才能/THE UP AND UP. JUN KUNG, HONG KONG RECORDING ARTIST

Interview EN/CN :: Johannes Pong
Photos :: Nick D / precursorprints.com

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Left :: Shades – Carrera, Sweatshirt – Givenchy, rest model’s own.
Right :: Button-up – Evisu Jeans, Shoes – Z Zegna, rest model’s own.

Jun Kung is on a roll and seems quite happy with 2012. He admitted that he wasn’t a happy boy 10 years ago, even though he’s toured all over the globe as the drummer on Jacky Cheung’s worldwide tour, and then with Eason Chan. Last year, he toured with Faye Wong and Sandy Lam on their respective attention-grabbing tours, as both celestial-level Chinese divas returned to the stage after years away from the limelight. Then he won Best Original Theme Song at the Hong Kong Film Awards — for two years in a row — last year with his ‘Here to Stay’ for the film Merry Go Round, and this year for the film Hi Fidelity with ‘Two-Hearted Flower’, written by Jun performed by Sandy.

曾參與張學友、陳奕迅個唱,被「歌神」在2007年舉辦105場的《學友光年世界巡迴演唱會》中,形容為他心目中最棒的鼓手,去年也先後為林憶蓮、王菲這兩位重返舞臺再顯光芒的天后級女伶巡迴個唱展現鼓藝,再度引人注目。其實,他為電影編曲的功力也不容小覷:2011年,他憑電影《東風破》的《Here to stay》榮獲第三十屆香港電影金像獎最佳電影原創歌曲;今年,林憶蓮為電影《出軌的女人》填詞演唱《兩心花》,加上他的譜曲,又獲得第三十一屆最佳原創電影歌曲。2012年,似乎對他是個豐收的開心年,但剛過完三十五歲生日的恭碩良卻透露,其實過去十年,他並不是一個快樂的「男孩」。

He stresses that he’s just a drummer, but Jun’s indubitably a sophisticated songwriter who crafts exquisitely catchy pop melodies as well. And it’s undeniable that Jun is also a singer who performs said melodies with incredibly disciplined diction. Such skilful manipulation of language and vocal chords to emote with precision is to be expected of anyone who calls himself a singer — but alas, such a being is exceptionally rare in Cantopop —particularly amongst male Cantopop artists. His debut more than a decade ago was kind of an oddity in Hong Kong back then. Here’s this young, handsome guy from Macau who was an amazing jazz drummer, could play most of his own instruments, and really sing with nuanced emotions!

He’s actually recording another album right now, before his own October concert in Star Hall, ambitiously revisiting his old classics from a decade back. Iconic tracks from his first EP released 13 years ago, songs like ‘What Shoe Size are You?’ and ‘Love Dimension’ that propelled him into stardom and garnered him a cult following when his label realized he was too creative a maverick to know what to do with him in a market like Hong Kong.

Whether it’s gritty rock, R&B, or gentle folk, Jun Kung’s voice can go from tough, confident rat-tat-tat to smoothly chaotic jazz scatting. And when choruses hit, he can switch it up to a classic, emotional, soul-singer wail, or tone it down into an intimate murmur.

His latest EP, released June 2012, is teasingly titled ‘Playback is a Bitch’ and when forced to define its genre, said it was “playful urban rock”. It’s obviously a well produced party album, organically brought into reality by musicians having a blast in the recording studio. Except for one radio-friendly pop rock tune ‘Help is on the Way’ (in both English and Cantonese), this EP is almost unfettered by corporate constraints. The work’s not ground-breaking by international standards, but for the Hong Kong market, it’s pretty experimental and indie.

He’s extremely pleased with his second track. “Hey, you gotta check out ‘D.O.B’, man.” Jun tells me. There’s a greasy macho swagger in his voice, but after listening to the lyrics, I’m aware that Jun’s singing as an angry female being accosted by a dirty old bastard. Then a female MC struts in with powerfully fierce lady rhymes. ‘Whatcha Gonna Do’ is clattering old-school funk performed in Prince falsetto and James Brown bravado.

‘Help Is On The Way’ is a brilliantly retro 90s pop rock track about abuse. Or that’s what Jun said it was about. Regardless, it sells one moving emotion: the uplifting, spiritual promise of help to anyone who feels that they’ve been broken down, physically or mentally. It’s a poised pop rock performance that still manages to deliver a real gritty strength, despite deliberately crackling under the pressure of depression. Fans probably can’t wait to belt out the Cantonese version in a karaoke room, and I definitely enjoy the Cantonese rendering better than the English. Not that the English version isn’t excellent, it’s just the fact that there are so few excellent Cantopop rock out there that it makes the Cantonese version stellar by default. It’s a star performance all around, and Lord knows we need them in Hong Kong.

