Los Angeles is definitely our home. We all live in LA. I’m actually really excited about our El Rey show in a couple of weeks, especially performing with Secret Chiefs. They’re a great band.

Besides the upcoming tour, what’s next on the agenda for Dengue Fever?

We’re starting our own record label, Tuk Tuk Records. We’re also planning our next European tour, and we’re always working on new material.


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Dengue Fever Tour Dates:

1/24 @ Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO
1/25 @ Santa Fe Brewing Co. Santa Fe, NM
1/26 @ Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ
1/27 @ El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, CA
1/28 @ Constellation Room, Santa Ana, CA
1/29 @ Casbah, San Diego, CA
1/31 @ Club SLO Brew, San Luis Obispo, CA
2/01 @ Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz, CA
2/02 @ Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
2/03 @ Slim’s, San Francisco, CA
2/04 @ Harlow’s, Sacramento, CA
2/06 @ W.O.W. Hall, Eugene, OR
2/07 @ Dante’s, Portland, OR
2/08 @ Neumos, Seattle, WA
2/09 @ The Wild Buffalo, Bellingham, WA
2/10 @ Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, BC, CANADA

For more info on the band: Dengue Fever’s Official Page