Out now on Metal Postcard records, they describe this as "Part Cambodian golden age pop, part Led Zeppelin, part Incredible String Band and all fused with traditional Khmer folk rhythms and stylings." All that is undoubtedly true and the album is stunning, but that really is barely half the story of the incredible record. We caught up with Metal Postcard head honcho Sean Hocking to chat about just what this record means.
The sleeve notes on the album are pretty extensive, but can you give us a quick precis of what this album is and what it represents?
I first came across the Drakkar Band via the Cambodian Rocks compilation and they immediately raised my interest for a number of reasons. Firstly some people were calling them the Drakkar Band, others The Thrakkar band and then there was this sound; whereas all the other Cambodian artists had a/the standard Asia-pop sixties sound The Drakkar Band reminded me of something that straddled the more rural end of Led Zeppelin mixed in with the Incredible String Band and even the Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band. The Cambodian Rocks album notes hinted at other tracks being out there somewhere and the more I spoke to people and read snippets about the Cambodian rock scene of the early seventies I knew that this was the album to try and find and release. And as it says on the album sticker, it was like searching out the Holy Grail. In all from beginning to end the project took around three years to come to fruition. Essentially, for me, the album represents the nadir of the Cambodian psych rock sound. Other artists, as I've mentioned, used the standard sixties touchstones of the Kinks and The Stones etc but the Drakkar Band were influenced by the newer sounds coming out of the US and UK - Santana and Led Zeppelin - and instead of just taking the existing rhythms and adding different lyrics, here is a band writing their own songs and trying to create a meeting point between western rock and Cambodian folk traditions. Interestingly I'm finding that quite a few hip new US indie bands are getting into their sound and I'm wondering whether we'll see a new band come up re-interpreting their sound like Vampire Weekend did with Highlife and West African sounds.
When and how did you become aware of it's existence?
Sorry if I'm repeating myself - initially via the Cambodia Rocks comp but also in conversation with people in Cambodia who again had heard of it but hadn't heard the band as well as via snippets of text of the internet. It was then that I found out via a contact that one of the original members of the band might work for the Cambodian government. Another six months of enquiries finally brought me to band founder Touch Tana and, as they say, the rest is history.
Very few copies of the original tapes survived the cultural barbarity of the Khmer Rouge. How many did you manage to recover and how long did it take? How did you go about it?
I still haven't managed to get a original tape myself but Touch found the very best copies he had and got them digitised in Cambodia for me.
Not all the members of the band survived the Khmer Rouge either. What can you tell us about them and the survivors?
As per the above, Touch Tana works for the Cambodian government in an environmental role - I think in fisheries. The other surviving members - sorry I don't know. Sharing information isn't a great trait in this part of the world!
How long did it take to remaster?
I work with The Carvery in London. Frank, the owner and chief masterer, also owns Sofrito records a label that specialises in bring back to life Central American and Caribbean records from the '50s through to the '70s and he has a range of analogue and digital equipment to give the most authentic results possible. He's one of the leading lights in dealing with these sort of jobs and has been doing it for years. He said it was one of the hardest jobs he's ever had to do. Usually he gets a job back to me in a few days - I think this took about a month to get right and had an invoice to match!
You limited the 12" release to 500. Did they fly off the shelves?
It's going pretty quickly - I think there's only about 100 left.
Finally, are there any other hidden gems up your sleeve? What's up next for Metal Postcard?
To be honest, I'm not normally in the business of nostalgia releases - it was just this music sounded so different and also contemporary I thought I would go through the process to get it out there. Back to the business of new bands/acts for me now and there's lots out there. From Bandung (Indonesia) I've just signed Napolleon an amazing "psych" band influenced, they say, by spaceships and the Velvet Underground and they look a bit like an Asia Stone Roses - right kids you are on the label! Their debut EP is wonderful and reminds me of the early early days of heavy proto rock in 1968/69. There's a great scene going on in Calcutta (India) at the moment. I've just signed Jeepers Creepers, who bizarrely sound like Orange Juice goes math rock, and coming soon are Oh Rocket !... India's answer to Bastille. And in Hong Kong I've just picked up Little Albert, a bedroom indie/hip hop guy who I've been playing on my radio show for ages. He rhymes in Cantonese & English and does what i like my artists to do - talk about their personal experience. Last but not least I've also signed KROM this year - the sound of Cambodian music moving forward. Headed up by Australian classical guitarist and long term Cambodia resident, Chris Minko, along with a Cambodian guitarist and two young singers (one of whom just came second in The Voice/Cambodia). They've created their own sound that they call Mekong Delta Blues. The songs talk about Cambodian experience now, i.e. human rights, industrialisation, urbanisation etc. He has a voice like Tom Waits jutting up to their classically trained angelic Cambodian voices. The sound is nothing like the same but what they do sort of reminds me of Matt Johnson and The The - the aesthetic is weirdly similar.