Listening to their new album I Know But Where, it's clear that, despite the ambiguity of the album's title, all four members of The Sam Willows are deeply in touch with their emotional centers, and these songs are eloquent responses to their lived experiences.
As pop stars and celebrities in their own right, the MTV Asia Spotlight and Hyperplay group — made up of siblings Benjamin Kheng and Narelle Kheng, Sandra Riley Tang and Jon Chua — show just how much they've matured since their breakout 2012 single, 'Glasshouse', on their brand new album.
In some ways, it's best summarized by the emphatic and cinematic 'Robot'.
But, as exemplified with every live show they've done, they're still easily the life of the party. And in this edition of MTV Asks, they exude that radiant positivity while answering some of the burning questions by their fans.
What transpires are some truly intimate insights, from their favourite regional dishes to how each member has grown over the years.
"Whats is your favourite singaporean dish/food? Ps ily u guys ❤️" — (@naomiliem)
Sandra: Teochew porridge.
Narelle: Chicken rice.
Jon: I particularly love Sargent Chicken Rice
Ben: Cai png for me, man. Anything where I can pick and choose dishes from.
"WHEN WILL THEY DO THEIR TOURS AND RELEASING DATE OF THE NEW ALBUM?" — (@aliciayee_)
Jon: We are doing We The Fest in Jakarta, and Hyperplay in Singapore in August. We're going to Australia to do a show as well, and then we have plans for Malaysia, Philippines, maybe Japan again. It's going to be interesting to see where this album takes us, because we have no idea beyond those plans.
Ben: That's why we named it I Know But Where!
Jon: We're very touched by the Filipino following, they're very kind and enthusiastic. So definitely we'd like to go back and do a show. We get a lot of love from our neighbours up north in Malaysia as well.
"Would you ever give backstage fan passes for your shows??? thanks for the music you make !!" — (@unmerryungraceful)
Jon: I was actually having a chat with Sony actually. We're trying to do this thing called The Sam Willows Fan Experience, where we basically come up with interesting ideas to do with them: bring them backstage—
Ben: Play a round of paintball!
Jon: Yeah, just fun things we can do with them. Not only in Singapore but also across the region. It'll be like day-to-day things like having breakfast together, stuff like that. They hang out with us as a group.
Ben: Go for group therapy.
Jon: Yeah. We're trying to work that out so hopefully we can pull it off.
Ben: We've already been interacting a lot with our fans, and I even received broccoli at one point. I was like, "I don't get cake? That's not cool." (laughs) I made a reference to broccoli once, so I think it's because of that.
Narelle: I do have quite a close relationship with some of our closest fans — they check up with me all the time. They actually come to Moonstone to hang out with me sometimes, and I get to know them on a personal level. That's really nice.
And then it's really nice to talk to them — through that, we realize why they love us, and then you discover how many similar life experiences you share with them. I find out how many problems they're going through that I've gone through, like, 5 years ago.
Ben: That's a good study of human nature because Singapore is so insular: when you graduate from fan to, like, friend.
Narelle: Exactly. There are even fans who are at Moonstone with me until late, like 11pm, and then they'll need to go home. So I'll have to call their parents to assure them that they're safe and with me.
Ben: You're like da jie! (elder sister in Mandarin)
"when will u guys have a concert of your own ??? ❤" — (@glesiskoo)
Sandra: We're working on it!
Narelle: We always say how we love doing live performances, and how it's different when it's your concert, because every person is there for you.
We don't need to have those worries on the back of our minds if the audience is even entertained. It's just an honest, pure, shared moment together. We definitely, definitely have to do it.
Jon: I think it's something we're all excited about — having done it once, we know what it feels like.
Ben: And we know how to make it better as well.
Jon: Yeah and like, there's a certain unity in the audience that we don't get with every show. The truth is we don't. If you're performing at corporate shows or festivals, not everyone is there for you.
Not everyone knows your songs, not everyone is there for that shared experience. So doing your own show is truly special, and for now we're just sorting it out to make it happen.
"Are u guys planning to go to indonesia? Cause im dying to see y'all in real life" — (@kaylanarina)
Jon: Very soon. We're there for a promo tour and for We The Fest.
