What can Benjamin Kheng not do? Since starting out as a founding member of The Sam Willows in 2012, the former
national swimmer-turned-singer has been, literally, going places.
As part of the alluring pop foursome, he parlays his gifts – musical talent plus brooding, good looks – to excellent effect. The group has performed overseas at the SXSW Festival in Austin, the Canadian Music Festival in Toronto, MU:CON and Zandari Festa in Seoul, the Singapore F1 Grand Prix, and the Western Australian Music Festival in Perth.
With the band on hiatus, Benjamin has been busy with solo projects. He’s exercised his acting chops, taking on comedies and musicals along the way. He played Romeo in Toy Factory’s theatre production Romeo & Juliet and recruit Ken Chow in Running Into The Sun’s musical adaptation of the film Ah Boys to Men. More recently, he has gone into writing and performing comedy sketches, posting clips on TikTok, and diving deep into satire in the YouTube series, The BenZi Project, billed by Today newspaper as “the smartest and funniest show on the Internet”.
He returned to music in November 2019, with his first solo single ‘Wicked’, followed by two other singles ‘Find Me’ and ‘Lovers Forever’. In June 2020, he released his debut EP, A Sea That Never Stops, a six-track offering which includes the previous singles, as well as three new tracks, ‘Shiny’, ‘Already Home’ and ‘Make Do’. It presents Benjamin leaning towards an alternative R&B/electro-soul direction – think Sam Smith meets The Weeknd, bruised face included.
Ahead of his performance, alongside those by lewloh and Marian Carmel, in the inaugural Flock at The Nest, Benjamin shares with us some of his cultural favourites.
My Favourite Music Artist: Samm Henshaw (for this season). He’s like Leon Bridges with beats, and I like Leon Bridges, and I like beats. He’s also Sam Cooke reborn! Check out his EP The Sound Experiment.
My Favourite Sound: My dog panting. She’s such a calming presence in my life and she loves the company. It’s also a nice reminder that life can be simple and fulfilling.
My Favourite Album: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper. I grew up with a lot of gospel and soul around the house, so to see it find a modern home was amazing. I love Chance’s music choices and energy too. What a fella.
My Favourite Film: The Prestige. One of Christopher Nolan’s lesser known works, but still holds up so well today. Essentially a non-linear Nolan classic against the backdrop of the artistry of magicians. I also love period films so this just ticked all the boxes.
My Favourite Soundtrack: Blood Diamond – James Newton Howard. This was the first full film soundtrack I really sunk my teeth into as a kid. Packed full of hooks and motifs with the right blend of indigenous instrumentation, and peaks and troughs. I’m not a massive JNH fan but this one really did it for me.
My Favourite TV Series: Black Mirror. Not selling out here but how can this not be in anyone’s top 5? This series is a goldmine of incredible ideas packed into an hour of succinct storytelling. And who doesn’t love bleak, dystopian outlooks? It’s like pizza; even when it sucks it’s awesome.
My Favourite Hobby: Watching and angry tweeting about the NBA (National Basketball Association). Got hooked when I was 20 and never turned back. A hundred times more exciting than football. Lifelong Lakers fan (sellout again).
No one in the world is spared the COVID-19 lockdown, and lewloh, or just Lew as he is known among friends and
family, is similarly affected.
The Singaporean singer-songwriter is currently taking his Fall semester at the Berklee College of Music – not on campus in Boston itself, but online, from a residence somewhere in Idaho, where he is quarantining with his mother. Meanwhile, he just started a new series on his YouTube channel called Letters To Let Go Of, where he will write a new song each Wednesday to a letter randomly picked from a stash of correspondences with past relationships.
“My mother said to throw them away. I said I’d write songs to them. I need to resolve the attachment issue, by turning it into art,” he says, adding, “It’s also good as an improvisational exercise. Everything is at the spur of the moment.”
Lew, who has a twin sister born two minutes later, has written about 300 to 400 songs, although “only 30 or so have been released,” he reveals. “I don’t have an infinite bank account to release all of them,” he quips.
It’s therefore surprising to find out that his favourite subject in school isn’t a liberal arts subject, but biology. “I really like the sciences, the more logic-based fields,” he says. “Maybe it’s why I gravitate towards music. It combines both emotion and logic. When you study music, you not only go into the science and theory of what it does to your brain, but also, importantly, how it makes you feel.”
You can check out Lew’s own compositions at the inaugural music series, Flock at The Nest, where he performs alongside two other artists, Benjamin Kheng and Marian Carmel.
My Favourite Music Artist: The Weepies. The Weepies are an indie pop-folk band from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who started releasing their albums in the early 2000s – which, incidentally, is my favourite decade in music. They are a husband-and-wife duo. I only discovered their music two to three years ago. Their music is very centred on imagery. It’s sensory. That’s how I’d like my music to be like: It’s not just a vibe, but a whole experience.
I have seen them live in person last year. They’d come with their three kids in a caravan, and they would tuck them in to bed before they performed. They sounded just as good as they did on record. It’s just wholesome to see a married couple who not only are able to make music together, but also sing about real issues and deal with nuances in the relationships.
My Favourite Sound: Thunder whilst inside a car on the highway. One of my favourite and most vivid memories was during a typhoon in Hong Kong. All the trees were falling, the lights out, and I was in the safety of the car with my family. We were driving home, 3km per hour. You weren’t cradled to sleep. There was still the sense of urgency and alertness which kept you awake.
