Radio Interview of Wong Ka Kui

Singing of Old Dancing Medley (昔日舞曲)

Interviewer: I remember when you guys were releasing this album, I was a new staff just joining the radio. That was the time when band culture was so popular.
Interviewee: Uh-huh.

Interviewer: Some said the image of your band is that of an underground band coming through the surface. But what is underground band?
Interviewee: As a matter of fact, all this while I do not acknowledge ours as an underground band.

Interviewer: You don’t see it that way.
Interviewee: It is just that if that is how people look at Beyond, I can’t help it. Not that I purposely want to debate whether we are an underground band or not.

Interviewer: Why do you say Beyond isn’t (an underground band)? Or you wanna tell us what an underground band is?
Interviewee: My viewpoint of underground is not their viewpoint of underground. Their understanding of underground is that if your music is not supported by a major label, you have no mass publicity to speak of, and you don’t have a big budget for production. In other words, singers or bands who published their albums through labels, they are not underground – they are ‘on the surface’. From my point of view, due to political issues underground bands may be sneaking around playing and performing their music. Their content might be disproportionately political…

Interviewer: And some swearing perhaps…
Interviewee: Or anti-government, anti-revolutionary of sort of slogans. For me, music with such way of thinking is underground music.

Interviewer: Initially I thought it that way too… Music that is not widely accepted by the public.
Interviewee: Another thing is that something that cannot be discussed or sung openly. That is underground.

Interviewer: So Beyond has been playing songs which can be performed openly.
Interviewee: Yup. Since we can play songs openly to the public, why is then Beyond’s an underground music?

Interviewer: Alright. Forget about underground or ‘on the surface’. From the old days of Beyond until today, almost everybody in Hong Kong knows your band.
Interviewee: I guess so.

Interviewer: And you have published many albums. In terms of music, do you acknowledge that your music is commercialized?
Interviewee: I definitely acknowledge that. And I have never debated with my friends out there that my music is not commercialized. From the very first album I have made it clear that I have transformed to produce commercialized songs. I wish my music to be popular; since my old days I want my music to be popular.

Interviewer: But it wasn’t popular (in the past).
Interviewee: Songs that I wrote in the past, at this stage they do not belong to popular genre. This does not mean my music in the past was not good; I still like my old music. But the music that I am producing now, I like them well too. It is just that you are putting things in different time span and environment. If I take Goodbye Ideal (再見理想) album to UK or US, for them it is pop music. And those are normal rock songs, which are of nothing extraordinary. But in Hong Kong, (people would say) there is no market for this.

Interviewer: What I mean is that songs you wrote in the past, songs you are writing now… How do you differentiate which songs are which?
Interviewee: I know which are which. Some requested me to write some happening songs. But for me, as a songwriter, I have to keep on trying new things so that I am happier in the production process. Coming to this stage when you are learning how to write songs, you have to have your own elements in the song, and at the same time people will like it when they listen to it. Learning this is very tough. Very difficult indeed.

Interviewer: So how would that be? Some songwriters would insist to present something they like, they would say if you dislike it then let it be. How do you strike a balance in between? If you really like something, but listeners do not like it. Won’t you feel disappointed?
Interviewee: I won’t feel it that way. Disappointment and sense of achievement are two different matters. When I write a song I have two approaches. Some songs I wrote for myself, they are not meant for publication but for my own appreciation…

Interviewer: Or you wanna expose a bit now?
Interviewee: Some songs I wrote and collected, when our label is selecting songs for new album I would bring them up for selection. And when I come across an important concept, I would put it in a very pop song. Take Glorious Days (光輝歲月) for example. This topic is somehow not much related to Hongkongers, and they have no sentiment for such issue, if I present such topic in a song of higher music level, people wouldn’t appreciate it. And such topic can’t touch their hearts. If I wanna present a tougher topic, I would put it in a song of easy rhythm. That’s how I strike a balance.

Interviewer: So the example is Glorious Days.
Interviewee: Yup.

Interviewer: Let’s listen to it.

Singing of Glorious Days (光輝歲月)

Interviewer: I think you are not opening up today.
Interviewee: Oh ya? Not opening up?

Interviewer: The way you speak.
Interviewee: My chatting you mean?

Interviewer: Why so?
Interviewee: Why not opening up?

Interviewer: I don’t know. Just my feeling. I have chatted with you before; and we know each other for several years. But our interview tonight, I feel like you are kind of nervous or solemn?
Interviewee: I am not nervous. Or because you have left the radio station for a while…

Interviewer: So I am nervous?
Interviewee: It slowly becomes…

Interviewer: Unfamiliar a bit?
Interviewee: Not that. In the past I was serious even when handling trivial matters. I tried to pick and fix very minor things. But now, I take no action and those minor problems would be gone. Or I am seeing things more thoroughly? As I am growing older.