“I didn’t really want to do any deep songs. I just wanted to have fun with this EP, you know. Everyone already said that ‘Man on the Moon’ was deep and such a “green” (read environmental message) song…” Jun explained.

Indeed, ‘Man On The Moon’ from his 2010 album Jun.K was a song that Hong Kong has deemed “deep”, because — gasp — the lyrics weren’t about your boy/girlfriend cheating on you and you subsequently not moving on for months. The inspired lyrics from Cantopop poet and fashion icon Wyman Wong is about a man on the moon in a post-apocalyptic future looking back at our wasted planet, a poignant and poetic ecological warning.

The track was immediately covered by savvy veteran Cantopop diva Sandy Lam since her concert tours in 2011 as well as this year. In fact, Jun’s been collaborating quite a lot with Sandy, as his drummer and guest during her concert, as well as writing a few songs for her on her soon to be released album. Which sparked the whole hoohah with local gossip mags churning out covers and narratives of them hooking up.

Artistically speaking, their collaboration makes complete sense to me. They both do something a little more complicated—and genuine—for Cantopop. And they both tap into the emotional part of a song, alas, a rare ability amongst Chinese singers. Why wouldn’t they want to sing more together?

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Left :: Shades – Carrera, Button-up and Jean Jacket – Evisu Jeans.
Right :: Button-up and Jean Jacket – Evisu Jeans.

Here’s my conversation with Jun over some pizzas before his album launch and MV screening event. A natural chatterbox with a mercurial mind (he calls it “controlled chaos”), there is minimal prompting from my part.

JP: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

JK: A drummer.

JP: Really? Not everyone actualizes his or her childhood dream. I mean, most boys would say policeman, fireman or pilot, but they don’t usually turn out to be what they thought they would be.

JK: Yeah, I really achieved that. My childhood dream was to be a drummer. So what now? I might have taken a long route to reach that. I had to release these albums and make two films to become a famous touring drummer. LOL.

JP: So what do you want to do now?

JK: There are so many things I want to do. I’ve been doing albums professionally for 4 years, I would I would say the first 10 years was just all experimentation, it was all just prepping me for this decade.

JP: Really?

JK: What’s happening right now is, everything’s aligned perfectly, and I can do whatever I need to do, with nobody breathing down my neck.

JP: Hmm.

JK: Let’s dissect it. Why? Because albums don’t sell anymore. That’s why.

JP: Hah.

JK: Albums never sold. We knew that sad truth. And now it’s just more obvious. So I’m releasing this (‘Playback is a Bitch’) for pure entertainment. Seriously, you’re gonna tell me that it’s gonna sell? Bullshit, man. Let’s face the music. Don’t go corporate on me, because I know.

JP (stirring the ice in my drink)

JK: Ahaha you’re like freaking out, like — “what’d I get myself into?”

JP: Oh no no, I’m just stirring. I complete agree with you. MySpace then, and now with YouTube, it’s totally democratizing the game.

JK: I think if my CD was sold at 7-11, it would be so cool. But of course… management obviously had a problem with it. I’ve proposed that years ago.

JP: I think it’s a fabulous idea!

JK: I mean how often do you go to HMV nowadays? You can download it for free for all I care. I don’t give a crap. I’ll send you the link. As long as people have access to the music. … but, MP3s are really different from the real thing. I’m old school. I still like the actual copy. And live shows. Come to my shows, please. Get an album to support local music. That’s all.

JK: Well, because, it’s the truth. This year my creative juices are flowing. My fulltime gig is working as a drummer — working with phenomenal artists — and this (me as a Cantopop star) really is just my part-time. It frees up my own mind and the pressure on everyone. Because now I don’t have to be a star and sell albums to put rice on my table.

JP: Aaaah…

JK: I don’t have to sit down with people who can only think: will it be radio-friendly? Which is nonsense. Will it be well received? Even more ridiculous. I mean, that automatically makes them look like a fool—because you mean to tell me that you know what everybody likes? I mean, come ON. That is the most foolish thing. I don’t believe in judging (the product) before it comes out. But unfortunately, in this business, insecure people will say: “NO.” and just to put their foot down. That’s not the way for creativity.

