After 14 years on the road, returning to Phnom Penh still feels like a homecoming for Cambodian-American alternative rock group Dengue Fever.
“As soon as you get out of Phnom Penh airport, there’s this special smell and I’m like, ‘Ah, I’m back,’” bassist Senon Williams said from Siem Reap City on Wednesday.
“It’s always beautiful to bring the music back here because we played our first show outside the United States in Phnom Penh in 2005. It’s really difficult to get the band here, so it’s a small victory every time we can make our way back,” he said.
About three years after their last visit, the band returned to Cambodia this week to play three concerts in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to promote their latest album, “The Deepest Lake.”
The band—which formed in 2002 in Los Angeles when the group’s five original members met singer Chhom Nimol—experiments with a wide range of sounds on the self-released record, Mr. Williams said.
“Nimol mostly sings in Khmer, so that’s kind of where we find our Cambodian roots…but we play a lot of world music festivals, so we draw a lot of influence from African music, Latin music, Thai music, Brazilian music. Musically, we don’t really have any limitations,” he said.
The bassist conceded that the upcoming shows in Cambodia—at The Mansion on Friday and Saturday, following a performance in Siem Reap on Wednesday—will likely draw a crowd of mostly expatriates, unlike their gigs in the U.S. and Europe, which often attract members of the Cambodian diaspora.
“Where there are big Cambodian communities, it’s really incredible, because entire families will make it an event of coming to our concerts. The grandma will be down with the kids, and if there’s a big Cambodian crowd, we always put on a few oldies in the encore and just have people on stage,” he said.
However, during the band’s recent tours of Cambodia, enthusiasm for their music has been growing among locals, helped along by a resurgence of interest in ’60s legends Sinn Sisamuth and Ros Sereysothea, Mr. Williams said.
“It’s always changing, because a lot of the culture in Cambodia is starting to kind of mix and match and catch up…. There’s a lot more dancing and rocking out going on in concerts with the Cambodians,” he said.
Despite the band’s many years of success, Mr. Williams said he was still surprised by the band’s endurance.
“We keep pushing forward creatively, so as long as we’re creating new music and we can still share dinner together, then there hasn’t really been a reason to quit,” he said.