An Interview with Zac Holtzman–Part I

On the Road with Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever embarked on a 12-day, 14-gig, 10-city tour about a week after the U.S. and international release of their latest album The Deepest Lake. Zac Holtzman, the band’s bearded guitarist/vocalist, talked to Core Magazines about their adventures on the road, how they ended up together and some memorable moments they’ve shared.

See the official music video with cartoon character Betty Boop for the song “Tokay” from The Deepest Lake album, above, and an unreleased track, “Old Torn Clothes,” below.

Their journey along the southern California coast through Oregon, and north up to Vancouver, brought the “little family” to spaces like the Echoplex in Los Angeles, a venue that holds about 600 people, to a historic opera house at City Winery in Napa – that bottled a 2012 Russian River Pinot red Dengue Fever blend in their honour, labeled with The Deepest Lake logo – and finally to a desert locale at a spot aptly monikered Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneer Town, near Joshua Tree. They left their home base in LA at the beginning of February and absent-mindedly pulled into Pappy & Harriet’s driveway in their Mercedes Sprinter on Valentine’s Day.

They passed through cities and towns with gendered names like Eugene, Chico, san Francisco; Bellingham, Portland, Vancouver, in no particular order, landed two live radio shows, and by the time they reached Joshua Tree, they had forgotten all about V-Day.

“The desert is beautiful. We stayed a couple of nights out there afterward, just to enjoy it for a little bit. There are hot springs,” says Zac. There’s nothing like healing waters after 12 days in a van with your band mates and as we’ll discover, Dengue Fever has a peculiar affinity to bodies of water.

A venue in Oregon was also a favourite, not for technical reasons or anything having to do with the music. They are fond of this place because it’s uniquely suited to road life. Zac says, “In Portland the hotel that we were staying at is part of the club. It’s the Doug Fir.” After a show, “nobody has to drive home that night. You just walk on up to your hotel room when you’re done, so that’s a lot of fun.”

What is it really like on the road?

It seems like they genuinely enjoy each other’s company, “We are like a little family on the road together,” says Zac.

So, I asked him outright if they get along well, as even family members tend to get on each other’s nerves when they’re in such close quarters for extended periods of time. “Yes,” he says, “I think that’s why we’ve stuck together all these years.”

One week before coming off the tour and their second week on the Billboard World Albums chart,  The Deepest Lake hit number one, on Feb 8. They were overjoyed and expressed it on their tagboard, saying:

“Indie band brings Cambodian music to #1 on the world charts. Proud moment, let us rejoice.”

The album also reached number 16 on College Music Journal’s chart, which tracks airplay on college and non-commercial radio stations. It’s a good moment for them, although the band places emphasis on making music rather than on the charts or the business side of things.

On the road again

Again, Dengue Fever packed their bags and headed for the southwestern US in March and April, after playing a free, all-ages show at Amoeba Music in Hollywood on March 1. In addition, “We’ve got an east coast tour and…we’re piecing together Europe right now,” Zac says.

Since our phone conversation, the band has added dates in eight countries across Europe, including Switzerland and England, and expanded the list to include Turkey and Russia.  Dengue Fever plays the Garrison in Toronto on Sept 8 and will LiveStream the (el) poisson rouge show from New York City on Sept 11 for those  who can’t make it to any of the 28 dates they’ve set between Sept 5 and mid-Oct 2015.

I was about to let him go as he had given me notice minutes earlier that it was dinner time. So I said, “I wish you lots of luck and I really appreciate you talking with me, from the bottom of my gut and the bottom of my heart,” when he said:

Hopefully we’ll get to play Toronto again.

When did you play Toronto? I asked.

ZAC: I don’t know, we played it a while ago, and I remember we drove through a blizzard to get from, it might have been from Montreal to Toronto and went straight into the club and it was crazy ‘cause we just made it to the club, just made it there on time. We walked through the whole crowd, went right up on stage, just did a shot of whiskey and played the show.

We shouldn’t have even been driving because it was so snowed over that we couldn’t even get off the freeway.  All the exits were all completely snowed over.

But, aah well, nice talkin’ and I guess, have a good night.

ME: Wait, wait, wait; one more, did you really shave your beard in that video?  I was referring to the Som Say Sok video, which was reviewed in How I Became Immune to Dengue Fever, in Core.

ZAC: You’ll have to come to the show.

ME: Was that your real beard?

ME: But, I wanna know…Laughter…

ZAC: “You’ll have to come to a sho-oow.” He says this lyrically, slowly, with an emphasis on “show,” as if the word had two syllables. “Alright, goodnight.”

ME: Ok, bye.

He hits the road — or more likely, the dinner table.

by Cherryl Bird
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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