JK: With my album, I don’t expect everyone to like it. People just choose not to listen to the music that they don’t like at that time. They might listen to the same music a few years later and LOVE it. So really, it’s not for everyone, and I’m not doing it for everyone. It’s really for my self-pleasure. It’s an investment, it’s a little present for myself.

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Left :: Button-up – Evisu Jeans, Shoes – Z Zegna, rest model’s own.
Right :: Shades – Carrera, Sweatshirt – Givenchy, rest model’s own.

JP: It’s for your own soul.

JK: Precisely. Being a good person is so hard to do everyday, especially living in a town like Hong Kong. Music is my only salvation; the only thing that I can find purity in is that.

JP: Is that what is music to you?

JK: I’m writing the music for the sake of writing the music. What’s the purpose? There is no purpose! I’m not doing it to please anybody, it’s to please myself. If you’re in music and asking for a purpose, you’re in the wrong business, bro. If you want to be an actor, your purpose is to communicate through other people’s stories or scripts. If it’s your own music, it’s not gonna work like that.

JP: Do you feel that music is solely self-expression then?

JK: Yes, I was doing that for a long time, but after touring for the big cats, I realized that I’m also just playing music for other people. I’m now seeing it like a hired gun approach. It’s their gig, but I can fit into any mold they want me to. Within that platform I can still express myself freely. Once I realized that I could still be myself playing other people’s music, wow, it opened a lot of doors for me.

JP: Like Eason, and Faye?

JK: Yeah. Honestly, not every song is my cup of tea, but when you’re hired, you just gotta do it and go for it. Just enjoy it. You’re not there to judge, you’re there to execute it. Nobody’s asking me for my opinion as a producer or director. Nobody’s asking you, drummer boy.

JP: Which was the most fun Cantopop star you’ve worked with then?

JK: The best example would be the Sandy Lam show. Great music, great artist, and half of my band’s there. So talk about hanging out… Like we hang… we just hang! It’s awe-some. That’s a toxic drink right there. We’re (his band and Sandy) all fans of music, and we can all camouflage into different genres if we have to. I mean, I might not like all of her songs, it’s like, you might not like pancakes but… you go in the kitchen and you…

JP: Oh do you play with *The Pancakes as well? (*a local indie one-girl band that plays “cute” crap, imho.)

JK: Wha? Oh no. NoOOoo….

JP: Oh you mean just metaphorically as in the food item…?

JK: Oh no, no no yeah. Sorreee. (LOL) Like, you might not like omelets, but you cook it. You’re hired to make omelets for people who appreciate it. So you gotta go in there and cook omelets like you breathe it, and then leave the kitchen. You might not like omelets but you see that people enjoyed it, so it’s like, you did your job. Yunno, her fans would cry after hearing her sing. I’m affected too…

JP: I think both you and Sandy have this rare ability, especially in the Cantopop world, to really emote when singing. Technique and range is important, but what makes a singer great is whether he or she can imbue nuanced emotion into the lyrics and move people. And I love both Sandy’s diction and yours.

JK: Aaaaaw thank you.

JP: Aaaaand, since you brought up the topics of food and Sandy Lam, I just have to ask: what would Sandy Lam be as a food item?

JK: Wow. WOW. That is the wrong question buddy, That’s the wrong question. LOL

JP: LOL.

JK: Lemme think about this. This question simply cannot be answered so easily… (*Jun only spends a second and came up with an answer) I would say… strawberry fondue? Definitely chocolate; definitely fruity.

JP: She’s got a lot of elements.

JK: And a lot of experience. It’s not about what you say; it’s about what she doesn’t say that makes it really clear for the audience.

JP: What do you think of the mags who keep linking you with Sandy romantically?

JK: Man, they’re some really good storytellers, you know what I’m saying? But the production’s bad. They have a good storyline, but what bothers me is the morals behind it. People say: “Oh but you know, that’s the price you pay for being famous…” OK got it. I get that part. My job is an entertainer, I finish entertaining, there’s no need for you to have your camera fixated on me 24/7. Some paparazzi just followed a female artist into her clinic! Thank God it hasn’t happened to me, but yunno, when you follow an artist into her clinic, that’s called stalking. When you stalk, that’s not about the news anymore. It’s one thing if you happen to be at an event and you shoot an unfortunate boob that’s accidentally revealed. But if you follow that person home, that’s against the law. I know they’re just trying to do their job, actually I kind of feel bad for them. Especially in this heat?

