The return of Dengue Fever, Senon Williams art update, and Burger-A-Go-Go

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I’ll never get sick of sharing the story of how I met Senon Williams. After hearing what sounded like a far-out, psychedelic, Cambodian garage rock jam on KXLU while driving across town from my home in Silver Lake to the Giant Robot compound on Sawtelle, I called the DJ to find out the name of the band. He said it was a demo from a local group called Dengue Fever, and that Senon wouldn’t mind him giving me his name and number. I went on to stalk the band and write its first article in print, followed by various pieces on the band’s milestones.

After the magazine ran its course, we’ve kept in touch. Dengue Fever played one of the Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows that my family went on to start organizing and Senon painted a poster for us. Then we followed his trajectory in art, which has included multiple shows around town and a beautiful book.

When it was announced that the band would be joining the upcoming Burger-A-Go-Go tour, it was a perfect excuse to catch up once more.

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Dengue Fever has been out of the headlines for a while, but now you’ve got this Burger-A-Go-Go tour coming up. What are some of the interesting things you and your colleagues have been doing during your break?
We all been doing a bevy of life living. I been painting, traveling, and playing music. Paul has been recording a bunch of his own music and doing sound design. Ralicke plays with everybody under the sun and swims with the fish in the Pacific the rest of the time. Zac is a mystery but I know he has been making a record with a friend of his. Ethan’s family is growing and he practically has a zoo of exotic creatures at his house. Nimol has been traversing the country playing traditional music in Cambodian supper clubs.

That being said, we are always recording and experimenting. We are enjoying different processes of songwriting, in the past we have simply stayed to our instrument. These days we have been thinking more to what the song needs and care less who plays it. We are unhurried with our ideas and have the feeling to evolve and embrace the ethereal.

There’s new music in the works? Without getting too detailed or giving anything away, can you further describe this direction, style, or vibe that you’re sensing.
We are slowing it and being minimalists. Making Nimol’s voice be the center and not using traditional drum kit as often.

I think it’s cool that Dengue Fever is part of the Burger family, and I give the label credit for having a roster of old and new punks, psychedelic groups, garage rockers, lo-fi bands, etc. and breaking down so many barriers to support just plain cool music. How did you get into the fold?
I don’t really know. But my guess is way back when our manager Josh developed a friendship with them and they were into our music. Then one of them suggested we do a Best Of album on cassette with a ton of songs on it. After that, they have been licensing all our albums for cassette release.

Pasty’s Rats, Feels, and The Coathangers are great and I can’t wait to check out the other bands! Which ones in the Burger-A-Go-Go lineup are you particularly excited about joining?
I am mostly excited about all the women in the line-up. It is going to be great, I always have a better time in mixed crowds. I think the deep vibes will spread.

It must be hard leaving your family, but is going on the road with the band still fun for you? Do you ever miss it during a long hiatus between records and shows?
Yes, I love to tour. We are still a band because we respect each other and love each others company…and cool shit just keeps happening.

And I will miss my family. We only go out for short stints or, if there is a long tour, there is generally plenty of time in between. When I am home I don’t do a 9-5. I am with my family with my time, heart, and soul. But I think the love is enough to bridge the gap when I’m gone.

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Aren’t you in another combo besides Dengue Fever now? What’s up with that?
I play with Mark Lightcap, Steve Hadley, and Jason Yates. We have no name, we have no plans, we play all the time, and let the music flow out of us. We don’t write songs; deep melodies find their way into the outer space where we reside. We record everything, then I edit all the magical spots together… And presto! A song.

We have recently played a few shows performing Acetone songs. A band that ended 15 years ago to support a reissue of music and a biography book. Mark and Steve were in that band. We have no plans to continue with Acetone music but will play those songs if invited… It will be peppered with far-out excursions if not entirely.

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Finally, what’s going on with your art? Now that your book has been published and is getting some distribution, are you taking a break? Working even harder?
I have been seriously making paintings for a few years. I have had several solo shows and been in a bunch of group shows. I find painting to be a very important part of my life, and I am becoming more prolific and the scale keeps growing. I will be painting until I can’t.

My book published by Hamilton Press is exquisite with a masterful design by Green Dragon Co. and the beauty of it has got me stunned. I am still in dis belief.

I also just completed my first lithograph with Ed Hamilton in an edition of 20. There will be a reception to celebrate the release of my print March 10th at Odd Ark Gallery.

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Catch Dengue Fever up and down the West Coast from mid-February through early March. I think I’ll go to the March 3 show at 1720 in Central L.A. and then say hi to Senon at Odd Ark Gallery in Highland Park on March 10.

 

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Save Music in Chinatown 10 is here

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You’d think organizing benefit concerts for the music program at our daughter’s elementary school would be be easy after three years. Not really. However, arranging for bands from Beijing whose records you can’t even buy at Amoeba probably isn’t the most sensible choice.

But how cool is it to have Carsick Cars, one of China’s most excellent and influential post-punk bands, playing to help underserved kids in Chinatown?

Or have Chui Wan return after blowing our minds at last school year’s sold-out show with Dengue Fever and Birdstriking?

Alpine Decline will be extra noisy and amazing, too. How have I missed them every time they’ve come through town before? Or even when they lived here?

My pals in SISU are coming out of hiatus to round out the bill. They were initially going to play a special set as a duo but have decided to bring out the entire band!

