I’m starting the first work day of 2018 with The Sam Willows. I don’t mean listening to one of the homegrown band’s breezy pop tunes on Spotify (where, FYI, they have one million fans across 61 countries) to psyche myself up for the new year. I mean literally, with a face-to-face interview, and psyche myself up is exactly what I’m trying to do.
If the local entertainment scene was high school, the quartet made up of Benjamin Kheng (guitarist/vocalist), his younger sister Narelle (bassist/vocalist), Jonathan Chua (lead guitarist), and Sandra Riley Tang (percussionist/keyboardist/vocalist) are the popular kids. Six years into their career and, going by their appearances and social media, they ooze the charisma and confidence of veterans. And, of course, they are millennially famous. Spotify cred aside, they have 56.3K followers on Instagram (more if you add the ones on their individual accounts, which includes 182K from the elder Kheng, the heart-throb of the group).
Let’s just say that I’ve never been a “popular kid” kind of person. Then, I hear them – even before I reach the makeup room where they’re getting groomed for this shoot: animated chatter with a side of booming laughter and the odd expletive – just a group of long-time friends mucking around, Nintendo Switch in tow, to pass time. And I meet them: unpretentious, dressed down in ripped jeans and tees, and both affable and humorous, despite still recovering from a mix of jet lag and a live New Year’s Eve performance on television.