Spotlight: Sam Rui

As Sam Rui releases her debut album, ZYRUP finds out more about her creative process, her growth as an artiste and her triumph over her dark past.

“Sorry, I’m going to take off my shoes and cross my legs. Can, right?”

Sam Rui is sitting across from me, giggling as she removes her footwear. I doubt that she was really asking for my permission. Speaking to her in person is nothing like what I had expected. In the flesh, Sam is more sprightly-Emilia Clarke than moody-Lana Del Rey – a surprise, considering the broody undertones of her music.

As she makes herself comfortable in the ZYRUP office, we begin talking about her debut album, Season 2, which she released just over a week prior to the interview. It’s been on repeat at the office, but I make no mention of that.

We start with its name. Setting the tone for the rest of the interview, she quips: “Where the fuck was Season 1, right?”

She explains that the album marks the beginning of the ‘second phase’ of her life, after the first phase ended with her first heartbreak.

“After we broke up, I felt like I was finally myself and not me in the context of somebody else.”

Coincidentally, she started working on the album a year ago, when she was 20 – a transitional period from teenager to full-fledged woman. It also marked a shift in her sound from indie-folk to a more mature R&B one.

She had entered the local music scene in 2012, posting indie-folk tracks inspired by artistes like Bombay Bicycle Club on SoundCloud.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to rebrand myself [to R&B],” she reveals, almost defensively. “I think I started as indie-folk because at that point in my life, that was the kind of music I was listening to. It just influenced my own sound [then].”

The introduction to a newer, sexier Sam came in the single ‘Down’, which features her producer, FAUXE. As Sam puts it, they both wanted to “write the most radio-unfriendly song”, which ultimately resulted in the “mindless sex song… that just blew up”.

“I was very lucky to have had good responses from [the media] and others who do music. I [also] read that some people… thought it was a very contrived move [to switch to R&B]. I had very mixed reactions, but I don’t give a shit lah.”

I note the explicitly sexual nature of the song and its striking departure from her previous style. When I ask how her family members reacted to the raunchy number, she laughs.

“My dad was like, ‘the fuck is this?’”

“His reaction was very stoic. He was like, ‘I hope that’s not you,’” she continues, referring to the suggestive moans at the beginning of the song. (In case you’re wondering, no, it’s not her, you kaypoh.)

Similarly eyebrow-raising is ‘Better’, another single off the album, where she name-drops her ex (“So describe to me Shawn/How do you get it on when you see her nude”). When I mention his name, she awkwardly laughs, as if surprised that I decided to broach the subject. She explains that she found out how he had already moved on with someone else when the dust from their breakup had barely settled.

“I didn’t want to be that girl, but I was just very shocked.”

“I think everyone wants to win after a breakup. I wanted [my ex] to listen to ‘Better’ and have the impression that I was doing really well, but at that point of time, I wasn’t.”

We discuss the rest of the songs in the album. She goes through the story behind each one, like ‘Boys’, which came about after a phone call with her best friend, where they lamented over problems with, well, boys. She says she’s the most vulnerable on ‘You’, a song about how she did truly love her ex at one point and how that is something she wanted to acknowledge.

She speaks in detail about ‘20,000’, which she refers to as her favorite song. She had recorded the track in Kuala Lumpur, months after she had finished the rest of the album. The song was in part inspired by the “otherworldly” form and melody of the Adhan – the Muslim call to prayer – which she heard while on location in KL during the recording. For Sam, the song reflects how she was finally at peace.

Referencing how her hair colour reflects her emotional state, she jokes, “you can probably ‘hear’ the differences in my hair colour.” For the record, her hair was dark (“less rabak”, she says) when she recorded ‘20,000’, as opposed to the bright red hue when she wrote ‘Better’.

I ask her about her tattoos. Her demeanour changes.  

“I used to have depression and I used to have this shit everywhere,” she says, referring to her self-harm scars that covered her arms.

“I basically wanted to cover up where I have scars with a different kind of scar – a scar that I am making by choice as a form of art.”

Her first two tattoos are still her favourites to this day – a pair of Chinese characters, representing her brothers’ names (meaning ‘stability’ and ‘benevolence’), one on each of her wrists.

“I look up to them so much even though they’re both younger than me.”

Her voice, so confident and cheerful just moments before, goes quiet and shaky.

“There was one particular episode where I was trying to off myself… I went into their room and they were sleeping. I realized that if I [had] left and it affected anybody, it would be them. It suddenly hit me how selfish I was being. So I keep these as a reminder of that.”

For a moment, I had a peek at the vulnerable, complex character behind the music. Perhaps it is that very same brutal, raw honesty that makes Sam resonate so well with her audience.

“I take a lot of pride in the honesty of my music,” she says.

And after spending an hour getting to know Sam, I don’t doubt it.

Season 2 is available on Apple Music, iTunes and Spotify.

Photos: ADI Global Media Team
Art Direction: Kapilan Naidu, Sharmayne Ng
Hair: Jacqie Thio
Crew: Isaac Chu, Sylvester Tan, Leila Lai

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