For the Record
Pop artist, producer, record label and gallery owner, and advocate of the '60s golden age of Cambodia's music scene, Anthony 'Tony' Lefferts talks about his groovy life
Tony playing the Evil Groovy Guru for Cambodian Space Project music video ‘5 Lady Cows’
Tony Lefferts is the owner of Space Four Zero in Phnom Penh, a one-of-a-kind venue that sells rare vinyl from the 1960s golden age of the Kingdom's music scene, as well as a variety of vintage Western rock records, posters and collectibles, handmade prints, paintings by contemporary Cambodian artists including Svay Ken, often known as the ‘Picasso of Cambodia’, and Tony’s own pop art. In fact, it'd be hard to pin down an exact definition for the place, which is probably apt given that the full name (I think) is Wang Dang Doodle by Space Four Zero. I've been a regular visitor to Tony's store since I first started collecting records a few years ago, and still get excited when he pings me a message sharing he 'has a new batch of primo vinyl in stock'. Intrigued to learn more about what led him to this small lane behind the Royal Palace, I recently caught up with Tony to ask him about the music, the art, and his plans for the future.
Cambodian Space Project singer Channthy Kak with Kol, Sinn Sisamouth’s grandson
Let's start at the beginning – where did you grow up?
I grew up in Houston and New York, but lived most of my life in Austin, Texas, which was the live music capital of the world and where I went to film school. It’s definitely my favorite city in the USA. I also lived in California and settled in Cambodia in 2013.
As a child, what sort of music were you exposed to?
I was exposed to music from birth. My mother was an upcoming jazz singer with the William Morris Agency who appeared with Johnny Nash and The Creepers on the Arthur Godfrey Show, the biggest music show of the 1950s. She was always singing around the house, and had such a beautiful voice, but she gave up her career to have a family. After later divorcing, she would headline the local club scene, and I actually sat in on the snare drums a few times aged 8 years-old. High school in Texas also had a big influence on my musical taste, where I started listening to psychedelic rock like The Doors, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top, 13th Floor Elevators, and Led Zeppelin.
‘Hey Tony, you want a close up?’ Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in concert
What sort of jobs have you done over the years?
Before I came to Cambodia I worked in the music business as a Project Coordinator for PACE Entertainment (LIVE Nation), had a short-lived record label in Austin called Fat Angel Records, and founded Cigar Connoisseurs, a cigar distribution company that supplied over 300 restaurants, bars, stadiums and hotels. I closed it in 2009 after 12 years when no smoking rules were passed in the States. I was also a partner in The Green Room in Houston, Texas, a 600 square meter club that was really full on: wine lockers, a walk-in cigar humidor with cigar lockers and a private club on the top floor. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and many other athletes and celebrities used to visit.
Paul Kelly and Channthy from Cambodian Space Project in Phnom Penh, 2015
How did you end up moving to Cambodia?
I first came to Cambodia about eight years ago, and then moved here permanently around six months later. I love all of Southeast Asia, but there is something special, even magical about Cambodia. The people here are great and the vibe is so laidback, it’s a place where you can follow your dream and do anything, the possibilities are pretty much endless. However, the clincher for me was really the music, the lush sounds of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Sereysothea were like nothing I’d heard before, and then on my birthday in 2013 I went to see this band the Cambodia Space Project.
The show was on the riverside at a place called La Croisette (The Crossroads). I arrived early and there were about 100 folks sat outside on their patio drinking and smoking before the show. I grabbed a seat and ordered a beer. Sitting next to me happened to be Julien [Poulson, lead guitarist and founder of the Cambodia Space Project]. Now I had never seen a picture of CSP before, so I asked Julien ‘Have you seen this band before?’, he nodded. ‘Any good I asked?’, not bad he said. He was wrong, they were incredible, like nothing I had ever seen before, and I’ve probably seen more than 7,500 concerts.
Channthy Kak, the Cambodian lead singer, was a true revelation, and Poulson’s guitar, along with a super tight rhythm section of Phea and Bong Sac, well, I was immediately hooked. After the show, Julien and I hung out until the sun came up talking music and art, and pretty much started working together straight after that. Soon after, I went on tour with CSP to Bali and Australia as tour manager, producer, roadie, and cat herder.
Cambodian Space Project on tour in Taipei, Taiwan, 2015
Tell me about Space Four Zero, what's the backstory?
Julien and I started Space Four Zero together in 2014. We wanted a place where we could work on our various music and art projects together. We had Cambodian Space Project play the opening party, which was incredible. The name Space Four Zero came from the fact that we wanted Space in the name due to CSP and we also have the Space Agency artist management company together. Forty was then our street number, so Space Four Zero was born. The venue is kind of a cross between a vinyl shop and a pop-art gallery, two of my favorite things - I don’t think you can classify it really except it’s a very groovy space. I eventually took over sole management in 2017, as by that time Julien was touring about 6 months a year with CSP, and then he opened KAMA Studio in Kampot, so he’s wasn’t living in Phnom Penh anymore or here all that much.
‘The Golden Voice’ pop art of Cambodian singer Ros Sereysothea by Tony Lefferts
You sell a lot of vintage '60s SEA vinyl – why’s that?
That period was so groovy, and with the Motown and Merseybeat influence hitting Southeast Asia, it just created some great sounds from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia, but especially from Cambodia. The ‘60s golden era here was one of the richest times in the country’s musical history. I only discovered this in 2013, and New York Times bestselling author Joel Selvin also fell in love with the sound after hearing a Sinn Sisamouth LP his partner bought at Space Four Zero a couple of years ago. He was planning on writing his next book on that period. After his publishers approved we were actually scheduling a visit for him in 2020, and then something happened… Joel contributed liner notes on our new Sinn Sisamouth record Groove Club Volume 4.
You always have projects on the go – what's next?
Our new Sinn Sisamouth album Groove Club Volume 4 was released worldwide earlier this month. It was produced by Lion Productions in the US and my label, Pearl of Asia, in conjunction with the Sinn Sisamouth family, and has just sold out in 3 weeks so I’m pretty happy about that. It’s such a groovy record that we are very proud of after over two years of work, Next I’m working on two Vietnam compilations. My first will feature current bands Skeleton Goode, Sirens of Ha Long, OPNAIRDRGMKT and many others as the scene there is very vibrant. My other release is a swinging ‘60s Vietnam compilation from my vintage collection of around 400 LPs. I’m also going to finally have my ‘Idols’ exhibition featuring my artwork probably in January sometime at Le Boutier and Space Four Zero. I’m also hoping to release my SEA rock and roll documentary in early 2022, as I’ve been filming bands all over since 2013 and have a massive amount of footage, just need to find the right editor as editing isn’t my fave.
Tony with band Frankie Teardrop Dead outside Space Four Zero. Photo by Antoine Raab
What's the future hold for Space Four Zero?
I’m stoked to announce Space Four Zero will be rocking into Saigon in 2021 with our second location! It will be a little bit of a different animal from our Phnom Penh digs, open from 10am till late with a bigger venue and more focus on music, with in-store performances that can accommodate up to 100. We will have a small bar with booze and an assortment of great Vietnamese craft beers. It’s very exciting, fingers crossed!
When’s the new batch of primo records coming in?
The next batch of vinyl should be in any day, it’s a bunch of Cambodian records so I’m very excited. We now have shipments coming in all the time, and have about 800 LPs in stock and I’m not sure how many CD’s. Our Angkor Pop! repress in hot pink limited to 300 numbered copies should be arriving any day as well, it’s gorgeous. Come visit!