RRILEY of All Trades: On New Music, Wakeboarding, and More

In 2019, RRILEY made her solo debut with ‘Burn’, breaking away from her previous moniker of Sandra Riley Tang of the iconic quartet, The Sam Willows. Two years on, the songstress has found herself with a new label, a new team, and a devastating self-explanatory new single, ‘you should have said so’.

In the midst of her musical pursuits, RRILEY has also found the time to explore sports of all kinds – the latest one being wakeboarding, but her toes have also been dipped in the pools of yoga, CrossFit, and powerlifting. 

A musician, an artist, an athlete, a wakeboarder, and a yoga instructor, RRILEY seems to do it all very well, indeed. With so many items on her bucket list, Popspoken is lucky to have synced watches with the Jane of all trades to talk about everything from ‘you should have said so’ to having once held her school’s javelin record. 

Congratulations on your single, ‘you should have said so’! Tell us the story behind the song, and how you feel about it now that it’s out for the world to have.

The song was birthed in January this year, at home, out of the frustration and hurt that I felt over a pet peeve that I have – when people aren’t honest with their feelings and they string you along when its convenient for them, only for them to turn around and say otherwise. When these things happen, I’m like, “Just say it!”, but I know sometimes it can be hard to do that, and I’m guilty of that too. 

So, I try to make it a point to give my honest opinion and feedback. If the other party trusts me enough, and if I trust them enough, then we should be able to trust that we’ll be able to accept whatever feedback, even though it might be difficult. So, I was really upset and hurt, but now that I’ve put it into song, I can move on. 

When I wrote the song, I wanted to create a world of its own where the feelings and emotions I had can live. I’m not a person that holds grudges. I don’t like drama. I live and let live. I also don’t believe that people are inherently bad – they make bad decisions and do bad things that hurt other people. Now that everything I felt is contained in this song, I can finally move on. 

At the same time, it’s strange because I also feel very vulnerable. Especially for a song as personal as ‘you should have said so’ where I’m a little bit sassy, and the emotions are still raw. I just don’t like being vulnerable, but I do believe that in vulnerability, I can help other people. Being vulnerable is, I think, as humans, how we connect.

To me, being vulnerable is me turning my back to you because I trust that you got me. But, if you do that too often, especially with people who don’t deserve it, that’s when you get hurt – and I don’t like that, so I need to draw a line, y’know? Putting out a song about my feelings might draw some negative reactions from people who might think it’s about them. So, it’s really hard because I’m very emotional but very logical at the same time, I have this internal battle with myself all the time. But sometimes, I think, we just need to let go, and you can only let go of something if you’re willing to talk about it. 

The spatial audio version of the track is available on Apple Music. Can you give us a brief rundown of what spatial audio is, and how it helps you deliver the message of your song?

Most of the music we consume nowadays is in stereo, which is left and right, and that’s what we’re used to. Spatial audio is, basically, sound in 360º, and the best way to listen to it is with 12 speakers in a room. In terms of the technical aspect, there’ll be speakers in front of you, behind you, above you, everywhere that surrounds you. But, not everyone has 12 speakers or can afford such a set-up. So, a lot of headphones now can support spatial audio – especially the Apple AirPods Max, and they sound amazing!

In the track, we incorporated a lot of ASMR sounds that link to the world that I was trying to build, like I mentioned earlier. The thing about ASMR is that it puts you in the now – it tingles you, and you can’t exactly think about anything else because you’re so immersed in it. It helps listeners to feel that they are in my emotions and in those feelings. It’s not so much about capturing exactly what happened, but it’s more about capturing the feelings.

Usually, ASMR is done with absolutely no noise and you hear mostly individual sounds. But, because it’s in a track where so many other things are happening, spatial audio allows it to have its on space to breathe. So, instead of either left or right, now we can place it at different areas where it has space to shine.

You recently made the switch from a big label to 465, an Indie Pop label. As an artist, what is the difference between being signed to a major label to being signed to a smaller outfit? How’s your experience being part of 465’s roster so far?

I’m the type of person who doesn’t care about credentials. You can tell me you went to a prestigious school and you have all these credentials, but, to me, if you don’t vibe with me, I don’t care. It’s less about your certifications and more about how you connect with people. 

Honestly, is there much of a difference between the two? Not really, because I’ve always been a very hands-on artist anyway, and I like to be involved every step of the creative process. So, it’s kind of the same, but, now, at 465, I’m very excited to be continuing this journey with the team. I’m very thankful that they believe in me as an artist and in my vision, and they’re excited and inspired – and that’s the key to having a team as an artist. 

Sometimes, as artists, it gets difficult because we are very emotional people, and we always have some self-doubt within us. The road to creating art has its highs and lows, but it’s especially during the low moments when it’s important to have a team who can feed you good energy. Sometimes, you need the team to be like, “We got this!”, when you, the artist, don’t – and I believe I’ve found that here. There are definitely learning moments for all of us, because it’s still a new label, but I think we are definitely heading in the right direction and we can definitely do amazing things together. 

Credits: Daniel Ho, OneClickWonders

This is essentially a new chapter for you and your music. Over the many years that you’ve been a musician, formerly as Sandra Riley Tang with The Sam Willows and now as the solo artist RRILEY, what are the differences between these two personas and how do you reconcile them?

