Viphurit Siritip, the Thai music phenom behind the breezy tunes that effortlessly blend sunny tropical funk and dreamy indie pop, exudes a laidback politeness and charm that mirrors the essence of his music. That was the vibe with the 28-year-old creator of the quintessential indie tune of 2018, ‘Lover Boy’ – who is affectionately known by his pet name Phum – during our sit-down chat before his set at the recent Trifecta Music Festival.
Phum Viphurit performed at the Trifecta Music Festival on November 19 in his signature red skullcap
Held at the newly-opened board sport haven Trifecta on Exeter Road, Phum carried the same infectious energy from the stage to our conversation, treating the crowd to a repertoire that included ditties from his second and latest album The Greng Jai Piece. Now, if you’re not familiar, “greng Jai” is the Thai practice of being attuned to others’ feelings and demonstrating politeness, respect, and consideration. Phum, in his genial way, has embraced and projected this cultural identity shift outwardly, a conscious acknowledgment he shares in our interview below.
Phum Viphurit was a headlining act of the two-day Trifecta Music Festival
You’re looking cool today. Tell us about your fit.
“These jeans are from a Thai brand called Painkiller. I’m wearing Reebok sneakers and Keith Haring socks. The T-shirt is a secondhand one I thrifted from Chicago in 2019 – it’s a Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace shirt, and the jacket is a secondhand Stussy design I got from a vintage store in Bangkok.”
Is this your typical look when performing?
“I usually switch to my red beanie on stage as it’s my lucky charm. This is what I wear not just when performing but also day-to-day because it’s comfortable.”
How would you describe your sense of style?
“Comfort over everything. Sometimes, I like wearing T-shirts that possess a sense of history or nostalgia in my life. I enjoy Star Wars and cheeky prints.”
Since we’re wrapping up 2023, what was a song that was on repeat for you?
“What I’ve been listening to a lot is actually called ‘The World’ by Dutch musician and songwriter Benny Sings.”
How about your own personal music – is there anything that you’ve been playing a lot of this year?
“I don’t really listen to music in that way, but one that I go back to a lot to reference the sound and how I was mixing it is ‘Lady Papaya’ from my latest album The Greng Jai Piece.”
Who is Lady Papaya actually?
“It’s just an eccentric name I give to a papaya salad stand lady. It’s basically a somtam seller. There wasn’t a specific seller I was referring to for the song. The Lady Papaya in the song doesn’t really exist. I sampled this Thai artist named Onuma Singsiri from the late ‘70s. She has a kind of mor lam song — music intrinsic to the Issan region in Northern Thailand – from that era that I really enjoyed. No Thai artist has ever sampled it, so I did. The lyrics in that song tell how she is a papaya salad lady who falls in love with a taxi driver and she stops coming to her stand, and she gets really upset. My take on it is another perspective – that of the man – and how much he enjoys her spiciness or her papaya salad.”
You seem to be exploring more of your Thai identity in your latest work.
“I wanted a new take on my own works, so I started looking inward. Sonically, I want the album to resemble where I was originally from, not where I was influenced in my life as a teenager growing up in New Zealand. So, I looked into Thai textures and sounds. Lyrically, they’re not actually from my own life at all. They’re narrations of stories I’ve heard from friends and common invisible Thai rules that Thai people live by, like greng jai and stuff like that. It’s a good mix of my own Thai-ness and my detached perspective as a narrator in the lyrics.”
There is a similar term to the “greng jai piece” in Singapore, which we colloquially call the “paiseh piece.” So, what’s your approach to navigating around the “paiseh piece” during meals?
“I think you feel a bit of a sense of guilt if you take that piece when you eat with your friends, especially family and workmates. You should probably reserve that piece for someone who is the most elderly in that circle or someone who’s considered the MVP in that group. I’m cool, but I’m surprised that there are similarities in your culture as well.
When you’re eating, it’s not a big deal, but when this culture transitions to every other situation and interaction in your life, I think it’s really bad. Because sometimes, we as Thai people or Southeast Asians, we’re so reluctant to say our minds because we are so afraid of offending people. But I think there is a fine line between speaking your mind and refraining from being honest. My album and my take on this theme are about discovering that line for myself and for people who are into this stuff.”
What’s the most Thai thing about you?
“Definitely not my height because I’m tall for a fully-grown Thai person. Probably my default politeness is something that’s very Thai, for better or for worse. A lot of people mention that when I receive them, I come across as a very polite, soft-spoken person. I feel like the majority of Thai people my age whom you meet will come across like that too, especially if you’re a Westerner or someone who’s not from Thailand.”
We recently wrote a feature on music Stans, and one of them was a fan of yours. On that topic, what are the most memorable things your fans have done for you?
“I feel like anything artsy or crafty that fans made for me, I will keep and never throw any of them away. I just bought myself a see-through cupboard for my home to display all of it. I really love it when fans get creative. There was one offer for me in Korea in 2018 where a fan met me at a food truck outside a festival and she offered to buy me an apartment. I was a bit taken aback by that, but I declined obviously.”
What’s 2024 going to be like for Phum Viphurit?
“Hopefully, more genuine music. I don’t want to say if it’s going to be good or great because that’s subjective.”