My Favourite Album: Midnight Machines by a Canadian electronic artist called Lights. This is my lullaby record. I put this on when I need to sleep, shower, or de-stress. It’s an acoustic version of an electronic album – it did even better than the original. The tendency is for music students to analyse and dissect a song, to hear whether it sounds good or not. With this, I don’t at all. I have been using this album as a crutch for five years. It’s on repeat.
My Favourite Film: Deep Blue Sea (and every other shark movie). I just like shark movies. There’s something about sharks. My favourite genre is horror. I like the sense of the unknown. You don’t know what is going to happen. I like the feeling of fear in a controlled environment. You know four-fifths of the cast are going to be eaten, and you leave the movie unresolved, like there’s always a baby shark at the end. That’s how I like my music too, like, damn, it doesn’t end properly.
My Favourite Soundtrack: Frozen. Frozen is the very first movie I ever watched alone. It was an 8am show and the ticket was cheap. I was supposed to watch it with a friend who flaked. The music in Frozen is so good. There’s a reason why it’s overplayed, cos it’s really good. The soundtrack has so much personality and character. I especially like the duets, ‘For the First Time in Forever’ and ‘Love Is an Open Door’.
My Favourite TV Series: Modern Family. Modern Family was the first TV series that really normalised LGBT relationships. I like that in the show, they don’t make a big deal out of the sexuality. Oh yeah, there’s a family with three kids and another with one adopted child. Families come in all shapes and sizes, as long as there are good parents and good family members, that’s all that matters. Plus, the writing is so smart and witty.
My Favourite Hobby: League of Legends. This is so geeky, but I need to confess. I am in the Top 1 per cent of all players. It’s kind of embarrassing ’cos all the hours spent playing the game could be spent on music. You know how when a hobby becomes an occupation, you need another hobby. Gaming is that hobby. So, it’s enough music, close the books, let’s play the game.
Marian Carmel is blessed with the enviable gift of putting her listeners completely at ease – one she shares
with her musical heroines, Emily King, Lianne La Havas and Sabrina Claudio.“
I’m one of those people who only write whenever the inspiration comes. I guess that’s when you get the most genuine songs,” she once said in an interview. That rare connection comes through sublimely in her live performances, which she hones as a street busker while still studying.“
I started being financially independent at the end of 2016” she remembers, adding that on a public holiday, such as Christmas, she could earn as much as $400, and on a regular day, she’s got as little as $6. Still, there’s not one night that she regrets busking.
Born in the Philippines and raised in Singapore, she clearly loves singing and communicating through her songs. This can be seen in an intimate gig posted on YouTube where at the 4.34-minute point after delivering her song ‘Nothing’, she is visibly touched by the audience’s response, holding back tears and with her right hand across her heart.
Her hard work is paying off. She made her solo debut with a single called ‘Might Never Get Better’ which was chosen to be in 10 Spotify-curated playlists all over the world in late 2019. Her other song ‘Thursday’, co-penned and performed with Axel Brizzy, was crowned “Best Song to Sing Along to” at the Singapore Youth Music Awards 2019 and has garnered over a million streams on Spotify. A mentee in the National Arts Council’s Noise Music Mentorship programme, she has taken part in MTV Asia’s Project: Aloft Star, Yamaha Asian Beat, and The Great Singapore Replay: Season 2.
Don’t miss this rising star as she makes her debut at the inaugural Flock at The Nest. Meanwhile, let’s find out more about her as she takes on our series, My Favourite Things.
My Favourite Music Artist: This is always one of the most difficult questions to answer – how do you even begin to list down the music/musicians that inspire you? I’ve gone through so many phases, and it’s always a different artist each time.
But the ones I always come home to are Emily King, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Panic! At The Disco (all the way from my secondary school emo phase). Currently, I have Bruno Major, Sabrina Claudio and NIKI on repeat though!
My Favourite Sound: My miniature schnauzer, Heidi, eating apples. She loves crunchy fruits and veggies; and when she eats them, it’s the most satisfying ASMR-thing ever. Like a big ‘CRRRRRONCHH!’, but she’s always so gentle about it.
My Favourite Album: EVEN MORE DIFFICULT A QUESTION! I want to say it’s something nice and jazzy like Bruno Major’s A Song For Every Moon (a very worthy contender that kept me company during Circuit Breaker), but after a long tiring week, I find myself listening to Panic! At The Disco’s Pretty. Odd.. Something about the opening line being “Oh, how it’s been so long, we’re so sorry we’ve been gone,” feels like a warm hug from an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.
My Favourite Film: Fun Fact: I am terrible at remembering movies! I forget them so easily, but I do remember whether I like them or not. I used to be a huge fan of Inception, but I don’t really remember how it goes anymore. I just remember liking it a lot. I even owned one of those spinning top things (I don’t even remember what it’s called). If I ever have trouble sleeping or need to rinse my brain after a horror movie, my go-to is Ratatouille.
My Favourite Soundtrack: If someone asked me to sing a soundtrack from start to finish by heart, I could only ever do it to High School Musical. I was OBSESSED with HSM growing up, I still know the lyrics to all the songs from the first and second movie (we don’t talk about the third).
My Favourite TV Series: I’m a sucker for feel-good movies/series. I’d say it’s a three-way tie between Queer Eye, The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine! Whatever it is, I end up crying happy tears anyway.
My Favourite Hobby: Not a lot of people know this, but I love pole-dancing! I picked it up about three years back, and apart from being a fun sport, it’s also helped me love my body and myself a lot more. Being in the same room with women who are strong and are working towards the same goal as you, is so inspiring and empowering.