The Sam Willows' Benjamin Kheng goes solo with his debut single "Wicked"
Fans of The Sam Willows will be thrilled to know that Benjamin Kheng is back with a solo music career. After a year's hiatus, he has returned with a new single, "Wicked". Recorded in Sydney with producer James Angus and additional recordings done in Singapore with producer Evan Low, Ben experiments with an all-new sound, which draws on his diverse influences growing up including gospel and musical theatre.
An unusual take on a love song that expounds on love's sometimes punishing indulgency, the accompanying music video marks Ben's directorial debut working alongside collaborators, videographer Benjamin Ong, art director Faiyaz, makeup artist Sha Shamsi, and the ITE Show Choir.
We spoke to Ben about this next phase of his career.
What's your writing process like?
To be honest, I do my best writing in the shower. Everywhere else is just terrible writing, so my water bills are gross. I'm so sorry, Dad. The best ideas come at the most random times, so you always want to keep your handphone and your notepad ready. That's just the way my mind works.
What would be the optimum for you in terms of splitting your time between music, acting, and writing?
I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing right now. It's a new challenge every single day and I kind of want to be doing one thing at a time and doing it well. I'm trying to have a whole wellness mindset moving forward.
You took a year off music and returned with "Wicked", which is a real departure from what you've done with The Sam Willows. Tell us more about the inspiration behind it.
I took a year off music. Burnout is real. I love The Sam Willows, but I just needed time to decompress and fall in love with music again. At the same time, I've been writing solo stuff since I was six. It's mostly terrible stuff, but it's just about consolidating all that and seeing what works for me right now. I'm pretty happy with the current batch of songs that are coming out.
In terms of inspirations, I grew up with gospel music by musicians such as Kirk Franklin and Israel Houghton, and a lot of musical theatre. "Wicked" feels like an interesting intersection of all these things. There are some easter eggs in there. If you're a gamer and like Legend of Zelda, you may find a couple of interesting things.
Is this the kind of sound we can expect from you in the future?
Absolutely not! "Wicked" is a nice bridge between what I usually do, what I'm known to do, and what's coming up soon. Who knows? I may progress deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole and eventually release a compilation album of NDP singles. Shoutout to Dick Lee!
You recorded "Wicked" in Sydney? Tell us about why you chose the city as well as the collaborators for the track.
It's always nice to get out of your headspace, literally. Go somewhere else and be creative. The collaborator I ended up with is producer James Angus. He resides in Brisbane and we met in Sydney. He mostly does trap and hip-hop music, which is very strange obviously. I wanted something very different. We sat down and talked about where we wanted to go. It's really interesting to work with people that you don't expect to usually work with. Every single song that we came up with was a hit. I love that dude and I'm so excited to do more.
You mentioned you wrote "Wicked" as a song to be played live. Are there any shows coming up?
Every song that I write has to pop off live. It has to have a really fun element to it. Otherwise, there's no point writing it. The moment that I wrote "Wicked" I knew how I wanted to do it live.
I'm doing a couple of shows soon including the New Year's Eve countdown with Mediacorp. I've also got quite a few of shows in January. They are free shows, so if you want to come by for some live music and respectable nodding of heads with people beside you, come to my shows!