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Local band dominates charts and hearts
THE Sam Willows is the sort of band any producer will kill for, given the members' knack for penning radio-friendly pop songs with killer hooks. Their wholesome good looks which make them Instagram-bait (22,000 followers and counting) is the icing on the cake.
It comes as little surprise it has emerged to become one of the most successful bands in the local music scene in recent years and the quartet - comprising siblings Benjamin and Narelle Kheng and their friends Sandra Riley Tang and Jon Chua - deservedly landed themselves a major label contract in February when Sony Music Entertainment signed them.
They have toured as far as America and just last week played to their biggest crowd ever at the opening ceremony of the SEA Games, in front of 50,000 people at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Through it all, their music has also seen some serious chart action - The Sam Willow's self-titled 2012 debut EP stayed in the local iTunes Top 30 for over two years; and their latest single, Take Heart, from their forthcoming album shot straight to number one to beat both Taylor Swift and Jessie J when it was released last month. The jaunty folk-pop tune, with a touch of electronic dance, remains in the top five.
The Sam Willows also collaborated with veteran local singer Jimmy Ye on a new song, Come Back To You, released earlier this week. The track is off the free album Sing, Love which celebrates Singapore's 50 years of independence.
The pressure to keep the momentum going is definitely now on as Benjamin, the band's resident heartthrob who is also an acclaimed television and stage actor, admits writing songs has "become harder but (also) more fun". He explains: "We're a much more commercial entity than when we started; back then, our music took on a much looser creative form, (but) now we're writing songs that need to both hook a listener and impact them in a span of three to four minutes."
But he sees the fun in the challenge as well - "It does get easier when you're writing songs every day; the songwriting muscle gets put to work, and you obviously get better at it."
It helps that they have always written songs straight from their hearts, and nothing changed when they headed to Stockholm earlier this year to record their full-length debut album with Swedish producer, Harry Sommerdahl (The Wanted, The Rasmus, Pussycat Dolls).
Benjamin says the main challenge was to craft a set of songs that would stand on their own commercially as well as to thread a narrative to make the work whole. This is because the industry and music fans these days are more used to listening to single track releases rather than a collective set of songs.
"The relevance of a music album in today's world and its fast-changing methods of consumption have become a hot topic among everyone," he acknowledges. "It's a fun challenge (to write an album of songs), and we think we've solved it."
Narelle, who was formerly a national swimmer like her brother and who also stars with him in the prime-time reality television show Do It Yourself, adds: "I hope the album will be able to speak for us and itself; I'm quite attached to it because even though it's very pop and more fun, the lyrics and intentions behind the songs are still incredibly personal and mean the world to us."
Asked which is her favourite track, she says it is the forthcoming single, For Love: "That's probably the most heartwrenching song for me because it's just so relatable, so simple, yet so true and that's what I love in a song."
Her bandmate Chua reveals the album is set for release in late August and the three-year gap between that and their debut EP helped The Sam Willows to discover themselves as a band and as individuals; as well as the kind of music they wanted to make. Following its release, the four-piece will be promoting the work both here and regionally.
On the road to becoming full-time musicians, Tang says: "It's not easy but it is definitely possible; I think it's a growing industry and as long as people continue to work hard, make good music and be willing to help one another, it'll be possible for many many more to make music and arts a viable career in Singapore."
- The Sam Willows will perform at the Sing, Love concert on July 3 at Resorts World Sentosa and at the Singapore Grand Prix post-race concerts alongside Bon Jovi, Pharrell Williams, Maroon 5, Spandau Ballet and more on Sept 18 and 20 at the Padang