Interviewer: Do you feel like you have changed in several years? Other interviewees felt that too. In the past some of them would pick on the mistakes when they are performing, but now they would feel like they don’t wanna upset somebody else. For example, I am interviewing you now. Do you tell yourself what to say and what not to say?
Interviewee: I don’t think there is something I shouldn’t say. Frankly speaking, I am not afraid of upsetting others.

Interviewer: Really?
Interviewee: Yup. If I really wanna say something, I am not afraid. It is just a matter of whether it worth speaking up or not.

Interviewer: Why not afraid of upsetting others?
Interviewee: For me, if there is something I must say – if you ask me a question, and I need to say something upsetting to express myself, I would definitely upset that person. I am quite agitating when it comes to music production, or something related to modern pop music. I am kind of furious on these matters. For example, cover songs are everywhere to be heard in Hong Kong. When it comes to discussion on such matters, I am quite furious. For example, somebody asks me about film score for movies. Even some good film directors…

Interviewer: So it involves some principles…
Interviewee: Yes, it is about principles; it is not about personnel. For instance, every film director would agree that film score is an essential part of a movie. They have the sense, the sensitivity when it comes to film score. But for them, for a millions-dollar film production, a music production of hundreds of thousand dollars they would find it expensive. Just how much do you think they give weight to film score?

Interviewer: (Laughing) You experienced it?
Interviewee: They lamented it as an expensive charge. I heard it from others.

Interviewer: Would you be able to persuade them?
Interviewee: Usually you can’t persuade them. But why so? The film directors do care for film score, but they wanna pay little for something indispensable in their movies. For me, Hong Kong musicians have to find a way… not that we wanna make more money… it is a matter of respecting your own profession. When I watch movies I find film score to be quite lousy.

Interviewer: But if the bosses are not willing to pay for it, you can’t do anything about it either.
Interviewee: The problem is whether you wanna insist on such matters. Whether the offer is lucrative or not… your brain does not judge things according to money. Or you are willing to see your work (going down the drain)?

Interviewer: Not published with his name perhaps? (Laughing)
Interviewee: Or you can persuade yourself? Frankly speaking…

Interviewer: But in Hong Kong, you can’t even think of such matters. People would say:“Hey, nobody remembers who is producing music for which movie. It doesn’t matter when the matter is over; it has been weeks already.”
Interviewee: If that’s how you think, I can’t do anything about it either.

Interviewer: But is that a way of thinking among many (musicians)?
Interviewee: I’ve got no idea. I haven’t stooped to that level yet. I am lucky that I need not stoop to that level just yet.

Interviewer: Let’s not talk about film score, since you are not the main character. When it comes to your own album, when you are playing the main character… Would it be…
Interviewee: As a matter of fact, when it comes to music production, we often have different opinions with our producers. But our first judgement is that he wants the music, the album to be good. Many singers and bands do not see it that way though. Put it this way, every idea raised by the producer, he or she wants the album to be good. They wouldn’t want the album to fail.

Interviewer: As we have spoken to some friends, the fact is that some musicians are plagiarizing. What’s your take on such matter?
Interviewee: Plagiarizing songs? In the past I used to argue the issue of originality. If you are to bring the case to court, it has to be (plagiarizing) four bars of same features and melody. If the first three bars are similar to another song’s, the last bar you have something different – that doesn’t qualify as plagiarism.

Interviewer: Does it go down well with you? That the idea of copying three bars and editing the final bar…
Interviewee: That pretty much depends on the songwriter himself / herself. From my point of view, there is no such thing as particularly original in the world. It is something…

Interviewer: You heard it before…
Interviewee: From your memory you are just mixing and presenting traces of memories. That’s my point of view. When you expose yourself to different genre of music, when you listen to music from all over the world, you would find it impossible to come across a song which presents something unheard of before. Also, when I listen to radio more frequently, when I listen to more pop songs in the market, I feel like I am pulled toward that way. So I am usually listening to foreign songs…

Interviewer: And yours would be similar to foreign songs…
Interviewee: I heard from some Hong Kong songwriters, when they write new songs they would listen to classical music, which stimulates their songwriting inspiration. But for me, before I write a song I cannot listen to music.

Interviewer: So that you don’t have something in your memory system…
Interviewee: I write new songs when I am practising guitar; that’s the time when my inspiration comes around. Not that I can sit down and tell myself to write a song – I can’t do it that way.

