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Laura Mam & Her All-Female Band, “The Like Me’s”

By: Yenly Posted: February-18-2011 in
The Like Me’s Helena Hong, Loren Alonzo, Laura Mam and Monique Coquilla (from left to right)
Yenly

Similar to Sex and the City, the Like Me’s consists of four females, half of which are Cambodian and the other half Filipina. With different talents and varied ages, they complement one another to form a unique sound. The R&B/Alternative/& Pop Southeast Asian American band is much like the Cambodian Alliance for the Arts since they target both a global and domestic audience to accomplish their mission; to empower and to heal. Just like any crew or organization, the band was established through common experiences and interests. It was due to painful, personal breaks-ups that the ladies formed a common bond and decided to empower and unite themselves as the Like Me’s. It often takes an accident of fate to bring people together, but from this chance occurrence, new beginnings arise...

The all female band focuses on performing songs that bring back Cambodian classics (Sva Rom Monkiss) from before the Khmer Rouge era. They sing songs in Khmer, English and French. As a Southeast Asian all female band, they hope to inspire the younger generation both in Southeast Asia and in the western world. By providing an outlet for the Southeast Asian community, the Like Me’s are making history, one country at a time…now they are on their way to Cambodia!

With constant laughter and happiness the divas joined me for a Skype interview. The band members; Helena Hong, Loren Alonzo, Laura Mam and Monique Coquilla (from left to right in above picture), seemed to be both nervous and excited. I spoke with them about how they got started, how they are as a band, and how they feel about their upcoming tour in Cambodia on February 13th. Lead singer and guitarist Laura Mam explains how the Like Me's got started. She hopes that fans can similarly find empowerment and healing by turning to art:

The Like Me’s got together through heartbreak. I mean all of us by different people. But thanks to those people, we got together. We made music together. Then we found our healing process in each other. We found ourselves through music. It was incredible because we spent time expressing ourselves. Being honest with our music and sharing it. In the end, we created a lifetime friendship due to the broken hearts. So really our message is about empowerment and healing. In other words, finding yourself by digging deep, finding who you are, and actually having the courage to express it in whatever form that isn’t violence or drugs. You can actually take that energy and put it into something you actually love in many art forms.

Who is in the band (Name, instrument play, nationality & age)?
Like Me’s: Laura Mam- Guitar & Vocals (Cambodian, 24), Monique Coquilla- Drums (Filipino, 25), Loren Alonzo- Keyboard (Filipino, 24), Helena Hong- Bass (Cambodian, 31).

Where were you born?
Laura Mam, Loren Alonzo, and Monique Coquilla were all born in the United States. Helena Hong was born in Cambodia in the middle of the jungle while her family was escaping from the Khmer Rouge regime.

Where are you based?
We are based in San Jose, California.

How did you start the band? Are you friends? Or did you just meet?
Monique: I grew up with Helena a little bit. Loren and Laura were middle and high school friends. In March 2009 the three of us (Laura, me, and Helena) got together just for fun and started to play at open mic, local bars, and house parties. About a year later, Loren joined the group. Two years later here we are, the Like Me’s.
Helena: Loren and I are first cousins and that is how we are connected.
Loren: We are basically friends and family.

What is the dynamic of the group?
Helena: The dynamic is getting four creative women together who all have a common goal, which is making music that we love and makes us feel good when we are playing it. The dynamic is really great because we also listen to each other and all want the same things as long as we are together.

How did you come up with the band name, the Like Me’s? What is the significance?
Helena: It took all of four days for us to come up with the name of the band. Before our first show after writing our first song, we were a little under the gun looking for a group name. It was homework for all three of us; me, Laura and Monique to come up with the name. We regrouped the night before our first performance, ran down the list of names, and for me personally, I was just sitting down on the couch with my roommate, and was looking for a name that wasn’t too serious and wasn’t too fun or too anything. When I (Helena) came up with the Like Me's, it was one of those things that kind of rolls off the tongue. After we played our first show and they introduced us as the Like Me’s and we started telling people we are the Like Me’s, it gained a little bit of notice. Besides wanting to be fun, after we had a little bit of time to be a band, developed our sound, and relationship in general, us four women came together as a group. It has taken on all definitions as far as learning to like yourself, and teaching others to do the same and liking what we do. There are many plays on the word “like” in any kind of dimension in our lives. So the name kind of grows to be more than just a catchy name for our band.
Laura: It could be anything. For example, please like me or it could be like, you know, you like me. Or you better like me. It could be whatever you want it to be because everybody has a similarity with everyone else. It is a connected word; it connects all of us in a way.

Who writes your songs?
Loren: Usually I come up with the sound through the piano. Then, Monique would just jam with me. She would make up some beats. Followed by Helena playing the baseline. Finally, Laura usually does the writing. She would come up with the lyrics and add the guitar.
Laura: I normally write the lyrics in English. My mom actually helps write Khmer lyrics. She actually turned out to be more of a poet than we imagined. I think she enjoys doing the writing and it’s a nice way for her to get her work out there. As it turns out she is as much as an artist as the rest of us are.

Do you sing/write music to share because of your political views? If so, in what way do you express this?
Laura: We are not political. We like to stay neutral. Cambodia has a lot of issues in the country right now, but our focus is empowering the individual. I don’t think we are in the position to sway or have a political sway. It’s not really our arena. What we rather see is Cambodian youth and the younger generation find empowerment among themselves because that is what's lacking. We are more focusing on nurturing our own community as opposed to trying to control what is going on in the political arena.

