For the past few years now, alternative pop group (and MTV Spotlight @ Hyperplay artists) The Sam Willows have been a household name in Singapore, and an up-and-comer in the international scene, too.
The quartet — composed of siblings Ben and Narelle Kheng, and their buddies Jon Chua and Sandra Riley Tang — have known each other for years, and are basically (also literally) family at this point.
It all started more than six years ago, when Jon was organizing an alumni concert for their school. The four had already spent quite a bit of time jamming together, and decided it would be a good idea to form a band for the concert. The jamming continued long after the show.
The group put up some of their earworms on YouTube, and the response was better than any of them had expected.
In 2018, they're mainstays on a major label, and with international touring credentials under their belts, they rake in millions of streams effortlessly.
Learn about The Sam Willows, who are July's Asia Spotlight artists.
Narelle thinks the band owes their relatively quick rise to stardom to their chemistry: "We all had a shared love for music, but in my world it wasn't a common thing to pursue. So when I found these guys that also wanted that element in their lives, it felt like we had found a home in something together."
"It also helps," Ben adds, "That I am biologically linked to Narelle and obligated to live in the same roof, so home became our studio."
It's that same sense of lighthearted closeness that drives The Sam Willows' music, that no matter how liberally they play around with genres (from the anthemic indie rock song 'Glasshouse' to the bouncy power pop beats of 'Keep Me Jealous'), and the seriousness of topics ('Robot' and its exploration of anxiety and depression), you always get the vibe that these are just four people who really enjoy each other's company.
Just to drive home that point, we let them describe each other, in their own words:
Jon: "I would describe Ben to be passionate, Narelle to be vibey, and Sandra to have the most contagious laughter."
Ben: "Jon is like a high speed rail. Narelle is like a spritz with a slice of orange. Sandra is like a tomato flavored bubblegum roll."
Narelle: "Jon is the all-knowing father figure, Ben is straight up a playful boy at heart, Sandra is the energy that just affects everyone around her."
Sandra: "Jon is the Commander, Ben is the Mediator, Narelle is the Millennial."
Their newest album, I Know But Where, takes that affinity to new levels of poignancy — no matter their hijinks, it's clear the group has matured, and it shows on tracks like 'Robot', arguably the album's emotional centrepiece, and 'Save Myself'.
Even all four members, who've known each other for close to a decade (excluding the siblings' relationship), are still learning about one another.
"All the good that I saw in them at the start of the group — that was kind of masked — is really starting to blossom," Narelle confesses in a separate interview with the group.
She turns to her comrades, who look stunned at the singer's response, while she exclaims, "Am I nailing it today or what?!" High fives are exchanged, and you can sense just how deeply imbued their bond is.
They're pop stars, the life of the party, but when it comes to the matters of life, they offer a pat on the back and a sense of familiarity. They're as intimate as loud, resounding pop can be in Asia. And that is why we can't stop listening to them.
— Marco Sumayao
Catch The Sam Willows performing live at MTV Spotlight @ Hyperplay, along with Nick Jonas, CL, Alessia Cara, Afgan and Slot Machine, at Singapore Indoor Stadium on August 4–5.
Visit APACtix to get your free passes – fastest fingers first!
Delve into the work of The Sam Willows and the other MTV Spotlight @ Hyperplay artists with our neat little playlist below!