Photo: Marc Walker

Dengue Fever: A Little Bit Cambodian, A Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll

When you hear the words “dengue fever,” if you have any sense, you’ll run the other way. After all, it’s a nasty tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes. But there’s another Dengue Fever you should run toward, this one a band from L.A., that combines surf rock and psychedelic rock with Cambodian pop influences.

Dengue Fever started in 2001 after keyboardist Ethan Holtzman took a trip to Cambodia and was inspired by what he heard. When he got back, he recruited his brother Zac to play guitar, as well as Senon Williams on bass, Paul Smith on drums and David Ralicke on saxophone.

The missing link was a Cambodian singer who could authentically reproduce the sounds that Holtzman heard on his trip. The band found their singer in Chhom Nimol, who was discovered singing karaoke in a nightclub in the Little Phnom Penh section of Long Beach, Calif. In a recent interview with On Tap, Williams said that Nimol is the real deal.

“She sings with emotion very easily,” the band’s bassist said. “She came from a very rough upbringing, and you can hear it in her voice. From the first moment I heard her sing, she put chills down my spine. As the years go by, she continues to surprise me. I feel her voice is better now than it ever has been.”

Since finding Nimol and beginning their career, the band has been lucky enough to maintain a consistent recording and touring schedule, drawing fans wherever they go. The band has played all over the world and was just returning from Abu Dhabi when we caught up with Williams. He said that people from different cultures and backgrounds can easily connect with the band’s music.

“I hope to convey honesty. I think people want to be a part of that, to feel something apart from their daily routine.”

Dengue Fever started their own label, TUK TUK Records, in 2013, and has just released deluxe edition reissues of their first two albums with bonus tracks, expanded liner notes, upgraded artwork and new packaging. They’re also gearing up for more international touring, working on more reissues and collaborating on another new album. It’s all part of the band’s growth, Williams said, and what has kept them going for over 15 years.

“We have stayed a band all these years because we’re still flowering.”

Catch Dengue Fever at AMP by Strathmore on Saturday, April 22. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$30. Learn more about the band at

AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100;