Interview: Eason Chan


The King of Cantopop, Eason Chan talks to Arthur Tam about his new album, his role in Johnnie To’s highly anticipated film adaptation of Sylvia Chang’s stage play, The Office, and how – after 20 years in the industry – he really just wants some time off. Photography Calvin Sit. Art direction Noel de Guzman

Ludlow Dinner Jacket: J.Crew, Sweatshirt: J.Crew,
Selvedge Chino Wallace & Barnes at J.Crew, Ludlow Penny Loafers: J.Crew

Hong Kong used to have ‘four heavenly kings’ of music – Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and Andy Lau. Now, there is only one – Eason Chan. When Time Out dubbed Chan the King of Cantopop back in 2012, we weren’t wrong – if anything, we underrated him. Chan’s unrivaled popularity has only grown over the past three years, which have seen him tour the world and perform more than 80 times throughout Europe and China.

It’s not just the public who are charmed either. In 2014, he received an Honourary Doctor of Arts degree for his vital influence in the Cantonese music industry from London’s Kingston University. Earlier this year, he rocked an international crowd with an exceptional performance of his hit song, Grandiosity, at the Mnet Asian Music Awards and, most recently, he won the Best Male Singer title at this year’s Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan, 12 years after he was first awarded the accolade. Nothing is slowing this man down and many Hongkongers are proud to see that – to witness a local star recognised on the world stage, flying the flag for our city’s music scene.

But it’s more than the tunes that people fall in love with. It’s his humble attitude, humourous (at times  plain nonsensical) remarks and playful spirit that demonstrate he doesn’t have one ounce of pretentiousness. While many of our city’s entertainers are PR-trained into blandness, stage managed and filtered, Chan comes off as refreshingly genuine and in control of his career – which seems to have no peak.

Time Out sits down with the gregarious Chan in an attempt to discuss his exciting new Cantonese album, his world tour and upcoming film. We soon realise that staying on topic proves to be a challenge as we plunge into the creative and wandering mind of the king…

How’s the tour going?
The tour’s great. Last year the vibe wasn’t quite there. Life is about timing... It’s all about the vibe.

Why is it going so much better?
Just a better vibe all around . Everyone is really enthusiastic about making it work, it’s the attitude that saves an event. It was a bit the other way around last year. My [previous live show was] called Life. I named it myself and the first part of it was bloody complicated. Now, Another Eason’s Life is working out better. So the first bit was bitter and now it’s sweet. 

Last year we went to the first and second tier cities in China, but it didn’t feel right, we didn’t have the right direction. Now it’s third, fourth tier cities and the production is better. I thought the production [wasn’t good enough] the first time round. So, a pro is that third and fourth tier city audiences in China, maybe for the first time ever, get to see a ‘proper’ concert. And this concert has set the bar for them. The audiences have been very welcoming and I’m very blessed for that.

What’s unique about this tour?
Well, for this tour I’ve tried to utilise local HK designers for my costumes. I gathered five of them, including Johanna Ho, Kim Lam, Jourden, Thomas Chan and Ah Man. These five people all have their own character and are from Hong Kong. This is something that I’m trying to convey.

Blanket Scarf sacai, Corduroy Pullover sacai,
Selvedge Chino Wallace & Barnes at J.Crew

So you’re trying to stimulate the local design scene?
I always have this mission to showcase the amazing talent in Hong Kong. I’m from Hong Kong and I kind of know these designers personally, so why not? It makes a lot of sense. It’s also fate that we worked together for many years. Ah Man lent me his pair of shoes and jumper for my second album cover; he was also the photographer. Thomas did my clothes for the first concert. Of course there are other people, but this is like a reunion. Johanna has been working with me ever since my Duo concert and she’s a close family friend. Kim has had a part in all my albums. There is a lot of talent in Hong Kong that people don’t always know about.

Have you noticed your popularity in the Mainland increase since embarking on this tour?
I never really focus on that. The most satisfying thing for me is just focusing on the tour. I’ve been touring since 2007 and I’ve gained a lot of experience. I did 44 shows in the beginning, from 2007 to 2009 around the world. The second tour started in 2010 until 2012 and I did 66 shows. I went to more cities in China and I also went to the Albert Hall, Apollo Manchester and then over to Rotterdam. This third one, I’ve already done 80 shows and there are more to come. The tour is going to last until next year, so it’s going to be over 100 shows altogether. Next year we’re planning to go to Paris, Germany and even South Korea and Japan. It may not work out, but at least there is ambition.

Tell us about your new album.
This album is called Getting Ready. It’s about the bad experience that I had from last year until now.

Why was it especially bad?
Because of a lot of things... It wasn’t a big thing, but maybe some lyrics weren’t in the right context.