Interviewer: So how much time did you spend on Old Days’ Footprints (舊日的足跡)?
Interviewee: Such an old song. I wrote it even before we released our album. Among Beyond’s early works, this is the most pop-like song of all. Speaking of our self-released album, some magazine editors picked this song and questioned us why is this such a pop and commercialized song. But from my point of view, the sentiment of the song is something I expressed myself very naturally. Because I have never thought of (the matter of) commercialized or non-commercialized.

Singing of Old Days’ Footprints (舊日的足跡)

Interviewer: You said you are often insisting on principles and not directing at personnel. Won’t you feel like somebody are somehow irritating?
Interviewee: My viewpoint is that there is no irritating personnel in our music industry. Nobody wants someone else to dislike himself / herself. Something is unintentionally done by that person, and that matter affected others’ working procedure or style. Most of the time it is misunderstanding; nobody in the industry wants to see themselves being disliked by others. Everybody wants to survive in the industry.

Interviewer: Something is unintentional; sometimes it is your own weaknesses. Or somebody is just irritating by nature – no such thing?
Interviewee: There is such thing. But I would choose my friends. In my own circle, I actually don’t like to socialize. I don’t feel like wanna attend some meet-ups. If you have to attend such meet-ups, that is because you have to survive in the entertainment industry, because you are always showing up, people would always look for you to work on new movies and songs. But my point of view is that I want to have my own space to publish my music, my album. Then I wouldn’t need to spare time to look for another channel to share my works.

Interviewer: But that’s the norm in Hong Kong entertainment industry – although they have sufficient space to publish their works.
Interviewee: Or they find it insufficient? Perhaps they have so much talent – it is overflowing – not that you are happy with music work only, you still have something greater to present. I acknowledge that I am not an singer; I am just a vocalist of a band. As a musician, I am very satisfied when I have music as my job. But of course, if you have time you can play some roles in some movies, that’s for earning a living.

Interviewer: Since Beyond enjoys much popularity now, and your albums are selling good as well. And through your own channels you can share your music. Have you ever thought of the days when your popularity fades away?
Interviewee: I have been pondering about this. As an artist, as you grow older, people might find your work outdated, or your performance is not up to par when you are older. And when you plummet you can never rise again. I have been pondering about this; but I put it this way – I don’t see myself as an artist, nor do I want myself to lead a ‘very-entertainment-industry’ kind of lifestyle. I love music, and if you are playing music in Hong Kong, it is equivalent to surviving in the entertainment industry. When you release your music album, in Hong Kong it means you are in the entertainment industry. And I then have to deal with the job. From outsiders’ point of view, for them I am an artist.

Interviewer: What would you do when your popularity is plummeting?
Interviewee: Perhaps I would work behind the scene. I see myself as a musician; if I am not releasing my own album, I would help my label to produce others’ music, train newcomers, and write new songs.

Interviewer: So the popularity now is a sort of bonus.
Interviewee: Not really. What I have achieved today, I have sacrificed a lot and spent a lot of time. Not that I don’t care whether we are popular or not. Not that we do not appreciate it. It is just that I wouldn’t do it forcefully; I would carry on with my work.

Interviewer: In your estimation, how far can Beyond go?
Interviewee: Going how far?

Interviewer: Or do you find yourself hitting the end?
Interviewee: Not hitting the end just yet. I would say we can go further still, go further still.

Interviewer: What brings you go further still?
Interviewee: Music; nothing else. Not that I can count on myself or other members who look more handsome, or that we are good at talking. Music is my forte, simple as that.

Interviewer: What would you do to improve your music, so that more people listen to your music?
Interviewee: How to explain this… I have been writing songs, at this stage I am still trying. For me, it is as if a child-artist growing up into an adult-artist. It is kind of embarrassing. I am feeling like I am not too directly exploring something deep in my heart; I am talking about something distanced. When I am changing, I would still need to preserve something previously accepted by others. You could change; when you change it is possible that you leap a great distance. The changes are too much, which I think is kind of embarrassing. Beyond is at this stage I guess.

Interviewer: I think Beyond is a popular band now. Speaking of your achievement today, do you think Beyond deserves it?
Interviewee: We deserve it, definitely.

Interviewer: What’s the strong point of your band?
Interviewee: We have nothing particularly good; our weaknesses are more than our strength. But our strong point is that when the four of us work together for one target, the success rate is greater than a group of four thinking differently. Beyond’s four members are working toward one goal; our collaboration is of brotherhood style. Which gives us much faith. If I find my band members to be doing something else or thinking of leaving the band, we wouldn’t have made it today.

Interviewer: You have a very popular song which brings Beyond to its peak. Not only the young ones love it, even taxi drivers are requesting for this song, Really Love You (真的愛你).
Interviewee: Oh ya?

Singing of Really Love You (真的愛你)

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