Actor Terence Yin speaks to Boom about his creative process and what led him to embark on his latest music project, the upcoming album T.
Philosophy is not generally the subject of too many pop albums. But Terence Yin is not your usual pop singer. The multi-talented actor, who got his first big break in Yonfan’s Bishonen playing Daniel Wu’s lover, studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and philosophical musings are never far from his mind. “One of the songs on the album [T] is about that state of mind where you understand that there’s such a thing as fate, but you haven’t got onto that path yet. You’re still wavering in this nebulous space before you meet your fate.”
In fact, it’s very much the lyrics and the story that drive him to create music. “I’m not a musician by training. I tend to approach music more visually,” he explains, “there’s a story I want to tell, and somehow the music will be created from that feeling.” The motivation behind this new album, his first in three years since 2011’s Transparent, came a few years ago when he was on stage. “I played a character whose relationship to the lead in the play was very close in sentiment to a song that I’d already written with Jun [Kung]. We never finished the track and I was thinking to myself that it would be a crime never to finish it. So I approached him again and we started talking and doing more writing.”
His collaboration with Kung has brought back his love of music. “When I released my first album [in 1999] in Taiwan, I didn’t have the greatest experience promoting it and so I really focused on acting after that. But it was Daniel [Wu] who decided to give me an opportunity to do another album. Working on that with Jun restarted my fire for music and that’s pretty much where I am now.”
The music on T has definite echoes of classic Cantopop from the 80s and 90s, an influence Yin feels strongly. “I came of age in that era and in fact I prefer Cantopop from the 70s, 80s and 90s to what I hear around me today. I’m one of those who believe that karaoke culture has really narrowed the scope of what’s possible in pop.”
Yin is vocal about the issues affecting the Hong Kong music industry and his film The Heavenly Kings was a thought-provoking satire about it. “I just think [the Hong Kong music industry] is just sticking with a formula that they believe is right. You can’t fault them for that; they’re business owners. But to me it just seems like if the business is gearing towards a different direction, if no-one is selling records, it’s an opportunity to reinvent. It’s an opportunity to not abide by the previous rules and mindset. You know, it’s important not just for me as an individual artist but for the scene as a whole.”
When The Heavenly Kings was released, there was some vocal outrage, especially from the media, at having been ‘duped’ to cover the fake band Alive formed by friends Daniel Wu, Terence Tin, Conroy Chan and Andrew Lin. Of course, their outrage was precisely the effect the stars wanted, to provoke some conversation at the lack of media responsibility and their trumpeting of singers who can’t even sing (of the four, only Terence Yin was actually able to sing). The website “alivenotdead.com” was born out of that idealism and desire to change the way the music industry in Hong Kong worked.
Even though the website still has a strong following, Yin is no longer as hands-on as he used to be with alivenotdead. “It was an extension of the themes we discussed in the film. You know I think we had the potential to do so much more good. But it was a very idealistic project and in many ways it didn’t turn out exactly as we’d planned. But in regards to the music scene, I still believe 100% in everything we talked about in alivenotdead days. Having a healthy indie scene will definitely help the commercial scene.”
Despite his earlier doubts, Yin is excited to be back in music. “I relish the opportunity to create original stuff and to use those works to reflect on myself. I enjoy music as a creative medium and I hope that I can continue to create and that the works I create find an audience.” If there’s one thing though that really excites Yin about this new project is the potential opportunity to play concerts again. “I love doing gigs. If there’s going to be any payoff for me with this album it’s that I get opportunities to sing live in front of an audience. It’s my favourite thing to do. I want to play with a full band because that’s really the best way to hear this album.”
Actor, singer, entrepreneur and sometime philosopher Terence Yin is a man juggling many hats, but for a glimpse of the real Terence Yin beyond all the roles he plays on stage and screen, you should have a listen to the very personal reflections on the soon-to-be released T.