The three-piece alternative rock band Road to Mandalay were born in the ‘Shark Cage’ rehearsal room at Sharky Bar in Phnom Penh in June 2015 – under the watchful eye of the late Sharky principal Michael ‘Big Mike’ Hsu. Now the band are set to release their debut five-track EP – the product of some very hard work in the Links recording studio and more than eighteen months of writing, rehearsing and gigging only their own material.
RTM is comprised of Adam Schumacher and Tracey Farrell from the USA and Antti Siitonen from Finland.
Leng Pleng caught up with guitarist Adam Schumacher and drummer Antti Siitonen for a chat about the journey of the band so far, some more info about their new record, and… what does that name mean anyway?
The EP is entitled after the band itself – Road to Mandalay. It’s a wonderfully evocative band name – but what does it actually mean?
Adam: It does evoke a pretty image I agree… but Road to Mandalay actually means… road to nowhere! In my previous capacity I’ve done a lot of work in Myanmar, working with the government. Every time we would have a VIP come, the government would always want us to fund the ‘Road to Mandalay’ which is a road to a small city that has nothing. It means a money-pit. It was a joke that we had amongst ourselves…
Antti: We are living in Cambodia we don’t know where we’re going… You’ve heard the song ‘Ode to Mandalay’? : ‘on our way to somewhere we don’t know…’
Adam: The artwork for the EP sleeve, t-shirt and logo was designed by Mike McKay, a friend of ours here from Canada. He works for 17 Triggers [a Cambodian-based advertising agency that works within the development sector – sea-globe.com]. He came up with a great image when I explained to him what ‘Road to Mandalay’ actually meant.
The three of you have been together since June 2015? Why did you decide to enter the studio and record this EP?
Adam: This has been an incredible ride for us. We wanted to make sure we had something we would be really proud of. Throw it out there and see what happens. We’re doing this for the fun of it.
Antti: We’ve been doing this for more than 18 months. That’s quite a long time in Cambodia, where people just come and go. When we first got together, we didn’t imagine we’d still be doing this eighteen months later.
Adam: When we first got together, this was supposed to be a hobby. But it turned out to be much more. It really started as me and [Tracey], trying stuff out and jamming. To see where we are at now, with the shows and the quality of the recording. I never expected that this would happen.
We practiced with another drummer at first – it sounded pretty good – but then he cancelled the next practice because he was leaving the country. 45 minutes before our second practice, we contacted Antti and he showed up – pretty awesome!
Antti: second or third practice, Big Mike came in … pretty cool. This was in mid-June 2015. We played our first show in October.
Adam: We wanted to do an all original alternative rock band. There is so much here in terms of cover bands… we wanted to do something different. We played a couple of covers at first to cover the [performance] time. But we all decided we wanted to play originals only. Now we have 19 or 20 original songs.
Antti: We are writing new songs all of the time, all of us.
Adam: What happens a lot is i’ll come in with some [guitar] riffs, unstructured things… then we kind of put it together. Tracey writes most of the lyrics.
Antti: Ode to Mandalay was a great example, Adam came in and said ‘you are going to sing this, you are going to write the melody for the chorus!’
Antti: There’s no leader in the band… it’s a group effort.
Adam: Which is probably why it works, at least for us.
The whole EP was recorded, mixed and mastered at Links [Phnom Penh]?
Adam: Big shout out to Adrien and Pierre at Links where we recorded. Completing three songs in five days is extremely ambitious and difficult and tiring. We might not do it like that again!
Antti: the mastering was done by a guy called Mario Raus. [Our Producer] Pierre felt like he wanted this to be top notch. Mario was better at mastering. Someone mixes [the tracks], then a different pair of ears do the mastering. That’s how it goes in this industry. I didn’t really do anything about the mixing. I didn’t say a word. I was pretty quiet. I’ve heard the songs too many times.
Tell me something about the individual tracks on the EP?
Antti: It was my going-to-Finland-for-two-weeks farewell party. I asked these guys to play a few songs with me there [Good Times Bar in Phnom Penh, run by Shuhei Murakami]. I asked these guys to bring your guitar, bring cajon – Tracey wrote the lyrics about that: ‘Take your axe, take your cajon’. Phnom Penh Nightlife : ‘the bar is open I’m not sober… drink your saki… drink your Asahi’
Adam: I was watching the news and they were interviewing Trump supporters. Somebody asked why are you voting for Trump? And he said ‘The DEFEATION of Isis’.
Antti: we have plenty of Trump songs nowadays.
Adam: It was our first really really fast song – punk rock fast. Foo Fighters kind of style. I don’t know what it’s about!
Adam: I think that Tracey just thought that the guitar riff reminded her of the movie Kill Bill. There is no Kill Bill in the lyrics.
Ode to Mandalay
Adam: This one is important. When I brought that riff in, it seemed like something pretty cool. I don’t know why but I thought : Antti, you need to write this song. He wrote amazing lyrics about [the band] and that’s what that song is about.
This is the one we do at the end of the set. Where the lighters go up!
Antti: ‘Together we can together we stand, together we fall, that’s what friends are for’.
What will be happening at the grand EP launch party on Saturday?
Adam: We have a Master-of-Ceremonies called Robert – he will bring the whole thing together
Adam: The EP record release party will be a celebration of what we’ve been able to do together since we’ve been together. We are very appreciative of the venue Alchemy, PG Drumco and Links, who all contributed to the recording and the marketing.
It starts at 7.30pm, we’ll be selling signed t-shirts, meeting and greeting. The venue have created signature cocktails named after our song names. Botanico are brewing a craft beer specially for us… then we’ll play a couple of sets!
What’s next for Road to Mandalay?
Adam: Tracey and I both leave [Cambodia] in the summer of 2018. That’s fixed. We want to figure out a way to continue this. We don’t know how. New York or Washington D.C… We still like to believe there is some way. We are working on Antti’s green card!
This is way more than I expected and I mean that in a positive way. It’s kind of like our name… we’ll just keep going on that path and see where it takes us.
Thanks Adam and Antti, have a great show on Saturday