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Polka-Billy hits the Penh

Justin Ringsak, left, and band members Frank Ruffolo and Matt Schumaker

It’s not in the dictionary but the word has a story of its own:  ‘dealbreaker’.

The dealbreaker walks into the room and nearly everything about him is perfect, the shoes, the clothes, the beaming smile and sparkling eyes, the – wait a minute, is that a mullet haircut? All of a sudden he is not quite so perfect anymore.

“Sometimes you see something as you’re going about your day, a person or action or something that makes you say, ‘No, that’s so wrong!’ A dealbreaker is any one detail that ruins the rest of the picture,” musician Justin Ringsak said.

It was this notion that inspired the name El Dealbreakers, a four-member band that Ringsak plays in, based in Kampot.

“It’s the same thing we try to do with our music, the concept of blowing away convention with our choice of instruments and songs,” he said.

El Dealbreakers will be back in the Penh for its fourth consecutive year from January 13 to 15 as part of its Southeast Asia tour and the band promises to bring the dealbreaker factor with them.

“To put it one way, we play the right songs with the wrong band. You can expect to hear country, reggae, polka, rock, blues, even punk songs, mixed up in El Dealbreakers’ oom-pah blender,” Ringsak said.

The band has ridden itself of conventional instruments like guitars and drum sets and made way for a more colourful line-up including an accordion, a 10-stringed Mexican guitar called the  bajo quinto, fiddle, mandolin, trumpet and for Phnom Penh shows only, the trombone.

Ringsak plays the mandolin and trumpet.

“The musical space gets filled by all of these unusual sounds. We sometimes call our style ‘polka-billy’. We started the band to have fun, and that comes out through our style of music,” he said.

El Dealbreakers formed more by accident than anything else when the members, who all had previous musical experience, started jamming around kitchen tables and in basements.

“Food played a big part of it,” Ringsak said. “This band loves to get together and eat, drink and be merry. The music developed as part of the merry bit.”

This time round the group will play at Equinox on January 13, FCC on January 14 and will wrap up with ‘Tuk-tuk’ sessions on January 15.

“We love performing in Phnom Penh,” Ringsak said.

“While the crowds and the atmosphere are always changing, one thing stays the same – it’s simply fun to play in the city. We just try to enjoy the many absurd situations that life presents – like playing in an almost indescribable band in Cambodia.”



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