The Uncomfortably White Brothers are one of the more unusual bands in today’s Phnom Penh – they’re all about love and soul and being serious about being ridiculous. The core duo both have several outside projects each, but when they don their UWB hats they are transported to another realm. Ahead of their show at Bassac Lane on Friday night they talked to each other and Leng Pleng occasionally got a word in edgeways.
EB: My full name, for the record, is Ernst Stavros Buckfeldt III.
GB: And mine is Gregorian Chant Buck IV. Sometimes Zachary Buck.
Is it true the band started because someone told you to get a room?
GB: Dallas at Tacos Kokopelli, the first time we ever sang a song together, told us to get a room.
EB: So we did, basically. So up near the Old Market late one night, we were up for experimenting…
GB: Just like in college.
EB: We’d got a room already, so we thought well, why not try using that ouija board… we thought it was kind of like Risk, but there was a lot more risk involved than the actual game of Risk.
GB: There’s no Kamchatka.
EB: One of my favourites, that one. The gateway to Alaska.
GB: It really is.
EB: And so basically we played the game, you know, we had the upturned cup, we got Whoopie Goldberg in there to moderate. So we’ve got one Whoopie Goldberg, one glass, two dudes. We played for a bit, and spelled out swear words, and spoke to Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. We even spoke a little bit to that dude who died that time.
EB: Yes. Spoke to him for a bit.
GB: He’s a guy who painted cars in East L.A.
EB: It turns out he was actually Arabic. And then something happened, we tried to channel the spirit of soul…
GB: We ended up playing soul music originally, that was the idea behind it. We played only soul, and then we needed more than one set, so we decided to play songs that had soul.
EB: So we used what we had. There was a moment when the cup went over yes or no, is Ike Turner in the room? And it said yes, and then Greg started talking in tongues – and that was a bit weird, I’m going to be honest with you – I thought he was just sort of doing a vocal warm-up.
GB: [Inaudible] cake [inaudible] Beyonce [inaudible] lemonade [inaudible].
EB: He started spouting off stuff, started playing the riff to Nutbush City Limits, and I thought I know that song, and as that was happening I started shuddering throughout my body, as if I was…
GB: Possessed by Al Green. Who’s still alive.
EB: Well, exactly. And that’s the weird thing that the ouija board can do to you. It was pre-ordination Al Green. The more lascivious side. When he had the pecs…
GB: And the white suit.
EB: The good shape of the body.
Before he did Disco Jesus.
GB: I love Disco Jesus.
EB: He actually told us to sing that, and we said, do you know what, Al, you can’t tell us what to do, you’re not dead.
Is it true…
… that one of you shot a man in Reno but they could never pin it on either of you?
EB: Well, it’s because we were both holding the trigger, and neither of us had our eyes open. We didn’t know where we were aiming. We’d been hypnotised by [UK television hypnotist] Paul McKenna, and he gave us a trigger word – no pun intended – and that was “epsilon” – we got a little spasmodic motion of the trigger finger and sadly a poor janitor died as a result. He was two days away from taking his pension.
GB: His name was Scatman Crothers.
The Uncomfortably White Brothers seemed to hit town with a certain thing, then something about the band kind of went to Los Angeles.
GB: Well, Motown moved to LA, but that wasn’t until the 70s. We just went a little bit earlier.
EB: We were followed, yes. We’re basically emulating everything that Berry Gordy’s ever done, except I can’t grow a beard like that.
GB: And Jim Morrison.
EB: And I can’t grow a beard like him either. I can drink like him though.
GB: I love love. I think that’s the main takeaway from the Uncomfortably White Brothers. While we have enough drummers to be Spinal Tap, we love love.
EB: And we love gloves as well, because gloves are like love for your hands, hmm? The clue is in the word.
GB: Love is what makes the world go around, any kind of love.
EB: That and general sort of motion of…
EB: The planets. So that inspired us to rip off a lot of songs from people that were dead…
GB: Or just stuff we love that we thought was groovy, that had soul. Most of it’s old – call it classic rock, whatever – but, you know, listen, we play the best song ever written by Phils: Philip Bailey and Phil Collins. I dare anyone to find a better song written and sung by two Phils.
EB: They also invented two of the best drinks ever – the Tom Collins and Baileys.
GB: We have sparse instrumentation – a guitar, two voices, a kazoo, sometimes a drummer, sometimes a drummer and a keyboard player, sometimes just the two of us.
EB: And just a little bit of chutzpah.
GB: As the Yiddish would say. We give 150%.
EB: But that’s not possible, so we realised that, and then we only give 100%, because that’s literally all we can give.
GB: If you want to see ridiculousness on stage…
EB: With silk shirts.
GB: But done seriously, then that’s who you come to see. You come to see us. It’s ridiculousness done seriously. We mean everything that we sing and we play. And let me just say that we are the only band to use the balcony at Bassac Lane to sing from.
EB: Twice. And still even after we did it first, no one else has done it.
GB: I don’t know why – it’s like Evita, right there. And I don’t even like musicals. Friday night we’ll do Bassac Lane again. We may or may not use the balcony, I don’t know.
EB: Maybe we’ll use the opposite balcony, that will mess people’s heads up. Maybe I’ll just stand in the den with a Beer Laos and have a smoke and sing on a radio mic.
GB: Yes, sit in the Yacht Club, upstairs.
EB: That’s the place I want to be, as Phnom Penh’s wannabe Roger Moore.
GB: I’m Phnom Penh’s wannabe Ron Wood, so Ron, Roger, Wood, Moore… M is a W upside down.
EB: Wood Moore. Moore Wood?
Tell us more about these wannabes.
EB: Roger Moore, he’s my hero. He may be a distant relative, we’re from the same part of south London, and I realised at a very young age that he talked a bit different to what we talked like.
GB: He’s more erudite, which is a big word for an American.
EB: And my father told me, at a young age – he was brought up very poor on a very rough council estate in south east London called the Downham Estate, notorious. He said, boy, you can always pretend to be stupid, you can’t never pretend to be clever. That was a double negative, but I think he was illustrating a point there.
GB: Wise advice, wise advice. Ronnie Wood to me is a rock’n’roll Forrest Gump. He’s everywhere. He started off playing with the Jeff Beck Group, and there’s a picture of Jimi Hendrix playing some place in the Village and Ron Wood is pictured behind the amplifier.
EB: Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
GB: He’s everywhere, and then he’s in The Faces, and then The Band’s The Last Waltz, it’s Ringo Starr and…. Ron Wood! He’s a guest star, he’s everyone’s friend, everyone’s buddy.
EB: He’s everyone’s favourite water gypsy.
GB: And then he joined The Rolling Stones, and he’s still one of the coolest most underrated guitar players, he plays bass. He doesn’t really do his own stuff much, but he helps everybody do their thing. And that’s kind of what I want to do.
EB: He also looks like he’s laughed a lot in his life, he’s had a good time.
GB: He does his own thing once in a while, but he doesn’t have to, he prefers playing with others.
EB: He has incredible hair.
Where next for the Uncomfortably White Brothers?
GB: Self-immolation on stage.
EB: We’re going to recreate the cover from the first Rage Against the Machine album, I’m going to shave my head and set fire to myself wearing the robes of a Buddhist monk. After that we’re going to take a little hiatus while I’m covered in gauze, maybe some calamine lotion.
GB: I’ll probably recreate the album cover from Who’s Next.
The Uncomfortably White Brothers play Bassac Lane on Friday night from 9 pm. You’ve been warned.