We met up with Phum Viphurit to learn more about his journey as an independent artist and how this soulful crooner became Asia’s latest sweetheart.
If you don’t recognise his name, you’ll recognise his voice. Before his hit song “Lover Boy” dug its way into our hearts and minds, Viphurit Sirithip, better known as Phum, was just a Thai high school student in New Zealand who fell in love with music and decided to start jamming to instruments in his dorm room.
Now, with almost 90 million hits on YouTube, this 24-year-old singer/songwriter isn’t just known as Thailand’s first neo-soul artist, but as one of the country’s leading independent artists — whistling to his own tunes and marching to the beat of his own drum.
He joins us to talk about his evolution as an artist, and his plans for the future.
Thai Enquirer: How did you get started in music? And why?
Phum Viphurit: I got started like any kid. I picked up a few instruments, tried self-learning, got really hooked and started my own YouTube channel. Then somewhere along the way I started writing songs, then more songs with music videos attached to them and now, here I am.
I honestly think that I got started in music because it was such a great use of my free time; to hopefully create something joyful.
TE: Who are/were the artists that inspired your music growing up?
PV: Definitely Young the Giant, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Mac DeMarco. I’m listening to a lot of other stuff now but those are the original three. When it comes to other mediums of art, I love Salvador Dali’s surrealism and Alexander Payne’s family films.
TE: Was it an easy decision to forgo the conventional route and become an artist at such a young age, and did you have any (previous) reservations in regards to the career that you are now pursuing?
PV: It all just seemed like a lot of fun at the time. When I decided to take this thing full on and my songs suddenly blew up, I had very little insight to what it would be like to tour on a regular basis, across borders as well. There was little to no reference from the local music industry of what an opportunity of this scope and scale would require from an artist. All of this has changed my life, made me grow up in a very short amount time and made me learn the importance of just doing it, for the thrill of getting to perform, write, and share.
TE: You made the very bold decision to not sign with any established entertainment label in Thailand, was that a difficult decision to make?
PV: Not at all. It’s nice to know the opportunities out there and what they may lead to. I started the project with my friends at Rats Records and we share the same attitude towards making genuine music. I’ve always believed that, if things are meant to happen or if listeners are meant to be into a song, it will happen organically, sooner or later. I’m glad that I’ve stayed true to this working style, which has paved an alternative path for me to go about my music career.
TE: Were there problems within the music industry here in Thailand that made you choose this path?
PV: I think it is a problem with the global music industry when they are in the search of ‘the next big act’ but there are so many business boundaries and deals to be made between the artist and the label.
In an age where individualism is praised above all else, it is hard for one to achieve complete creative freedom with a big label commercial music structure where deadlines and tour dates are plentiful, almost overwhelming, e.g. a Thai band’s monthly schedule of 15-20+ shows every month. I don’t want to say that my way of working is the best or the most ideal for every artist/musician, but I do want to stress the importance of taking your own time with your creative journey, not just for the output, but for the process of it all.
TE: Do you think music here (in Thailand) is too mass-produced, with not enough creativity and independence?
PV: There is no doubt that there is a lot of mass-produced music within popular Thai culture, not to say that it is bad or worse, but lately it has been very refreshing to see a wave of independent music and artists getting more limelight in Thai pop culture as well. It is nice to exist as a musician in this time where things are being balanced out with various genres and sounds, adding a lot more colour to the scene.
TE: In three words, how would you describe the music creative industry in Thailand?
PV: Expanding, evolving and auto-tune heavy (laughs).
TE: How do you see the music industry in Thailand evolving?
PV: I really think that more individual artists will rise to take their rightful spots on radio charts and festival stages. More acts will be invited to perform overseas to their foreign listeners and hopefully, we’ll be able to host a massive Glastonbury-like festival somewhere within the country and mark ourselves as a global music destination. I truly believe that.
TE: There seems to be more representation in Asian artists and talent on a global scale – take 88rising or K-Pop, for example – how do you see that evolving? Does the music have to be in English to connect with a global audience?
PV: No I don’t think that music has to be in English for it to be accessible. I only made mine in the language because it is the only language that I could utilise. The importance again is the authenticity of the music and the artist who has created it.
You’ve seen K-pop stars and groups sell out stadiums overseas and more international acts touring abroad to the point that Asians being popular in Western culture has become a norm which is beautiful and should have been the norm many, many years ago.
No one really knows what or who is up next but it is looking very bright for artists to connect to their listeners, regardless of where both sides are from going forward into the future.
TE: Who are your favourite artists right now?
PV: I’m very into Fieh, Kaytranada, and Kings of Convenience right now.
TE: Last but not least — are there any Thai artists out there that you think we should keep a lookout for? And why?
PV: I saw Tontrakul play live not too long ago, even got to interview him when I was in college for a university YouTube programme. I highly recommend going to see him play live — the energy, the fusion of styles, the sound, just go.