Let’s rewind to two years ago, with the inception of RRILEY, I went with two R’s because I’m extra. But, looking back, damn, I don’t think I should have done that because everyone is always f-ing up my name when they’re spelling it, it’s so annoying! I get irritated when people type my name with a capital R followed by a small R, it kills me! So, now, I always tell people to type my name either in all capital letters or in all small letters. Maybe that was not the best idea in hindsight. [Laughs]

I remember when I first started going by RRILEY, when people would ask me this question, I was actually quite conflicted because I didn’t know exactly how to answer it. I used to say that RRILEY is an alter ego who’s more confident. But then, very shortly after, I realised that it was not going to work.

Maybe some people think that Sandra from The Sam Willows is very bubbly, loud, and extroverted, but there was also a different side of me. Initially, when conceptualising RRILEY as a brand, I thought she should be more edgy, sexy, and darker in a way – there has to be a contrast, so when the visuals for my first single ‘Burn’ first came out, it had to be crazier and more in-your-face. But, very quickly on, I realised that, nah, this is me. It’s not so much an alter ego, but it does help to remind me that I am confident, I am edgy, even without the alter ego, while still being bubbly and sociable. I am all those things, and this is me exploring all the different facets of myself. 

I struggled a lot with what I should label myself – because people love to label others with just one single thing. So, what do I say? I do a lot of things, I’m basically a Jack of all trades, but master of none. However, I find comfort that the full saying is: “A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

When I learnt that, it blew my mind. I think, nowadays, a lot of people are also like that – they’re not defined by just one thing. But, it’s hard sometimes, because society expects you to be only one thing, so you feel very torn and confused. I’m literally everything, but I’m expected to pick one, and that’s something I want to break. 

Fast forward to today, I am one with RRILEY. It’s me, and it gives me the opportunity to explore myself in different areas without having too much fear, in a way. 

Outside of music, you’ve also been known to pursue sporty ventures such as yoga and wakeboarding. How did you get started in sports, and were you always as interested in them as you are now?

I think, if anything, growing up, sports has always been my number one passion. If I wasn’t a musician, most likely, I’ll be a pro-athlete. If I didn’t find music when I did, I would probably be a netball player – I was a good player in school and in Secondary One, I was already the captain of the team. I also played touch rugby. And, at one point, I held the school record for javelin, but that’s because we had no established track and field team, so I got the record even though I just anyhow throw. [Laughs]

Sports has always been a way that I expressed myself and it was something that I always felt very comfortable with. After that, I tried CrossFit, which was my entry to powerlifting. And then I found yoga, it was a huge thing – I am a certified yoga instructor and I opened my own yoga studio. 

So, I found that zen in my life, but I’ve realised that I get more and more afraid of things, so I need to push myself out of the box. People always assume that I’m a daredevil, but, actually, I’m afraid of everything. I am insanely terrified of heights. If I stand on the third storey of a building and I look down, I will feel like I need to pee. I cannot explain it any other way. 

That’s basically how I found wakeboarding. As it is considered an extreme sport, I never thought I would ever try it. My partner tried it first, and he got me to try it too. When I first did it, I thought it was absolutely insane. But, the thing about me is that I do enjoy achievements, when I am able to get out of my comfort zone and do something that scares me. And at that point, wakeboarding scared the hell out of me. To see how far I’ve come after hitting all the small milestones, not without a lot of failures and falls, is really something. 

I always feel that, when doing sports, you learn so much about life, and it’s a lot of character-building. I learnt so much from all the sports I’ve participated in. 

For the uninitiated, how does one get started in keeping fit, especially if they’ve been leading a sedentary lifestyle for a long time?

I think, especially when it comes to fitness, it’s not so much of doing something just because you want to lose weight or get stronger; it’s not so much of what you do, but what you can do consistently. If you want to go on a diet, you have to consider what kind of diet you can stick to for the rest of your life. 

Even for me, people assume that just because I’m into fitness, I’m always working out. But, there are times when I don’t work out for long periods of time purely because I feel unmotivated. After picking up Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wakeboarding, I realised that I always pick sports that are fun. I don’t do it to lose weight or whatever, but those just happen to be the by-products of me having fun with those sports. So, I think it’s very important to pick something you enjoy, that you think it’s fun, and, maybe, do it with friends. 

Credits: Daniel Ho, OneClickWonders

With the holidays around the corner and the new year fast approaching, what are some of your personal hopes for 2022?

I hope that all the borders open. We’ve been planning and I’ve been wanting to tour and do promo overseas, but that was literally two years ago. Even until today we can’t do that, so that really has put a plug in my plans. But, I believe that everything happens for a reason, so, I believe 2022 is my year!

Finally, what’s next for RRILEY? What else do you have up your sleeves?

Well, as I mentioned, I hope to tour. I’ll also be working on a lot of new songs, and probably an album. I’ll essentially be doing what I have done before, but properly, and with a really good team. With the right people, I think we can do great things. We’ll see, but I’ll always be creating new things, and I’ll always try to break boundaries – I don’t like to do things that everyone else has done before, I want to do things that will pull a reaction, whether it’s good or bad, that’s what art is.

To stay up to date with Rriley, follow her on Instagram at @rriley.

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