Small Talk: Sam Rui
Earlier this year in June, Sam Rui, on the back of a rapturous performance at Laneway Festival Singapore 2017, released her debut album Season 2. The album tells an intimate and personal story of the coming-of-age chapter of Sam’s life, filled with narratives of the R&B singer dealing with breakups, grudge and closure. We got personal with Sam, and got ourselves a seat with a nice view of her world and her life.
What was school like for you? Did it influence you as an artist in any way?
In SOTA (School of the Arts) I studied visual art. My major was painting. I think some people have the misconception that I studied music there. Some people also have the misconception that SOTA is purely an arts school and that we just go there to draw all day, but it’s actually incredibly academically rigorous. I wasn’t the best student, but I remember being very inspired by my peers who were, and who excelled in both their academic and artistic fields. Being there definitely made me understand the importance of balance and discipline, and even though I didn’t study music there, I definitely took away some things that I apply to my music career now.
Your debut album, Season 2, is said to be a representation of your journey through tumultuous teenage times, to the assertive state you’ve achieved today. Could you tell me about some of the defining moments that inspired the writing of these songs?
I don’t think I can pinpoint one, or some even. The whole year was full of defining moments/ turning points for me. So many changes happened to me that year. I felt like every other day I was being thrown into a new situation and learning something new about myself.
Do the songs each portray a different chapter or story of your life? Which song was the most impactful?
I would say each song serves as a sort of time capsule for something that happened to me last year. I wouldn’t say they’re each a different chapter because the theme/ message for some of them is pretty similar. By far, my favourite is ‘20,000’. That’s the album’s outro. Until then I’d pretty much written every song in an album about me being scored by a boy in various ways, but that last one is the only song I wrote about me, for me. Lyrically it’s also my strongest song I reckon.
I remember seeing you at King Albert Park when we were much younger and quite frankly just whippersnappers loitering at McDonald’s. Since then you’ve undergone a transformation (not only with your hair, but also persona, I’m sure) – how do you feel about this change that comes with “growing up”?
Yes I used to work at the ice cream place there! That was my first job at 16. It’s weird to look at pictures of myself at that age where I was a lot skinnier, had no tattoos, and was very ‘guai’ (like tame looking and less wild), I barely recognise myself anymore. It’s also weird to look at these photos and remember the mental state I was in then, or what my priorities were in life, what I thought I would be doing at 21, how I thought at this age I would be a grown “adult” and have my shit together. I remember being 16 and feeling as though I had myself figured out, and how much of what I thought was the “core” of my identity has changed since. For example, at 16 I was first diagnosed with depression. The songs I wrote and put on Soundcloud all stemmed for me being in that state, and I remember thinking that without depression I wouldn’t be as good or as valid an artist, that if I wasn’t depressed I wouldn’t be able to write/sing/draw well. Being depressed was a core identity trait I thought I always had to have, I’m glad that I outgrew that way of thinking.
Season 2 is seen as a definitive album for you as an artist. What were your inspirations while writing this album? Who were you listening to?
At the time I wrote it, I was listening to a lot of electronic R&B – Kehlani, Dojo Cat, Bryson Tiller, Drake. But in my teens I used to listen mostly to a very different body of music, indie folk like Daughter and Bon Iver. I think I drew inspiration from both genres of music, and simultaneously wrote to suit my voice, style and preferences and didn’t try to emulate either one. That is why the album sounds the way it does, and I feel for a first record I did a pretty ok job making it sound distinctly “me”. I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of developing my own sound though.
Dropping a debut album is definitely a defining milestone in an artist’s music career. So what’s next?
It was initially planned at being only an EP, but by the end of it I had so many demos (I had a lot of feelings to vent lol and Chris and I just work so well together that the songs kept coming), that I had enough to make an album. So I was like fuck these all fit, I’ll just make my debut an album instead of an EP. I feel like I’ve exhausted myself for a while though, and want to sit on things a while more instead of jumping straight into working on my next record. I’m definitely keen to work on collabs in the coming months. I feel like there’s only so much I can do on my own and that’s why I feel exhausted. Working with someone else is a whole other ball game. You’re pushed out of your comfort zone and the confines of what you think you know, and you can learn and grow so much. So some collabs are definitely in the works. I’m planning to have my own launch at the end of the year, and hopefully I’ll get to play overseas again soon too.
Five tracks you’re listening to right now.
Frank Sinatra – Someone to Watch Over Me
Sarah Vaughan – I’m Through with Love
Khaled – Slodown
Bryson Tiller – The Sequence
Kendrick Lamar, Javonte – Opposites Attract (Tomorrow w/o Her)
Special thanks to Shayane for the story.
A naughty bunch that might incur the wrath of Justice Bao.
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‘F**k mainstream boys!’