Interview Daniel Teo
Sam Rui is a musician based in Singapore. Her out-of-this-world voice has caught a crowd of loyal listeners on Spotify and Soundcloud. She opens up about her experience as an independent musician and shares her honest opinion of the music industry.
How did you start off as a musician?
It was by accident. I was in university doing Psychology and then, I put out the first two singles for fun and it accidentally turned into a career. Music has always been a part of my life and my big break was the church choir; I was probably three or four years old.
There was a point in my life where it was not a means of communication or expression for me. I have always enjoyed it but I didn’t think of it as a reliable career option until it happened. If I did not try it, I would never know if that would freak me out more than having tried and failed. So that was how I got into music.
How was like producing your first album all by yourself?
It was the most liberating experience of my life. Even if you don’t do music, everybody has a soft spot for music in a certain way. There’s a song you connect with at a certain time in your life - for a person or an experience. It’s like a souvenir. A certain song comes up and it just hits you! You remember something you have not thought about in forever. For the first time, I was able to make my own version of that instead of taking somebody else’s words and trying to apply it to my life. I could literally journal my life exactly how I wanted so it was very freeing.
When I wrote the album, I was coming out of depression and it was the so therapeutic to able to condense such an intense feeling into a 3-minute song. All these problems running around in your head and you can’t find a way to express it. And at the end of it, when I channel all into one song and listen to it, I can let that feeling pass. You can exude it from your body so it is very liberating.
How did you find your creative identity?
I think with any form of art, you find yourself in the most honest way possible when you are not trying to. How I find myself is to get rid of any label and just experience anything- consume any form of art.
I listen to a lot of genres of music. In my free time, I still listen to a lot of post-rock and a lot of indie music. Anything that I feel suits me at the time. You find yourself when you are not trying to figure out, ‘What’s my image?’ or ‘What’s my brand?’. You just are and that is how it works the best.
I still haven’t gotten there yet. I am still trying to figure out what exactly makes my music distinct, what makes me me, and what makes me an artist that people would be interested in.
As long as you are open to the idea that you can keep changing, that’s how you get a better sense of yourself.
How was your first experience at Laneway festival?
It was wild! I have been following Chet Faker, his name is Nick Murphy now, and I love him. We were at the buffet line and I was getting a cereal prawn and he took one while standing next to me. I put the tongs back and his hand came in and I looked to my right, it was Chet Faker with his beard and everything. Literally two inches from my face. I wanted to pass out.
And Nao, I love Nao’s music - her vocal tone, her lyrics, her poetry and her stage presence is amazing. When I met her backstage, she gave me champagne and I almost wanted to pass out. She was like, “Come, sit with us” in her adorable British accent and I wanted to die. I talked to her for a good 20 minutes. This woman is my idol!
It was ridiculous. It was the most out of this world and humbling experience ever. Until then, I felt like I have been an internet artist.
My set was in the middle of the day, it was around 3:00 pm. You know, festivals like this, they put the headliners at 11:00 pm so I didn’t expect it to have so many (people) to turn up for my set. I even told my band, “We are just going to do our best set and not expect an audience.” But the whole place packed out from the stage to the sound tent - all the way at the back of the location. I wanted to cry. It was mad!
You’re in Seoul for a few months, what do you hope to achieve while you’re here?
Music wise, there aren’t many artists (in Singapore) so you don’t have to fight for attention. If you put out one album, it can last for a year or two because there is no industry. You can become complacent and get lazy very fast. I felt the same way. Then when I came out here, the music scene is so saturated. Everybody is so talented. Even if they are talented, they are never cocky because they are scared somebody will replace them next month. Oh, this group is going to debut next month, I have to put out something now and make sure it is the best thing that I have ever done. There is this mentality.
Which on one side, it is a bit unhealthy because it creates competitiveness; people don’t eat and don’t sleep because they want to sell. But then, on the other hand, they are so motivated to make it work. They are so willing to learn and they want to better themselves all the time. I had to step up my game when I saw the way people work here.
In singapore, it is very easy to just get comfortable with where you’re at and you just cruise. But here (in Seoul), you cannot cruise because you will die out if you do.
What are some of the struggles you faced as a musician?
What I have been thinking about a lot lately is the fact that at my age, everyone is graduating university, getting their first job, getting their regular paycheck, in a stable relationship and about to build-to-order (BTO) an apartment in Singapore. But for me, there is no regularity. There’s no schedule. I don’t have a 9-5 and my hours are wrecked. Sometimes I am in the country, sometimes I am away for months at a time. I am balling out one month and I am broke the next. I don’t have a degree under my belt.
It makes me aware of my life track I could have had if I pursued something else. I am very aware of it when I meet friends who are not in the same industry. It worries me sometimes but I have to accept this is what I chose and some things I have to sacrifice to be able to do this. Sometimes I wonder if this is going to be worth it.
What do you think young creatives should keep in mind?
They are capable of it but they are too scared. We are very concerned about appearance, judgement, or our own standards because we are just cultured to be that way but you are your own worst critic. If I had never put out my song on Soundcloud, I would not have met all the people that I have met and I would not be in Seoul. I would probably be in university back home studying for finals.
For that one moment, you have to drop your guard and just put it out, and then let it steep and do its thing. You will never know how sh*tty or how great you are unless you put it out for the world to critique. Sometimes, it’s not even that bad. I have people say that Sam Rui’s voice is so annoying, it sounds like a girl dying or like a cat being dragged across the road or I bet she uses too much auto-tune. But I don’t care.
Criticism will come and you cannot avoid it... If you are talented and your intentions are good, it will show. And you need to trust that.