I chatted to Julien from Cambodian Space Project regarding art and music and an upcoming exhibition at Newsagency Gallery by Sticky Fingers Art Prints. The gallery will be displaying limited edition screen prints depicting 60s psychedelic Cambodia.
Daniel: How are you?
Julien: Pretty good considering the hectic schedule we’ve been on. last three nights in NYC then a mad dash to the airport right after the final chord on my guitar rang out, a 1am flight from JFK to Bangkok and finally home to Phnom Penh.
Daniel: What art / artists have inspired the prints that you are displaying at Newsagency Gallery?
Julien: Warhol, Warhol, Warhol… showed that rock and roll is a whole package with his ground breaking work with the Velvet Underground… I’ve just been lucky enough to find that here, deep in the jungles of Cambodia, is an incredibly fertile place to create rock and roll art and my print work is part of the whole sound, style and atmosphere of a world we call The Cambodian Space Project. Actually, it’s an extension of this work and is inspired by the incredible culture revival that is now happening in Phnom Penh
Daniel: Tell us a little about the process for making the prints? Where do the images come from and how are they shaped? What role does Sticky Fingers play?
Julien: The prints are limited edition screen prints and came about from creating imagery for The Cambodian Space Project. I wanted to create a set of prints and I was staying at a funky hotel in Siem Reap called 1961. It’s an art hotel run by Loven Ramos who tells me that the CSP inspired the 60’s revival direction of the hotel itself. Loven offered me a residency and assistance from one of his resident print makers, a young Cambodian guy named Visal Heng. Visal is also a great fan of 60’s Cambodian music, he sings Sin Sithamuth songs (Elvis of Cambodia) while he prints and is a perfect partner for the screen print – concept to print – process. Visal and I have continued to work together and to expand our imagery to include new ideas and themes, we’ve now set-up a small print maker’s studio Sticky Fingers Art Prints Cambodia.
Daniel: Do you draw a distinction between making art with the prints and the music?
Julien: I think visually, and this applies to the music I play. It makes perfect sense to me to illustrate and to create a visual world to this experience, whether it be print art, illustration, photography or video. In a way I am using various platforms to place myself inside a story, a cosmic adventure through the iconic imagery of Cambodia, from present day to its recent and sometimes ancient past. The screen print art form is a quick and vibrant way to create prints on paper and it’s always been a ”rock and roll’ art form.
Daniel: How is the approach different?
Julien: I think we’re working with a very familiar art form but working in an unusual environment. We’re working with imagery and emerging culture in South East Asia and in particular this work is inspired by Cambodia’s lost rock and roll, or the culture of new and independent ideas of 1960’s Cambodia – its independence from France, its move by King Norodom Sihanouk to modernise and embrace the new trends in music, art and design but then, of course, the tragedy that followed – the decimation of all culture by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge targeted musicians and artists and many of the ‘golden era’ artists were murdered or simply vanished in the Killing Fields along with almost a third of the entire population.
Daniel: What expectations did you have when starting the band?
Julien: Well, I expected simply to make a cross-cultural event in Phnom Penh. It struck me at the time that expats and locals didn’t really mix and that it would be cool to make an event that brought the music cultures together. We did this and it was a great night, things like this a quickly supported in today’s Phnom Penh and this support lead to the formation of a band The Cambodian Space Project – a band I never expected to find myself in and one that began by playing a repertoire of songs typical of any Cambodian wedding band. It’s been an enriching and exciting trip and this has inspired my visual art.
Daniel: How has your music been received across the world?
Julien: We have played in more than 16 countries, numerous cities, towns and villages around the world. From China to Texas and most recently New York City the music is really well received. Even in Australia where people still say things like “hey… great music, if that Vietnamese girl could sing in English…you might even get this onto the J’s” where finding people warming to what is essentially and Australian band fronted by an Asian face. By traveling the world with our music I find that music is the fastest art from to reach across cultures and to connect with people everywhere, it also always us to collaborate with other artists across cultures and a recent highlight of this was a song we wrote and recorded with Paul Kelly, a song sung in Khmer called “The Boat” written and recorded for the Key of Sea project to support asylum seekers.
Daniel: Where do you see the band heading from here?
Julien: We have just spent five weeks living in Detroit where Motown legend Dennis Coffey has produced our newest album. This has been an amazing project to do… Coffey played on many of the Motown hits, the music that must have spilled across into Cambodia via the Vietnam war and clearly influenced the Cambodian bands of the time… now it has, in a very unlikely twist of events, come back to Detroit just as the wasteland of a city is declared bankrupt. We found a strange parallel in Detroit to Cambodia’s own flourishing, post apocalypse. culture revival. This city may be officially bankrupt but musically its very much alive and kicking and with Coffey at the helm of The Cambodian Space Project we’ve made an amazing album, a mix of East and West that will surely see us doing another orbit of the globe to share and promote this new music. Until then, we’re also planning to tour in Australia, following the exhibition at News Agency Gallery, CSP will perform a Concert for Cambodia at the Enmore on Sept 30th then set off on a tour that begins in Darwin and ends in Tasmania and takes us to some of Australia’s most remote and regional venues.
Daniel: You have been touring the band extensively, where do you call home?
Julien: Home is where the (Cambodian) Space Ship is… this month it’s in Phnom Penh