Who is your audience? Do you have a fan base?
Laura: We are targeting the Cambodian communities not only the youth, but everybody. In general, we want to target everybody, all Southeast Asians, all females and Americans too. Our fan bases are Cambodian and Southeast Asian with Internet access, especially through YouTube.

What is the best show you ever played?
Monique: We recently had a send off show where we wanted to perform for our friends and family at our favorite spot in downtown, San Jose, CA. It was a perfect way to say goodbye to our friends before we left on our tour to Cambodia. They brought such great energy. The sound system was off the hook! We had so much support and fun on stage that we were floating. We are actually still floating.

Who are your influences?
Helena: Laura and I grew up with really strong women in our family. They all came here as refugees. For me personally, I would have to say my family. They are huge influences on me.
Monique: I would say my dad. He is a big music guy. He was my basketball coach throughout my entire life.
Loren: My mom is a great inspiration to me. She actually wanted me to take piano lessons since I was five years old because it was her dream. Now, I am a piano teacher.
Laura: Just like these girls, my parents are my biggest support. I mean in everything that I do. Both of my parents are music lovers. They just wanted me to live life as full as possible.

Like Sex and the City, do you party or are you straight edge?
Helena: All of us are very good dancers. We love to dance. As you can tell it takes a lot of hard work from all of us. We are equal hard work and equal fun. We know when to be in good times, but we also know when to be on point.

What do your parents think about the music you play from their generation?
Laura: Our parents are totally a part of it. The music video of the “Sva Rom Monkiss” is from the real life story of Helena’s mom. Growing up her mom really loved that song and was always telling us about it and how it brings her back to her past. If you watch the video it has all real characters, Helena and her mom. With songs like those we want to reconnect parents and children. We want Khmer kids to ask their parents, “Did you also party? What music did you used to party with?”
Helena: That cold stare my mom was giving me. That was real! My mom is funny like that.

I heard you’re leaving to Cambodian soon, when and how do you feel?
Helena: We are leaving next Friday (February 11). We are actually very excited! Neither of our Filipinos has been to Cambodia. This will be their first time! Both Laura and I have been there; this will be our fifth trip back.
Laura: It feels like a dream come true. When our band started two years ago, we only used to dream about one day traveling to Cambodia and we would sit around the dinner table fantasizing about it, and now that it is a reality, it feels like a dream come true.

Loren and Monique, what kinds of tips have you been getting to help you prepare for Cambodia?
Monique: We have just been told to not drink the water, watch what we eat, and have a buddy system. I just got my vaccination shots, so I should be ok.

What do you look forward to most on your first tour to Cambodia?
Helena: Besides food hunting and getting cheap massages, all of us are really looking forward to playing music!

What do you hope to gain out of this tour?
Laura: One thing that we hope to gain out of this tour are new fans. I hope to meet more interesting people. Cambodians are well known for their kindness and for being very sweet and humble.

Who are your sponsors for the Cambodian tour?
Laura: The Like Me’s are being sponsored by the non-profit Friends of Khmer Culture (FOKI) on this music tour. Our hope is to raise awareness for their great work especially at the Banteay Chhmar project. The Like Me’s are thrilled to be supporting Banteay Chhmar, a project that actively deals with issues of unsustainable tourism, which will soon become a major issue for Cambodia and its future.

Besides Cambodia, where else do you want the band to go on tour? Is the Philippines next?
All girls: Yes, Philippines!
Helena: We want to go anywhere that people want us to play our music.
Laura: We are looking at an East coast tour, maybe France, Sweden, Australia, and many more countries ahead.

What else do you have in store for this year?
Helena: Our Cambodian tour starts February 13 and will end in March 2011. You can check out our website at www.thelikemes.com for the list of the shows. Check out our newly released song, “Music Love.”
Laura: We are currently working on songs with Helena for the stampede victims in Cambodia. Traditionally in Cambodian culture when someone dies, we wait for a hundred days to honor his or her death. It will be one hundred day after November 22nd; the song will be released on March 1st, 2011. It is called “Pich,” which mean diamond. This is our way to remember those who lost their lives during the stampede. Click here to Stampede Victims Information

Do you have an album? If so, where can we access this?
Laura: We currently don’t have an album. It costs too much for us to make one at the moment. However, we do have demo that our fans can purchase from our website.

What are your future goals as a band?
Laura: Our hope and dream is to make this lifestyle sustainable. That way of life is making music; hopefully inspiring people and reuniting a cause through music.

What advice do you give to people who want to start their own band and go on tour?
Monique: Find your influence. Start there and do whatever you can to do it. Use resources like YouTube. Use the people around you. Don’t stop. It will be a long way, but if you keep going and don’t give up, you will get there. Go find your network.
Helena: Starting the band is the hardest part. Going on tour is the easy part. I didn’t learn how to play an instrument until later in life. Like Monique just said, you really need to love what you do and don’t stop.

Do you think you are a role model in the Cambodian Community?
Laura: I think that is difficult question. I don’t recommend this lifestyle to everyone, only if you like music. I think we are role models in that we encourage you loving what you do and what your passions are in that aspect alone we are role models. As a Southeast Asian American band, we are well aware of the feeling of being under represented and somewhat feeling like a lost minority in this world. The Like Me’s came together as a result of simultaneous heartbreak. However, we were able to find our empowerment together in writing the music, finding ourselves in it, and healing ourselves with it. We wish to spread this ability among so many other young Southeast Asians in the very same position that we once were. We only hope to see our young brothers and sisters find their answers by looking deeper.

What is your favorite Khmer dish?
Monique: Babaw
Laura: Samlor machu Kreoung
Helena: I like everything
Loren: Anything with eggs

Source: Cambodian Alliance for the Arts

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