Ben: Me and Narelle will have to leave early for our brother's wedding, which is sad, but we wouldn't want to miss that for the world.
Jon: Oh, I'm going to catch Lorde for sure.
"What's your favorite Indonesian food? 💕" — (@shanellehagaan)
Narelle: Ayam pop!
Jon: Mi goreng.
Sandra: Ayam pop is so good. I love padang!
Ben: Bakmi is very good.
Sandra: Martabak too!
Jon: We did a meet and greet once at the height of Pokemon Go's popularity, and someone gave us a Pokemon martabak!
Sandra: You, they gave you! We were all jealous.
"What's your favourite animal" — (@haybale102)
Ben: (laughs) I love these insightful questions!
Jon: My all-time favourite is—
Sandra: An owl!
Jon: No, stop it!
Sandra: His wife wants an owl.
Narelle: We've been sending her pictures of owls.
Sandra: Yeah, we been instigating her love for owls behind Jon's back. (laughs)
Jon: I just want to get a corgi, but I want the corgi to stay a puppy forever. Hopefully that technology will be around in the future.
Narelle: Kind of like a teapot puppy?
Sandra: Teapot? Don't you mean a teacup? (laughs)
Narelle: I don't know, they're all so cute. I've been watching a lot of animal documentaries on Netflix and I cannot stop thinking about all the animals that are out there right now.
Just think about it, how many animals — crustaceans, blue whales, tigers — that are living and surviving right now everywhere.
Sandra: And just think about all the babies being born right now!
Narelle: Like, right now!!
Jon: Look what you guys started (laughs)
Sandra: I have a bird and a cat at home, and I'm planning to get a duck. I'm really into ducks right now.
"who do you think in the group glowed up the most over the past 10 years haha" — (@germainerino)
Narelle: Glow up? Well I think we all have.
Sandra: I think we've all changed together. Like, if one of us is fat, the rest of us are fat as well. (laughs)
Narelle: One thing I have noticed is that all the good that I've seen in them from the start that was kind of masked in, is really starting to blossom. Wow, am I nailing it today or what?
Ben: Yeah! (hi fives) Get it there!
Jon: You're killing it today!
Ben: What is going on?! Such eloquence!
Narelle: For Sandra, you cannot help but get infected by her energy. And she used to have major spikes, like when she's crazy excited, she drags you along with it. So when I'm feeling like shit, I will suddenly become really happy.
Then there's also times when she's fighting her own demons, and she can't trust herself fully, but over the last couple of months, we've seen her sort of explode out. You haven't been upset in a very long time.
Sandra: (tears) Even like, shout at you guys?
Narelle: It's because like when you're happy, you make all of us happy. There is this thing about her that just comes through.
For Jon, he can be very naggy sometimes, but I would say he was the first in the group to glow up. He became so caring, in a way that you know you can trust him, like you know he has your back. He's looking out for you, and nudging you in the right direction. Ben has been amazing all along.
Jon: I think we've all gotten less angry.
Narelle: Yeah, and Ben has started to refine all the good things about him. He would quesstion himself on his good qualities — he never takes it out on other people, but he takes it out on himself.
I feel like he's starting to learn to love himself, and come into his own skin. It really transmits into us because you feel the immense love he has for everyone, and he's the one guy that truly cares about everybody.
Jon: I think Justin Bieber's 'Love Yourself' really helped all of us.
Sandra: What?! (laughs)
"who's the next in line to get married? Congratulations to Jon and Amanda btw!" — (@_kayinztagram)
The group: (laughs)
Narelle: My best guess is Sandra. What do you all think?
Jon: Who's the first one to get pregnant?
Ben: Ben! (laughs) Full stop.
"If they could only be friends with one other band member for the rest of their life ( song ref hahaha ) who would it be and why?" — (@sarrahhearts_)
Narelle: That's too hard, I don't think we can answer that!
The Sam Willows will be performing alongside CL on Day 1 of MTV Spotlight @ Hyperplay.
Get your free passes to Hyperplay before they're all gone — visit APACTix for more details.