Are they too polarising?
No, I don’t think so. I mean, it wasn’t intentional. It was never intentional. People sometimes get the wrong idea. Things weren’t going smoothly last year, but now I’m back in a phase where I’m really excited about life and singing. I’m getting ready for the next phase. Also I ended my relationship with my old manager and got a new team. It’s a big deal, but we’re still on good terms – she’s like my mother. She was retiring. Everything is blending in and falling into place now, before it was an odd transition period.

So who are you collaborating with on this album?
Nicholas Tse wrote one of my favourite songs on the album. He’s always been a good friend. He’s stopped writing, but whenever I get the rare opportunity to see him, I nudge him about writing. Finally, he gave me a song and it’s great. It’s called Start Destination (see below). We actually asked one lyricist to write the whole album. He’s a new guy called Yuen Leung-poon. We also have CY Kong, AGA, Jim Lee and Russell Harris, who has written an English song for me.

Is there a particular message behind the album?
The message is that I’m getting ready for the next stage of my career. The whole thing is about doing fashion, art and styling. The more possibilities, the better. There is a song called Black Hole – basically what [the movie] Interstellar tries to convey. It’s like a sci-fi film, but then it’s actually about human beings, about love. It’s a bit like that. When I had all the songs ready and they asked me what the album title was going to be, I said ‘Still Searching’. And then the lyricist said, “Why don’t you call it ‘Getting Ready’?”. You know all those Japanese restaurants that have the ‘getting ready’ sign but don’t have a ‘closed’ sign? It’s the same. You’re interested and eager in what’s going on in that small Japanese shop. You’re getting ready for something! I want you to have the same [feeling]. You just have to hear it and see how you feel. The lyrics are very simple. I would say the more experiences you have as a human being, the more it will awaken your inner feelings.

What I’m really sad and concerned about are the people who have no manners. I kind of blame it on the humans themselves. They’re not very disciplined. If you don’t know how to say hello or shake hands because you’re into this instant messaging thing... I don’t accept that.

So what you’re trying to say is people should appreciate music more?
I’m sure everyone appreciates music, it’s just the way they listen to music is different, that’s all. I would encourage people to go to concerts because they get together with a bunch of people and have fun. I encourage the communal events, like going to the movies.

Speaking of cinema, you’re in the upcoming film, The Office, which is a musical, right?
It’s not really a musical. I think the director, Johnnie To, doesn’t want to give the impression that it’s a musical like Les Mis, or Chicago. But, singing a song in three minutes is more powerful than lines in three minutes, because when you sing, you get time to digest and see the emotion coming out of the music.

Tell us about your character David Wang?

David isn’t a wealthy guy and can be the spokesperson for a lot of people who work in an office. He works his way up and handles himself, or so he thinks. Chow Yun-fat’s character is the head boss of the entire company. Sylvia Chang’s character is my boss. So I’m her apprentice, the young Jedi. Basically she taught me a lot of stuff. [David’s] still a kid at heart, but he thinks he’s grown up enough to take responsibility.
Were you familiar with the play beforehand? 
No, I wasn’t. There are pros and cons to that. The pro is that the story is fresh for me. I didn’t have the burden of trying to understand how the previous actor played the role.

What was it like working with cast?
I only had one scene with Chow Yun-fat, but wow, you know he can read you. You can feel his power. It was amazing. With Sylvia, she was the boss but there’s an emotional attachment between us. My character interacts with Tang Wei more. I use any means possible to charm her.

So you’re a cunning character?
Kind of. Does it work out in the end though? You’ll have to see it to find out.

Does this mean you’re heading back into film more? Or is this a one-off thing?
I want to wait until the film comes out and see how it does. I’m seriously looking for a break. I’ve been touring since 2008, so I should rest. Everyone always asks me why I don’t come back to Hong Kong and do shows. I’m very flattered, but I can tell you the earliest [that’ll happen] is 2018. Maybe I’ll do little gigs here and there, but I’m not really thinking about the future. My work future has stopped for now. I want to enjoy my home and spend time with my family. I’m not retiring, don’t get me wrong. I’m never going to retire. I’ll be singing until the end. I’m just going to take a break and refill the ink pot. I need some life experience after this tour. 

You’ve been in the industry for almost over 20 years now, how do you feel about it right now?

Like an old geezer, but I feel young again this year. That’s why I’m getting ready. Good vibes. That’s why I’m not worried about the future. I think the future is great. It’s just, work is not everything.

Do you have a favourite song from the new album?
My favourite song… I have one song that I really want to introduce, it’s called Life’s Marathon. The lyrics are simple and inspired by my wife’s marathon running.

What does the song mean to you?
You listen to the song and it’s really like you’re running a marathon. It’s a metaphor for the marathon and life. It’s about passion. ‘Cause at the end of it, the result doesn’t really matter. At the end of it, it’s about how you loved it. Nothing else
really matters.  

Getting Ready In stores now.

The Office Premieres Thu Sep 24. Watch the trailer here.


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