Foreign Rock Band Celebrates the Groove They Found in Cambodia

Drama afflicts most rock bands. But when the three musicians behind Road to Mandalay rehearse and perform, they sink into the heavy drum beat, complex guitar riffs and driving bass right away—no drama needed.

Road to Mandalay’s members found the rock-group chemistry they never expected in Phnom Penh, and their first CD release tries to capture their moments of musical perfection.

cam photo mandalay kastrup
Members of Road to Mandalay rehearse in Phnom Penh last week. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

The band’s two American members, bassist Tracy Farrell and guitarist Adam Schumacher, met through a mutual friend and started jamming. When they met drummer Antti Siitonen, a Finn who showed up to a rehearsal 45 minutes after being asked to join the band, the group knew they had a natural groove.

The trio, all in their mid-forties, have reduced songwriting to a simple formula. Mr. Schumacher strums the chords on his guitar, and the other two, who both sing, throw in suggestions and come up with the melody, harmony and lyrics.

“We’re really comfortable with each other, so there isn’t a lot of scripting that needs to happen,” Ms. Farrell said. “It just kind of flows.”

The result is a heavy, driven block of instrumentals, decked with Ms. Farrell’s and Mr. Siitonen’s sometimes sweet, sometimes screaming vocals, mixing the band’s influences: a cross between Foo Fighters’ intense instrumentation, 1980s punk rockers Blondie and the hardcore punk band Fugazi.

They try to distinguish themselves from the city’s other nightlife staples by playing only original songs. No covers allowed.

Shuhei Murakami, a musician and former bartender at Sharky Bar, has seen hundreds of bands perform in the city, and he identified something unique in Road to Mandalay at their first show in 2015.

Two years later, the musicians are well-known—Mr. Schumacher works for USAID, Ms. Farrell directs environmental group the Greater Mekong Program and Mr. Siitonen plays in seven other bands—and their engagement with fans sets them apart.

“Here, the most important thing is how their music is unique and how many followers they have,” Mr. Murakami said. “That’s not only about the quality of music, but their personalities, their characters.”

The band recorded the five songs on their new eponymous EP in three straight days in January at the Links Studio on Street 141. Most bands take three eight-hour days to record a single song, Mr. Schumacher said.

Road to Mandalay hopes to expand its audience with the EP, but the driving factor behind the new recording was to document the band before one of the band members inevitably gets a gig in another city.

“We’re still together, which is pretty amazing,” Mr. Siitonen said. “We could have broken up. People just come and go here.”

The band will release an initial run of about 100 CDs on Saturday. They’ll press more if they sell out quickly.

Ms. Farrell said the band is just getting started. She wants them to write between six and 10 new songs so they can perform three unique sets.

“I never expected to find this here,” Ms. Farrell said. “I remember playing with my band in D.C. and thinking, ‘This is still not the music I want to make.’ But what we’re doing, this is perfect.”

Road to Mandalay CD Release Party

Where: Alchemy GastroPub, Street 123, Phnom Penh

When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday

[email protected]

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