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A Heart To Heart: Narelle Kheng Gives Us The Lowdown On Her New Music & The Sam Willows

Putting her own spin on Spring/Summer 2020's '90s minimalist-inflected take on laid-back sexy, Narelle Kheng tells us just what exactly has been up with her.

Female: The music you’ve put out in the past year has been pretty sombre.

NK: “Yeah, they’re very un-poppy even though I wrote them with pop music in mind. I’m inherently pop and love pop music.”

Female: the songs reveal a very vulnerable side to you. one of them, blue, even opens with the lyrics “I’ve been f**king up for a long time.”

NK: “As far back as 2017, I was feeling very lost. For months, I couldn’t hold a thought it my head – every thought would lead to a negative one and I would spiral, so after a while I would shut off because I thought I wasn’t being helpful. Each time that happened, I would lock in on these feelings and create a moodboard that would lead to each of the tracks. My emotions of disassociation for example became Tears , which talks about how even though I could be talking to someone, I would not actually present. The story behind Blue was that I was meeting the producers to record the song for the first time, but immediately started crying upon walking into the studio as I had been fighting with my then-boyfriend the entire night before. I asked for twenty minutes to myself, came back, heard the guitar loop and called it lame, but as it continued playing, I verbal vomitted all this guilt that I was feeling about the situation. The whole songwriting process was like a diary for me and that’s what I love these songs so much.

narelle kheng

Wool tweed romper, Chanel

Female: tell us more about the new material we can expect from you in April.

NK: “It’s very, very different from what I’ve released. I wrote everything at the same time, but as humans, you don’t just feel one thing. Even though I’ve been talking about feeling sad in the past few months, I’m not sad. That’s just one of the emotions that I feel. I also feel happy and strong a lot of the times, and you’ll see that part of me next and it’s going to be orange.”

Female: what do you mean by that?

NK: “If you’ve been following the sequence of releases I’ve put out, you’ll realise that the imagery for the first track Outta My Head was purple, while that for Part 2 was all blue. I find purple representative of a very feminine kind of anger that I felt when I had just gotten out of a very toxic relationship, while blue was symbolic of me sitting amid the emotional rubble after and trying to catch my breath. It’s also my favourite colour. And orange to me is the sunrise – the time when you find the courage to stand up and start picking things up; that reset. The songs from the orange phase are fun, tongue-in-cheek yet sarcastic – basically me. I realised when I was writing them that I wasn’t actually that sad and that I had forgetten that there’s a happy and strong girl inside. I think that’s what happens to a lot of depressives – being absorbed by all these negative thoughts – and I want to remind them that they’re not just their thoughts and that it is possible to control them. I used to think that happy me was a liar, but a switch in perspective has led me to think that I could be a happy person and that the sadness is just a phase and something I can change.

Female: What do you think is the job of a musician?

NK: “I feel very uncomfortable answering for others, so I’m only going to speak for myself: to grow. If you grow and become a better musician, you can touch people’s hearts. Music is a form of communication. If you grow as a person, it makes your music and ideas more complex and make others think more. Your music becomes more than entertainment. As long as you continue to grow, you’ll get somewhere.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photography Vee Chin Styling Imran Jalan
Hair Sean Ang, using Kevin Murphy Makeup Angel Gwee