JP: I actually don’t understand why they do it. I mean, I choose actually talking to stars and staying at five-star hotels for a job. Do they get a personal satisfaction from just following stars around and making up shit?

JK: I dunno… It’s just like jazz, you’ll never get it if you don’t.

JP: LOL. I first saw you play live more than a decade ago at the (now defunct Lan Kwai Fong) Jazz Club. Your drumming blew me away. Let’s talk about jazz.

JK: It isn’t a genre of music; it’s an attitude. A performance won’t be repeated again ever on stage, at least not in the same way. Doing jazz gigs, it’s a release for me — I get my ass kicked, I’m forced to improve myself.

JP: It’s like music boot camp.

JK: Yeah, You cannot do anything but improve as a musician as you’re constantly being moved forward, u have to pay attention to everyone. Everyone’s listening to each other. And they’re all amazing, amazing singers and musicians. And I really don’t mind doing a $500-700 gig at the Fringe (Club) or some small bar in SoHo, you know. Man, they are so fun. I was playing with Eugene Pao last time at Peel, and an old couple in their 60s loved us and wanted to hire us. The next week we were flown to Vietnam to perform at a corporate gig. So never say no to a small gig, it might lead to something big.

JP: Do you have any other practical, non-music-related tips for kids who want to get into the industry nowadays?

JK: You have to build that trust with the people around you. You gotta let people know what you want to do, what’s your next step. If you want to be emo (as a stage persona), you go do that. But your manager needs to know that you’re going to be emo. You wanna play the role, that’s fine. But don’t be emo with the people who’re trying to help sell you. How can we work if we don’t know what the heck you are. It’s work. You go to the studio, there’s no time for emo. You leave the emo and the ego outside. You come here, we work. It’s work. Like candles during recording — “oh Jun, here let’s light some candles.” I hate it. I hate all that ambience shit. I’ll have candles when I’m taking a bath.

JP: LOL.

JK: I don’t believe in doing something you don’t like for a living though. You still gotta love music. I don’t think I chose to become a musician. It chose me. I had to experience all the ups and downs, and went through all the trials and tribulations. Like, the universe was constantly asking me: can you really do it? Can you handle it? Do you really want it that bad? You have to be hungry for it. Being in a relationship is exactly the same. You can’t wait for it. You have to make it happen. Be progressive about it. Some people just stop trying, they just stop… or they get married… they stop… it’s so sad. But I’m glad I have people who believe in me. If talented kids want to start making music nowadays, just go for it. But you need a group who believes in you, who’ll want to do it with you. One person is crazy. 2-3 people, that’s already a team.

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Left :: Tee – Christopher Kane (Harvey Nichols), Shoes – Z Zegna, rest model’s own.
Right :: Button-up and Jean Jacket – Evisu Jeans.

生於香港,早年居於澳門,畢業後赴美國紐約城市大學主修音樂的恭碩良,最近以港澳鼓王之姿和歌壇天后林憶蓮相偕,赴各地巡迴個唱。加上西貢「親密同居」曝光後,他的一舉一動頓時成為狗仔隊追逐的焦點,不過他還是希望媒體把鏡頭集中在他的音樂生活上。

曾參與張學友、陳奕迅個唱,被「歌神」在2007年舉辦105場的《學友光年世界巡迴演唱會》中,形容為他心目中最棒的鼓手,去年也先後為林憶蓮、王菲這兩位重返舞臺再顯光芒的天后級女伶巡迴個唱展現鼓藝,再度引人注目。其實,他為電影編曲的功力也不容小覷:2011年,他憑電影《東風破》的《Here to stay》榮獲第三十屆香港電影金像獎最佳電影原創歌曲;今年,林憶蓮為電影《出軌的女人》填詞演唱《兩心花》,加上他的譜曲,又獲得第三十一屆最佳原創電影歌曲。2012年,似乎對他是個豐收的開心年,但剛過完三十五歲生日的恭碩良卻透露,其實過去十年,他並不是一個快樂的「男孩」。

恭碩良強調,他只是一個來自澳門的爵士鼓手,一個能掌握流行詞曲旋律脈動的創作者,和一個經過專業訓練卻想給人不同驚喜的歌手,但在香港近十年來,受歡迎的男藝人多以嫻熟的主流音樂表現情感音色,他的多變,反而像個不按牌理出牌的怪胎。