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We’re lucky to have so many friends that make the shows happen. Sandy and Jules from SISU came on to our usual KCHUNG show with Gabie and Daryl (listen HERE) and of course there was the traditional two-hour hoot and warmup that is the Molotov Cocktail Hour on KXLU, as well.

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And what about the flyer that Senon Williams from Dengue Fever volunteered to make? When the bands play in front of the poster-sized image on Sunday, they’ll be like The Clash in the “Complete Control” video!

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Plus supporters donating stuff for the raffle, families contributing to the bake sale, everyone spreading the word, and Nate behind the scenes… I hope Sunday’s show raises a decent amount of money for music education at Chinatown’s public school but no matter what happens (Is Ciclavia really happening  in Chinatown on the day we chose last spring?) I’ll be grateful for being part of such a rad community that makes it happen.

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See cool bands! Eat delicious cookies! Help kids in Chinatown! Get more info at the Facebook event page and save some dough by ordering tickets in advance at eventbrite.com.

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You can further support the Chinese bands that support us by seeing them in Long Beach on Saturday night and Cafe NELA on Sunday night:

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Save Music in Chinatown 10 preview with the art of Senon Williams from Dengue Fever

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I don’t remember what year I became a fan of Dengue Fever, but I was definitely driving from my home in Silver Lake to Sawtelle and listening to KXLU. I heard something that sounded like psychedelic garage rock with Cambodia vocals, and immediately called the station to get the scoop when I arrived at the GR office. The DJ informed me that it was a demo from a new local band called Dengue Fever, and then gave me Senon’s phone number saying he wouldn’t mind.

We became friends, and the band popped up in the magazine multiple times during its 16-year run. After the publication ran its course, I have remained a fan and we are still friends. I see the band as often as I can and, after starting benefit shows for the music program at my daughter’s school, they volunteered to play one for us. I’m still amazed that  a big band like that would perform on our tiny stage.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Senon, who has turned out to be an excellent, thought-provoking artist as well as a top-shelf bass player, told me that he would like to make a flyer for one of our shows. How could I not take him up on it? How could I not ask him about his flyer and his art?

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Where did you get the idea for the flyer?
The idea popped into my head when I was thinking how to simply convey the idea that music is a basic need for kids.

Have you always had this secret life as an artist while being in a band?
I have been making art since I was a kid, drawing great medieval battles and torture chambers.

For the past few years, the computer began to rob the time I would contemplate my own thoughts. It feels good to be more present with my own mind as well as the tactical world. I have been working with ink on paper a long time, but my intense focus has given me technique and skill to freely experiment and use color.

When did you arrive at your painterly style paired with sly verbiage?
Words have been a part of my art for 20-30 years. Most of my work has been in sketchbooks, filling my downtime with no thought to put it out into the world—just a means to question or amuse myself with humanities-fraught existence.

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Are you totally self-taught? Are there “real” artists or instructors that have influenced you along the way?
I never went to art school. But I have worked as an artist’s studio assistant and in galleries, and have visited the studios of many artists I admire. Life has been a good education; I keep my eyes and ears open. Recently, I visited artists Mel Kadel, Tyler Vlahovich, and Eddie Ruscha and came away with inspirations, ideas, and techniques to experiment with. I felt like I went to school right then.

Does it feel like you’re using totally different parts of your brain than when you make art or play music? Can you compare/contrast the feeling you have when doing either?
Music is a part of me and I will never stop… Musically, my highest heights have always been playing with others and our connection, at times it is as though my physicality on this earth is suspended.

Oddly, visual art is the opposite. I feel bonded with the materials I am using and have a physical connection to the paper or wood. It’s a very tactile experience. The ideas, though, come from a different place–very personal and introspective–until they are cast off and the rest of the world can do (or not do) what they want with it.

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Was it difficult to put your art (and yourself as an artist) out there?
I met Laura Howe years ago when we were both working for art galleries. Now she owns an amazing boutique called Matrushka Construction, which sells all handmade clothes in Silver Lake. Ages ago, a few of my drawings were part of a group show in her store. Then, about a year ago, she asked me to have a solo show. I started to make art for it and the floodgates just broke wide open. ­­­

To promote that show, I had this idea to post one drawing per day until it opened. That was last April and I am still posting new work almost every day. I am not slowing down, and I feel there is not enough time in a day for me to do all I want to do. I can’t stop working.

Is it true that you paint when you’re in the van on tour? What is your setup?
I do draw while on the road, though not in the van. Too bumpy. I set up my inks and brushes as soon as I get to the hotel so if I have time to paint it is laid out and ready to go. The main problem is coming back after a show at 2:00 a.m. then working on the drawing into the wee hours.

I bring paper, Inks, paint, brushes, pencils, erasers, rags, and a knife (for safety).

Art shows against gun violence, benefits for music education… Can you talk about not only being creative but using your energy and presence for causes?
I care about this world and have always helped where I can. Small, kind acts can change the world in a huge way if enough of us take the time to feel for others. And I put my energy towards love and compassion so my children learn from my actions.

But I do hope humanity will look at itself as a whole one day and say, “I am kind.” And the people who are sour and embittered will say, “Forget it. It it ain’t worth it.”

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Check out Senon’s work on Instagram and get Save Music in Chinatown 10 tickets at Eventbrite.