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Sandra Riley Tang, Unplugged

The vocalist of The Sam Willows tells us all about music, social media, and her fitness obsessions.

Wild-haired vocalist Sandra Riley Tang of local indie band The Sam Willows is all soul and sass. By Li Yuling

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Sandra treads the road less travelled. Having left school at 18, she quit her full-time job at 22 to form The Sam Willows with friends Narelle Kheng, Benjamin Kheng and Jonathan Chua.

“I stopped studying because my parents couldn’t afford it,” she says matter-of-factly. Then, with some pride, she adds, “At my last workplace, I was the youngest manager.”

Asked about continuing her studies in future, Sandra replies: “Yes, I plan to. When I do, it will be because I want to, and not because I had to – which I think is what many of my peers feel. You don’t have to go to music school to become a musician, or drama school to pursue acting. If you really want to do something, there will be a way.”

The girl’s certainly got guts – and the drive to make good. At 24, Sandra is the co-founder of The Yoga Collective (Yoco), a new fitness startup branded as Singapore’s first homeconcept yoga studio. Offering small-group yoga classes in a soho apartment, The Yoco also gives members free access to the kitchen, juice bar, living room, shower facilities, and toiletries from brands like Belif and Benefit.

This enterprising young woman also has her fingers in other pies. Earlier this year, she and the band flew to Sweden to record part of their first album that will be out soon.

Between jams and gigs, Sandra produces The Sam Willows’ creative collaterals. A self-taught designer, she also manages her own DIY art inspiration and e-commerce website, www.rileyartofficial.com. Just like any self-respecting millennial, Sandra juggles multiple social media accounts as well. They include @rileyartofficial and @sandrarileytang on Instagram (at press time, this one had over 51,000 followers). She also shares quirky how-to craft videos with close to 37,000 subscribers to her Youtube channel, The DIY Project.

On the fitness front, Sandra recently completed her 200-hour yoga instructor training. Shortly afterwards, she started the Yoco with friend and fellow yoga teacher, Pamela Yeo. How does she manage all of this? With equal parts energy, idealism and pragmatism, it seems. 

Shape: We’ve noticed plenty of #fitspo-worthy pictures on your IG feed. Were you always so strong and fit?
Sandra Riley Tang: In secondary school, I played a lot of sports and was captain of the netball team. But when I left school, I became less active and put on weight. I stayed pudgy for a while. At 21, I decided I had to do something about it, and that’s when I started exercising again – but only sporadically. That helped me go from 58kg to 55kg, and then I hit the wall.

I started experimenting with all kinds of diets, like paleo, no-carb, cleanses and intermittent fasting, which helped me shed some more weight. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t hit 50kg. At 52kg, I still felt fat. 

But 52kg for your height hardly counts as fat…
Sandra Riley Tang: I guess fat is not the right word. Looking at old pictures, I realise I was actually skinnier then than now. But I was not proportionate. I was flabby all over and had no shape. All fat and not much muscle… 

Are you happy with your body now?
Sandra Riley Tang: Yes. I’m 58kg, and happier with my body now than at 52kg. I’ve learnt that it’s just a number on the scale. The physique matters more. 

Being in the entertainment industry, do you feel pressure to be of a certain body type?
Sandra Riley Tang: I think it happens to all of us. There were times I thought: If only I was skinnier, taller, fairer, and had a smaller face, so I could fit in the stereotype of ‘pretty’. It is a constant battle.

I remind myself that I am unique in my own way, and to be beautiful is to know my own strengths. Of course, I wouldn’t mind becoming even leaner. Next up for me is more cardio and strength training. 

Our interview with Sandra Riley Tang continues on the next page>>

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