In partnership with VERY Festival
“You are everything to someone,” sings Phum Viphurit in the coda to ‘Healing House’, his first single since his 2019 EP, ‘Bangkok Balter Club’. Breaking away from his usual romance-oriented fare, the earnest track sees the Thai singer-songwriter exploring heavier themes of addiction and recovery as he taps into a starker mode of songwriting: “It’s OK to cry / Just please don’t say goodbye”.
As the first preview of his upcoming sophomore album ‘The Greng Jai Piece’, the track heralds a new era for the 24-year-old crooner, in which he eschews romantic fantasies to tackle more delicate, down-to-earth subjects from his observations of the world around him. It’s all part of a new direction the ‘Lover Boy’ sensation has chosen to don, one that’s less bashful and easygoing, or – as Thais would call it – “greng jai”.
Though we have to wait until the tail-end of 2022 to hear the record, Viphurit has been keeping busy, touring the UK, Europe and Asia. Ahead of his headline appearance this Sunday (November 27) at Bangkok’s VERY Festival, Viphurit goes in-depth with NME into getting back out on the road, his pandemic experience, how ‘The Greng Jai Piece’ relates to The Big Bang Theory, and more.
You’ve spent a lot of time this year touring, from all the way in Europe to back here in Asia. What have you missed the most about travelling and playing your music for live audiences?
“I miss the shows of course, but I think I value talking to those few who stay behind to chat even more. Everything you see as a modern day musician is all virtual stats and figures. So you can imagine getting face time with those who actually support you and bought a ticket to catch the set. I loved the in-between moments with my crew too. The van/plane rides, the delays in transit, the video game nights, it felt amongst those who had my back and shared this passion.”
You’re back in Bangkok to perform at VERY Festival. What can the festival crowd expect from you this time around?
“We bring a lot of energy, we’re just gonna have a good time and we hope they do too.”
Will you be playing new material at VERY Festival?
“A few of the new singles and then some extended jam bits.”
When you released your recent single ‘Healing House’, you described it as “one of the stories from [your] echo chamber head, roaming there for the past two years”. It’s interesting how you pointed out your “echo chamber head” in the context of the pandemic, which upended the world over the last couple of years. Tell us more about your experience of the pandemic.
“I hate to admit it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first six months or so of the pandemic. I gamed a lot, watched a lot of movies and caught up on all of the things that I wanted to dive into when I was really busy. It was very still but stable. After a while, I think I just started to lose my mind a bit. I’m an overthinker whose fears of change grew month by month. I constantly thought, ‘What if it’s never the same after all of it?’ and low-key panicked on my own.
“I don’t take much for granted any longer and I think that this refreshed outlook in life is now forever rooted in what I create”
“All that time [alone] led to a lot of reflection and contemplation. I found out a lot of things that I disliked about myself; it was a quietly dark period for my mental health. I’m glad to have collected myself slowly, broken away from bad habits and distanced myself from self-loathing; it’s just enough to call myself a much healthier man in this present day.”
Has the pandemic changed the way you approach music? If so, how?
“Everything is much more intentional. I don’t take much for granted any longer and I think that this refreshed outlook in life is now forever rooted in what I create.”
You spent much of your time over the last two years releasing collaborative singles with a host of other artists, from Se So Neon’s So Yoon to Japanese indie pop duo Nulbarich and fellow Thai singer-songwriter Valentina Ploy. How important was it for you to find and keep close to musician friends over the pandemic?
“It was the key to knowing that [I wasn’t] isolated on this island of hopelessness. Everyone felt down and uninspired but somehow there’s a strength and unity in all of that. Collaborating kept my brain wired, and it forced me to try new things at a time when everything around me was [based on] a mundane and fixed routine.”
You’ve been teasing your new album ‘The Greng Jai Piece’ for a while now. What can your fans expect from the new album? How is it different from ‘Manchild’ or even your 2019 EP ‘Bangkok Balter Club’?
“The lyrical content of it all probably differs the most. It comes a lot from stories outside of my own life and nostalgia, and [involves some] commentary on these subjects. It raises a lot of questions and challenges a few norms, at least it does to me.”
‘Kreng/Greng Jai’ is a popular Thai phrase which roughly means mindfulness or consideration for other people. Why has that concept become the album’s defining theme?
“It’s like a universal unspoken rule that a lot of people live by (especially those who grew up in Asia). I wanted to use this term as an umbrella for subliminal things and norms that we live by but never really question. The themes in each of the songs vary from each other, but they all centre around difficult-to-tackle topics that are never usually talked about because of our ‘greng jai-ness’.”
“Those who know me know that I am a very greng jai kinda guy; even if I think differently, I usually play the chill card and just kinda flow along with things”
What exactly is ‘The Greng Jai Piece’ to you?
“I actually heard the term from an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon introduces this term to his friends, referring to a phenomenon where the last piece of food is reserved for the most valued, respected member in their eating circle. This term captures my personality very well; those who know me know that I am a very greng jai kinda guy; even if I think differently, I usually play the chill card and just kinda flow along with things. This album and [its] title breaks that mould for me. It’s another persona for me.”
The album’s cover art is particularly ornate compared to that of your previous releases. It seems to depict some sort of temple fair, perhaps one which your latest solo single is based on. What inspired it?
“I wanted to allude to my distorted Thai-ness and third culture kid background, hence the sloth in the middle of a very traditional-style temple wall painting. A mix of things that don’t really fit but co-exist anyway.”
‘Healing House’ was accompanied by a video you co-directed, which revolves around five Thai figures who embark on a “journey”, and are linked by “their discovery of momentary bliss”. What inspired the video?
“I wanted to make a collage of Thai stories – both fiction and non-fiction – of people just finding their own escape. ‘Healing House’ was that for me, so I worked with my co director and team to express that via moving images. It was a good time.”
Do you think you’ve undergone a journey while making the album? How do you think you’ve emerged?
“Most definitely. Well, it’s on the brink of being finished; we shall see where I am at once it is done and out for other ears to listen. I feel content with it all as we speak though.”
What can fans expect from you in the coming year?
“The album, hopefully by late December, and then some tour announcements.”
Catch Phum Viphurit and more artists at VERY Festival in Bangkok from November 25-27 – get tickets here