ULUVUS (You Love Us) are a Vientiane-based expat rock band whose sound blends power-pop and hair-metal with mor lam—oh, and they sing almost entirely in Lao, often with hilarious results. Now, the five-piece head to Bangkok in support of their recently released second album, 55555 (also available as VCD containing 15 music videos). BK caught up with their enigmatic frontman Chris Crash ahead of the band’s concert at Cosmic Café on Oct 13.
How long have you all been living in Laos?
Long enough to remember how much fun it used to be getting censored! Before ULUVUS a few of us were in a band called Soviet Reunion. The first time we played at a big public concert, in 2005, thousands of flyers had to be binned after an official objected to our name. We appeared simply as “Reunion.”
What are your day jobs?
Modeling, product endorsement, cameo roles in Lao films, that kind of thing. Actually, that last one is true. I have a role in the upcoming film Big Heart, due for release next year.
How did the band form?
In the usual kind of way—drummer Tom O’Hawk started asking around town for other people with time on their hands. The turning point was when our label Indee Records asked us to be the fake backing band for a Lao solo artist called Sook. We had to pose for his album cover and shoot a music video with him. The video was banned from Lao television as there were dancers in it who were wearing short skirts. Sook’s career never recovered, but ours was kick-started!
Tell us a bit about your new album, 55555; what’s with the title?
The main reason is that people like to laugh at our band, for lots of reasons—and we like to laugh at the whole thing, too. 55555 is shorthand in Laos and Thailand for the sound of laughter. Auspiciously, there seemed to be lots of other 5s around—it is the year 2555, there are 5 of us, the album cost 5,555,555 Kip to make, and, er, that’s it.
Your lyrics feature a lot of wordplay; do locals ever pull you up on your Lao pronunciation?
We spend a lot of time hanging out with our Lao friends, talking about food and losing money at pok deng [a card game]. But, of course, our pronunciation isn’t perfect…this album is better than the first though!
Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Mainly urban youth culture. But inspiration is everywhere: late night noodle soup shops, traffic policewomen, power cuts, wearing socks with flip-flops.
You seem to spend a lot of time making music videos; how important is this visual aspect to your music?
The karaoke lyrics running across the screen definitely help some people to understand what we’re singing! The videos are a lot of fun to make. Dancing barefoot in a paddy field with a troupe of lam vong dancers is a good feeling. But look closely and you’ll see that we usually don’t know the songs that well at the time of filming.
What can Bangkok audiences expect from a ULUVUS concert?
At some of our gigs in provincial Laos, armed police have stood between us and the audience—we’re not sure if the band or the crowd were being protected. So in the big city we hope at least for the sound of tasers zapping in the hot night air.
What’s been your most memorable gig?
Playing at Lao boat racing festivals is always good—trying to keep playing while the equipment is literally sliding down the banks of the Mekong, and grandmothers are pouring whiskey down your throat mid-song. Supporting Thai band Clash in Vientiane in front of 20,000 screaming fans was also brilliant. The concrete floor of the venue was actually shaking under the weight!
Outside of covers bands, what’s the Lao live music scene like at the moment?
There’s a lot of talent around. Both our albums were produced by Sam Intharaphithak, who is an amazing producer, but also a wonderful artist. Bands like Veska, Boxer, the Oilinezz and Translator are also quirky and fun. We are still in awe of Cells—Laos’ best rock band, featuring stellar songwriting and world-class musicianship. In terms of gigs, there are exciting times ahead—music festivals are planned for both Vientiane and Vang Vieng over the coming months.
After Bangkok, where next for ULUVUS?
Every ULUVUS tour ends at the Long Cheng bowl [site of a secret CIA airbase in Laos during the Vietnam War—and still officially off limits to foreigners]. The acoustics are amazing.