It’s often remarked that necessity is the mother of all invention. And that’s exactly how Zendyll Studios came about. “Zendyll was founded out of frustration,” says The Sam Willows member Jon Chua, who founded the studio in 2015. “I wanted to create my own space to make music, and it really started from that thought. Besides Zendyll Studios, Chua also went on to start up Zendyll Records (in 2018) and Zendyll Music Agency (in 2020), where he also serves as CEO.
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At just 32 years old, Chua is already a household name in Singapore, having been a part of the globally-recognised musical group The Sam Willows—alongside siblings Narelle and Benjamin Kheng as well as Sandra Riley—and as a Sony Music artist. Chua has worked with some of the world’s best music producers such as Steve Lillywhite (U2 and The Rolling Stones) and Harry Sommerdahl (The Pussycat Dolls and The Wanted). He’s also a content creator who often collaborates with brands such as TAG Heuer, Gucci, Fendi and Adidas. Now, Chua is using the experiences and knowledge he gathered in his various pursuits to help aspiring artists through his various ventures.
Tell us a little bit about your music journey.
I’ve always wanted to be a rockstar—even as a kid. I remember watching live performances of Aerosmith and Bon Jovi on DVDs, dreaming of performing on a big stage with the crowd singing back. It’s something I’ve been constantly manifesting over the years.
My music is all about emotions. With my music, I want to be able to evoke a feeling or memory in people —whether it’s through a groovy beat or lyrics. That’s my priority when making music. As a result, my musical style fuses different genres to create a whole new vibe.
What was your time with The Sam Willows like?
I could write a whole book on my time with them. The Sam Willows came about when Narelle and Benjamin Kheng as well as Sandra Riley and I came together to jam, sometime in late 2011. By the end of 2012, we had an EP out, and did a sold-out show at the now defunct TAB Orchard. It was really organic when the four of us came together to do music—it still is today.
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Some of the best memories I have of The Sam Willows were when we went to Japan to perform for the Summersonic Music Festival. We got to watch The Foo Fighters stage side in an arena of 80,000 people. It was absolutely surreal. Another big moment was performing in We The Fest in Jakarta in front of 5,000 people. When the audience sang our songs back to us, I nearly cried on stage from the adrenaline and emotions. I love the band so much and we’ll always be family.
Tell us more about Zendyll Music, and your career as a solo artist.
Zendyll was founded out of frustration. I wanted to create my own space to make music, and it really started from that thought. From there, we grew into a recording studio, production house, music agency and now have several verticals—live concert promotion, music marketing services, artist services, commercial and advertising music supervision as well as creation.
There wasn’t anything in particular that inspired my career as a solo artist because I’ve always been a musician at heart. And creating music, in different forms, will always be what I do. That said, I was pretty busy in my 20s performing and touring and didn’t have a lot of time for friends, family and rest. With my current line of work, I’m in more control of my time, and am able to create more meaningful relationships.
Tell us a little bit about Zendyll Records and Zendyll Music Agency.
Zendyll Records is the holding company for our imprints 465 Music and HVT Entertainment. 465 Music is the label I’m attached to, and we recently signed Sandra Riley, my bandmate from The Sam Willows. HVT Entertainment is a hip-hop/R&B label that focuses on discovering raw talent, and working with them to elevate their careers. It’s led by one of the top hip-hop producers, RIIDEM. We’ve also signed on AE$OP CA$H, Feez and Sham. These three young artists have some serious potential, and I’m glad to be able to work with them closely.
Zendyll Music Agency is our commercial arm. We work closely with brands and companies to help develop their products and services. The agency has Majulah as well as Hometown Heroes, both highlighting musical talents in Singapore through storytelling. We also have our own artist management, public relations, marketing and production house as well as music supervision and licence clearances. Our objective is to become one of the leaders in Southeast Asia for music fields through community building.
What has been the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of being an entrepreneur in the music industry?
Everyday is a challenge. I don’t think there’s an aspect that hasn’t been challenging yet rewarding. The scariest part of being an entrepreneur in music is the lack of processes and structure. My team and I constantly have to figure things out as we go. But the most satisfying aspect is community building—people coming together, regardless of race, social background or musical genre, to create good vibes and energy. That’s what I live for.
Tell us a little bit more about the Hometown Heroes and ARtistry@Somerset. Why are they important to you?
Hometown Heroes is a YouTube series where we divide Singapore into four regions—North, South-Central, East and West—and feature different artists from different backgrounds. They talk about their upbringing and how it influenced their music. It’s honestly a great series.
Artistry@Somerset was a crazy idea that Vernon, Zendyll’s general manager came up with. It’s our first step into integrating Web3.0—a new iteration of the World Wide Web based on blockchain technology—into our products. We have QR codes with live performances from Yung Raja, RRILEY, Feez and a few more. It was featured all over the Somerset belt in Orchard Road. It’s a really sexy project that the Zendyll Music Agency team did and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
These projects are important because they create a community. It’s not just about focusing on our own artists, and profitable commercial projects. Music, historically, is about entertainment and community building. And we hope to always be able to strike a balance between art and commerce.
What is your relationship with fashion?
I love fashion, and I believe that what you wear tells a story of yourself. My fashion sense can be described as sleek street fashion. While I love my hoodies and sneakers, I wouldn’t hesitate to wear something like the Fendi Baguette paired with a suit or even a neon-hued tracksuit. I can’t live without my Adidas for Prada Re-Nylon Forum high-top sneakers—I love this collaboration because they’re two of my favourite brands.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Everyday is different. I like to start my days at around 8am, which is considered early for a musician. I feed my dogs, spend time planning my day and listening to podcasts or music. Some days are spent in the studio, discussing upcoming projects with my team and making music. Others are spent at shoots or events. I think the best part of my work is that every day is a fresh experience.
Tell us about your creative process. What comes first?
When it comes to music production, I don’t have a standardised process. Sometimes I like to start with the beat, and other times I like to start with the melody. I recently got the Macbook Pro with the M1 Max chip, and that has helped enhance my production process. The entire studio is outfitted with MacBook Pros that allow me to transfer files and share information with my whole team seamlessly.
What motivates you?
I grew up with humble beginnings. My dad was a missionary and my mom was a moral education teacher. But I’ve always had big dreams. What I lack in natural talent, I make it up with hard work—that keeps me motivated. I want to provide a better life for my family and myself, but at the same time, have fun while doing it. Life is too short for it to be boring.
Who is your dream collaborator?
I hope to be able to collaborate with Jay Z some day—in both music and business. What he has created is something that has truly inspired me. He’s just super awesome.
What’s next for you?
To be honest I don’t really know. But I hope to take Zendyll to the regional and the rest of the world, and share this energy and vibe by creating more communities globally. I’m also really into NFTs right now, but let’s see how that goes.
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