The Sam Willows went from being an independent act to signing a record deal with Sony Music in January last year.
Comprising siblings Benjamin and Narelle Kheng, Sandra Riley Tang and Jonathan Chua, the Singaporean quartet says being a part of a record label has not compromised on the band’s level of creative control.
“We still do a lot of our own videos, doing the filming and producing ourselves because we love to have that kind of control. Sandra does a lot of the directing and the boys take care of audio work, so everything is still done within us,” Narelle tells Star2.
Indeed, The Sam Willows, is still very much in control of the reins, penning every song on its debut full-length album Take Heart.
“The industry has shifted, now I think labels are more open to letting their artistes create their own work,” she says.
The music industry has changed in a number of other ways too. For one, listeners are consuming more music on digital platforms.
“You’d be surprised, a lot of people still look for CDs. Of course a majority of consumers go on streaming websites but a lot of fans, especially the more dedicated fans, they do want a physical copy,” says Benjamin on the band’s move to release physical CDs.
The band also shares why it wanted to drop a full album instead of just releasing singles, as is the growing trend of late.
“For us, the whole album is cohesive. We want people to listen to something else other than just one single over and over again. That single is going to get people interested but there’s so much more that we want to say,” Narelle offers.
Discover more about The Sam Willows, who was in town for a showcase, as its band members talk about recording its debut album in Sweden and recall the most interesting fan reactions they’ve gotten.
1. Why did you guys decide to name the album Take Heart?
Tang: We definitely wanted to name the album after one of our songs. Take Heart is something that resonates with us and we feel like it’s something that would resonate with other people as well.
Narelle: To get through life, you have to be willing to accept every hardship that comes your way. You can’t be defeated by it, so just take heart and slowly work your way through it.
2. What was it like working on the album in Sweden?
Chua: They are the forerunners in the entire global music industry. A lot of hit songs come from Sweden. So experiencing that helps us understand why they are the forerunners in the music industry.
The experience sitting there with a Swedish producer (Harry Sommerdahl), and the way he recorded us, the way he helped us cultivate our creative process and turned it into the record, it was just amazing.
Benjamin: The Swedes have got it down to a science in terms of crafting a good pop song. But more than just the technicalities, it was good to just get into a different head space; the creative language changes up.
3. What’s the songwriting process like in the band? Do all four of you sit down and write together?
Chua: It’s very tedious. There are four rounds of yes, no, yes, no.
Tang: Usually, somebody comes up with a backbone (of a song) and brings it to the band and we hear the song and everyone jumps in. Sometimes we argue a lot, but we’re very diplomatic. Let’s say when one person hates the chorus, we will rewrite it until everyone says OK.
4. Tell us an interesting fact about each other.
Narelle: Benjamin does his social media postings in the toilet.
Benjamin: To be honest, I do a lot of writing in the shower. I don’t know why, it feels like the most conducive place. Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, pretty much did all his writing in the shower so his utility bills must have been insane, so I was like I’m gonna try it out. Everyone should try it out.
Chua: Narelle can draw really well. She also picked up bass for the band.
Tang: Jonathan can cook.
Chua: I cook a really mean assam fish.
Tang: I can talk to cats.
5. Have there been any memorable fan encounters?
Tang: I guess this is quite normal where, some of them, they’re super sweet. When they come to you, they don’t know what to say, so they just stare at you. You know they want to take a photo with you but they’re just standing there. And when they finally come up to you, they’re shaking. They’re so sweet about it.
Chua: I was at a restaurant. There was a fan with her mum eating at the same restaurant and then she paid for my bill.