Reinventing the Rules with The Sam Willows
The Sam Willows speak to ART REPUBLIK on their collaboration with Bvlgari
Bvlgari’s newest B.Zero 1 Labyrinth ring features an architectural spiral of white gold and rose gold transitioning into each other, reflecting the modern world as a maze of choices and adventures. To navigate this plethora of possibilities? Rule by reinventing the rules. A mantra to live by, as B.Zero 1 spokesmodel Bella Hadid, as well as local friend of Bvlgari, The Sam Willows, have done. We find out more about the iconic ring, and what it takes to chase after one’s dreams fearlessly. (Part 2)
In Singapore, Bvlgari has collaborated with local band The Sam Willows on a music video for their newest single, ‘Papa Money’. As friend of Bvlgari, The Sam Willows, made up of brother and sister Benjamin and Narelle Kheng, as well as Sandra Riley Tang and Jon Chua, embody the B.Zero 1 spirit of ruling by reinventing the rules.
The Sam Willows released their self-titled EP in October 2012. It was a runaway success that launched their career. They have since played on numerous stages both locally and abroad, including F1 Singapore Grand Prix concerts as well as MU:CON in Seoul, Korea and the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, USA and their own sell-out concert in 2016.
In the music video for ‘Papa Money’, which is a song representing the band’s generation’s strong work ethic and search for independence, The Sam Willows wear the B.Zero 1 collection of bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings that perfectly reflect the group’s energy, edginess and ambition. ART REPUBLIK speaks to The Sam Willows to find out more about their collaboration with Bvlgari, and how they work as a team to offer new sounds to a captive audience.
In 2018, Bvlgari invites women to invent their own rules, as reflected through their innovative jewelry, such as the B.Zero 1 ring. What are the rules you’ve broken or made for yourselves that have served you well in your career as musicians?
While we aren’t exactly experts in deciphering the rules of being musicians, we’ve always stuck to the notion of stepping outside the box, whether it’s directing our own MVs or exploring new genres and sounds. We like pushing ourselves to do something we’ve never done before. Why put out a record that sounds like the previous one?
The B.Zero 1 ring is a mix of eternity– as inspired by Rome’s famed Coliseum– and industrial modernity. How have you been inspired by both the traditional and the contemporary in your artistic pursuits?
A couple of us have classical music foundations, and other odd influences such as Musical Theatre. But we all love the electronic advents of Pop and how it fits in with analog instruments, live guitars and drums. For this album, we threw in some fresh ideas we felt like no one had ever heard from us before (or would expect to).
The new B.Zero 1 Labyrinth ring is a fresh interpretation of the B.Zero 1 ring first launched in 1999. How do you keep things new and exciting for yourselves as musicians and for your fans? And/or how have you evolved as artistes since you began The Sam Willows in 2012?
Our mantra is to constantly push ourselves in every direction that offers progression. While we understand that, yes, there are some common familiarities our listeners associate us with, we like to challenge ourselves. The music landscape is changing rapidly, and it’s disingenuous to pretend that we aren’t influenced by new trends and ideas. We love talking about the latest in music and film. Getting a steady diet of new material helps a lot.
This issue of ART REPUBLIK is themed ‘The A Team’. How does The Sam Willows work as a team? Who takes up which role, and what are the team dynamics like?
Six years in now, we’re feeling like an adolescent figuring out who he or she is and starting to take strides. We’ve got a great support system around us, but within the band the roles are pretty defined. Jon is the logistics and operative head, Sandra and Narelle work the visual creatives and Ben takes care of the music and arrangements. But we’re also at point where all these roles freely interchange.
You’ve mentioned before that the band listens to a diverse range of music as individuals. Could you talk about who listens to which genres in particular, and also how these musical interests feed off each other to create the unique The Sam Willows sound?
Right now, all our music playlists are syncing up massively (spend enough time around people and this happens). But when we first started out, Ben was big on Musical Theatre and Nu-Metal, Jon was heavily influenced by Country/Blues, Sandra on Pop and R&B, and Narelle on Indie and Electro Pop. All these elements do still creep into our jam sessions and songwriting but everything’s starting to blend into each other.
You’ve performed extensively within the region. Could you comment on the music scene in Singapore/Southeast Asia since you started out? What are you optimistic about and what could stand to change?
The music scene in Singapore is still very much growing, and we’re definitely headed in the right direction judging by the immense amount of genuine potential out there. We see new and upcoming artists in Singapore and around the region constantly churning out new music, new content and just changing the game day in and day out. This is great because it keeps us on our toes and pushes us to get involved with some value-adding contributions of our own. Right now, there isn’t much we would change in that aspect just because it’s such a subjective matter. Everyone has their own ways of going about things, and what might work for some might not necessarily work for others. We’d say as long as everyone keeps pushing the boundaries, the only way we can go is up.
What would you consider the band’s career highlights?
Getting to travel Japan and play for Summersonic Festival last year and headlining our very own sold-out concert in 2016 are definitely in the top 5.
You collaborated with an artist Yang Er for your ‘Keep Me Jealous’ music video. How did that collaboration come about and can we expect more of such art collaborations in the near future?
Yang Er is a great friend of ours with an artistic blueprint that needed to be stretched across a massive canvas to reach its full glory. We needed someone with great process (and patience) for our music video and it felt like a perfect fit. Collaborations are fun when it’s least expected too. We’re looking at working with some fashion brands, other regional artists and creative heads and we also have one particularly exciting project with Bvlgari coming up!
Who/what are your favourite artists/artworks who have in some way had an impact on your creative output?
In the pop world, Jon Mayer, Pink, The 1975, The Weeknd, just to name a few. Visually, we love the work of Wes Anderson and Hayao Miyazaki.
Tell us more about the new album on which “Keep Me Jealous” and “Save Myself” are singles.
When we were writing this record, we were in a really exciting but scary point in our careers. We were just done with the first album cycle, and found ourselves at multiple crossroads of where we could take the band. We were all at the age of grasping adulthood responsibilities and social empathies, so we used all of that as fuel and put together an assortment of songs that we felt represent not just us and what we’ve been through, but also topics that we feel resonate with our generation. Times have changed, and a lot of real-world conventionalisms have changed with them, so it was great to kind of reinvent these concepts and offer our viewpoints on these things.
What can we look forward to from The Sam Willows in 2018? What projects do you have in the works as a group and as individuals?
This is a tricky question, because while we’re bursting at the seams to share everything that we have planned for 2018, we want to keep that element of surprise and not give away too much (because where’s the fun in that?). All we can say is to keep a lookout these next few months for more songs and an album!
What advice do you have for young people in creative fields, whether in music, art, dance fashion etc.? What’s the secret formula and/or what is the one characteristic that has contributed to your success?
We’re still very much learning new things as we go through every day, so we wouldn’t formally consider ourselves fully qualified to provide indisputable advice, but if we were able to share what we’ve learnt, we’d say that on that note– you should always be open to learning and honing your craft, while staying true to your values as an artist and what you want to achieve. This career isn’t about a sprint to the finish line, but rather a marathon that requires some careful pacing.
More information at thesamwillows.com.
For part 1 of the article where we feature the B.Zero 1 Labyrinth ring as seen on Bella Hadid, please click here.