Birthing debut album the start of a journey for The Sam Willows

Three-year-old local band ‘can’t see the end of the path yet’

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Photos: Zara Zhuang, Sony Music
Video: Vanessa Lim

The Sam Willows are now proud new parents.

No, the homegrown folk-pop quartet didn’t just deliver a chimeric baby. But to these young ones, releasing their debut studio album, Take Heart, is no different from becoming first-time mums and dads.

“Birthing is a really difficult process!” said Narelle Kheng, 22, the band’s bassist. “You hear stories of people going through 30-hour labour, and we’ve been in labour for four years.”

After taking a split second to reconsider what she had just said, she went on: “That’s the best I can explain it. It’s so gross. It’s too early in the morning.”

Sandra Riley Tang, the band’s percussionist and keyboardist, carried on with the parturition analogy. “It’s a lot of feelings,” she said. “When you’re giving birth you’re wondering whether your kid will be good-looking and cute, whether people will like your baby, it’s kind of the same thing.”

“Plus we put a lot of effort into making the album.”


The Sam Willows — comprising Narelle’s brother Benjamin Kheng, Narelle, Sandra, and Jonathan Chua — have come a long way since they first started out in mid-2012, covering pop songs and uploading videos of their work on the Internet. But following in the footsteps of the likes of Kina Grannis, Austin Mahone and Justin Bieber (sorry), the Internet exposure and the wild reception to their self-titled debut EP got the Willows joining Sony Music this January.

“Last October I met the Willows, we had lunch, and seven bottles of wine and champagne later they signed to us,” said Julius Ng, Managing Director for Singapore and Malaysia, Sony Music Entertainment. “My deal now is to look for The Sam Willows No. 2, which is going to be f****** difficult — how do you get another Sam Willows?”


The change in the band’s situation propelled them to Sweden for 10 days to record tracks for their debut album, Take Heart, with producer Harry Sommerdahl, who has worked with The Wanted, The Rasmus and The Pussycat Dolls. All four lend their vocals to the nine-track album, and the title track, released in May, peaked at No. 1 on Asian iTunes charts and reached more than 1 million streams on Spotify.

‘Take Heart’ features an infectious melody set to a heady mix of thumping beats and riffs that would make Avicii proud. “It’s quite a departure from our previous sound but a very intentional one,” said Benjamin, the band’s guitarist and keyboardist. “You find a lot of semblances of old stuff, but of course a lot of new influences — a bit of electronica and R&B, but still very Willows.”


The quartet have their sights set on the holy grail of musicians — the Grammy Awards. “From Day One we’ve always said the day we can say we’ve made it is the day we win a Grammy,” said lead guitarist Jonathan. “We’re giving ourselves five years. We’re past the halfway mark already and we’re not close, but you know what? It’s all cool.”

“I think a lot of great bands and groups take more than 10 years to win a Grammy, so for us it’s a goal, but it’s something we’re working towards.”


Even though it’s been three years since launching their debut EP, The Sam Willows are taking things one step at a time and not obsessing over how long they might last in the music scene.

“To us the journey barely even started,” Jonathan said. “We’re just releasing an album so it’s more or less just the beginning, so I can’t see the end of the path yet.”

Added Narelle: “And when you have a child it’s the start of the journey, not the end, so that’s kind of how we feel.”

Take Heart is available at all digital music stores and music retailers, and for a limited period at Starbucks and Topshop outlets islandwide.

Benjamin & Narelle Kheng will sing (but not talk) about love 


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