在今年十月個唱前,他重新審視十三年前推出的EP,像「你著幾號鞋?」和「愛空間」等幾首代表作,歷年來的這些作品, 的確將他推動進入唱片圈明星之列,但也發現特立獨行的創意,讓他和香港流行音樂市場有明顯的區隔。

目前正在錄製他的新專輯,無論是搖滾、R&B或民謠曲風,恭碩良的聲音變換,都可以展現堅固與柔情。今年六月搶先推出的EP,名為「  Playback is a bitch」,恭碩良就用一種「好玩的城市搖滾」心態來製作。他不想受限於任何製作音樂的模式和環境,而對於香港市場而言,這應該是實驗性很強,彰顯我行我素風格的作品。

另外,他為「Help Is On The Way」作了英語和廣東話兩個演唱版本。那是一首有90年代 復古味道的抒情搖滾,他要用這首歌來振奮人心,幫助脫離抑鬱的壓力,而他更相信廣東話版本應該會讓很多樂迷迫不及待跑到K房點唱。恭碩良表示,這回並不想做任何太深沈的歌,曾經在2010年發行的專輯中,「月球人」這首和名填詞人黃偉文合作的歌,被歌迷視為是意境很「 深沈」的歌,不是在談什麼男女情愛欺騙,而是在世界末日來臨前夕,回頭審視我們一直糟蹋浪費的星球,用淒美詩意對地球環境生態預警。

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Left :: Shades – Carrera, Button-up and Jean Jacket – Evisu Jeans.
Right :: Tee – KTZ (Harvey Nichols).

2011年至今,以鼓手身份陪同林憶蓮舉行各地巡迴演出,恭碩良不在意娛樂傳媒如何寫他們之間的情感八卦。雖然外界只看他們「姐弟戀」的後續發展,恭碩良未正面回應,但當記者提到曾經合作過最有趣的香港歌手,恭碩良還是不假思索回答「應該是和林憶蓮合作」。他說,和林憶蓮都熱愛各種音樂 ,這也促成他們無話不談,雖然不是每一首林憶蓮的歌,恭碩良都喜愛而照單全收,但他用被老闆雇請進餐廳廚房去煎蛋餅來比喻,「或許你不愛煎蛋餅,但有客人喜愛,你就會為他們而做。這是一份工作,做完就可以離開。」恭碩良坦言,看到很多歌迷聽完林憶蓮演唱的歌落淚時,他還是會被感動的。由於和她的合作默契佳,日前在巡演期間,激發不少音樂創作的火花,他更為林憶蓮即將發行的新專輯中譜寫不少新歌。

恭碩良被記者追問如果拿食物來比喻林憶蓮,她會是什麼。他笑著回答:「草莓巧克力鍋」,那是因為有多汁果香和巧克力的甜蜜。林憶蓮的確有與眾不同的迷人魅力,但他認為,林憶蓮不會一陳不變,好讓粉絲完全清楚她所有的特質。

現在唱片銷售被網路MP3下載 影響,恭碩良坦然面對個人專輯的銷售數字欠佳。「我不指望每個人都喜歡我的專輯。人們可能只是在此時選擇不愛聽這種音樂,或許幾年後,再聽同樣的音樂就愛上它。所以,我不會做適合每個人的音樂,或為任何人做他們現在想要的音樂,讓自己開心去做音樂,這算是一種投資,也是給自己的一份小禮物」。

由於喜愛實質的東西,恭碩良仍購買各種音樂的CD唱片 ,站在支持本土音樂的立場繼續做好音樂,辦現場演唱會。他說不會為做什麼明星,賣什麼專輯而「五斗米折腰」,放棄做好音樂的堅持。

「我不會為了謀生做自己不喜愛的事!我選擇成為一個音樂人,就要經歷生活的跌宕起伏,經歷所有的考驗和磨難。即使宇宙不斷問我,你真的能做到?你能處理嗎?你認為情況有那麼糟嗎?我還是熱愛音樂,就像經營一段關係,不能一直等待,或者說停就停,這樣太可悲了。」恭碩良一直保持積極的心態去面對,「我很開心有人相信我,支持我。對於一個有音樂天賦的小孩來說,想要玩音樂,就開始走下去。一個人可能是瘋子,但碰到兩、三個人,那就是一個最好的合作團隊」。

當鼓聲響起,恭碩良仍努力打出震撼動人的節奏,一圓從小做鼓手的夢。「過去十年,算是給自己的實驗,也為未來十年的音樂創作,做最好的準備!」

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