Image: The Straits Times; Chew Seng Kim 

Don’t mistake Sandra Riley Tang for a willowy lass who can lift no more than a tambourine.

The keyboardist-percussionist of local band The Sam Willows does cross-fit training, yoga, rockclimbing, muay thai, Brazilian jiujitsu and weightlifting. In school, she played netball, touch rugby and took part in track and field events.

“I enjoy finding new activities. I love having the body awareness that comes with sports,” says Tang, 24. “But really, I exercise because I love to eat. I eat junk food and chocolate. I have to balance that out.”

She had tried to get her bandmates to work out with her.

“Ben has been to a few yoga and cross-fit lessons with me. Narelle stretches with me sometimes and Jon started going to the gym, though not with me,” she says, referring to the band’s bassist Narelle Kheng, 22; rhythm guitarist Benjamin Kheng, 25, and lead guitarist Jonathan Chua, 25. All the members sing.

Other than that, I’ve given up on getting them to go with me, especially for yoga.”

Earlier this year, she co-founded a yoga studio, The Yoga Co, in Kim Yam Road.

The fitness junkie also dabbles in art and craft. In 2012, she started RileyArt, which showcased and sold her handmade accessories, art and calligraphy.

Last year, she collaborated with Lush 99.5FM and the Autism Association (Singapore) to auction her work to raise funds for the association.

“Doodling has always been one of the ways to express myself. Nowadays, I focus on posters or graphics for the band. But you’ll still see the occasional doodle on my Instagram,” she says.

Juggling sports, music and art boils down to “ensuring that each day is good”, she adds.

She also attributes her success to the support of her family: “My parents used to tell me that it didn’t matter what I did, as long as I was doing my best. When I decided to quit my job to pursue music full-time, they told me to go for it.

“I grew up with that mentality: Do something you really love, so that you have a reason to fight for it.”

On her bag, “I am quite a thrifty person. I don’t need to wear branded goods and this was a $15 bag from Scape. Actually, I have a bigger duffle bag, but the problem with a huge bag is that I carry a lot of things and it gets heavy. I forced myself to buy a smaller bag so I would put fewer things in it.” 

Find out what’s in her bag!

1. Brush pen – I like to doodle a lot. Almost all the artwork for The Sam Willows was drawn with this pen.

2. Protein bar – I love to eat, so I always carry a snack in my bag. This is high in protein, but not too high in sugar.

3. Vaseline – I use it as a lip balm, make-up remover and moisturiser. I even use it for a glowy look to my skin in photoshoots. If your zipper gets stuck, you can use it (to get it unstuck) too.

4. Johnson’s baby active fresh powder – It works as a deodorant and I use it to give my hair, which is normally straight and flat, more volume.

5. DRGL sunblock –  I’m in the sun a lot and I never used to know the importance of sun protection. NowI take care of my skin as I’m starting to see the effects of sun exposure.

6. Sunglasses – They were $1 from an online app. I love the holographic lenses. They look cool and match my hair as well.

7. Makeup – These are my must-haves for everyday use. Alot of them double up for other purposes. For example, I sometimes use my bronzer as eyeshadow.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on October 1, 2015. For similar stories, go to