Beyond the rumours
Inside the hotel suite where Beyond is holding court a showbiz reporter from one of the local tabloids is firing away. 'What do you think of the pictures of you frolicking on the beach?' the hack asks bassist Steve Wong Ka-keung. Steve murmurs a barely audible reply, as guitarist Paul Wong Kwun-chung and drummer Yip Sai-wing grin sardonically.
Being the music-first, image-second rock band they have always aspired to be, recent publicity Beyond has received in the best-selling dailies has not exactly been the sort they would welcome. Pictures have appeared of bassist Steve enjoying the sun with a certain starlet, while Paul was - and still is - under scrutiny by the paparazzi over his relationship with actress Athena Chu Yan.
Not that any of this worries Beyond much, however. The trio joke about Steve's latest flirtation with the sleaze-hungry press with ease; having been around for more than 15 years, they understand the business well enough not to fret over such trivialities.
What furrows their brows nowadays, however, are rumours of an imminent split - 'substantiated' by some newspapers through the increasing number of side-projects the trio are involved on an individual basis, the latest being Yip's capacity as musical director for The End Of Love Generation, a theatre production that ended last weekend.
'As we grow up we of course harbour different tastes towards music,' says Steve. 'We don't find it a negative thing to go out and do our own projects once in a while; I think that actually is a healthy way to go about, it's much better than us sticking together all the time trying to think up new things.' The trio are indeed going off on different tangents in terms of creative style. The difference their solo projects projected - Steve's Canto-pop credits, Paul's riff-driven guest performances as well as Yip's studio knob-fiddling - are illustrated on Until You Are Here, their last studio outing.
Steve's contribution conforms more to the aesthetics of conventional pop, while Paul delivers stretching symphonies of guitar noise. Yip's only composition, meanwhile, is peppered with electronic effects and a solid beat, harking back to his training as a drummer and a more recent infatuation with dance music.
What unites all the elements on the album is an obvious mellowing out. Pompous anthems like Grey Trail or Wide Oceans And Skies have become things of the past, replaced by subtlety and simplicity.
'We don't sound that raw anymore,' Steve admits. 'We aren't kids anymore, you know. The music we write changes with the mental state we are in - and we are not as vigorous as before. I think our energy is directed inwards more nowadays; we still rock, but in a more introspective manner.' It is not surprising, therefore, to find Beyond shortlisting the Manic Street Preachers as their favourite band: In a questionnaire last year, the band shortlisted the Welsh trio's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours as their album of the year, and one could easily detect traces of that album on Beyond's Until You Are Here.
Both records thrive on a subdued expression of pain and remembrance. The title track on Beyond's record was similar in lyrical content and musical air with the Manics' Nobody Loves You, an ode to their AWOL guitarist Richie Edwards. Beyond's song is a thinly veiled song about former frontman Koma Wong Ka-kui, who died in 1993 in a freak accident.
And just as the Manics have to brave backlashes as their material becomes more accessible, Beyond have also their fair share of accusations of selling off their musical credentials for commercial appeal.
'We don't really want to play stuff that most people find unfathomable - we'd rather do things that most people could understand,' Steve says.
'If you want to be accepted by the audience, you need to pull a few tricks, and commercialising your stuff is one of them,' adds Paul.
The trio believes that nascent bands these days are too self-centred, holding too steadfastly to their principles of independence. 'It is true that bands nowadays harbour more zeal than those before - but the chasm between them and the mainstream musical scene has grown as well. Bands don't change for the scene nowadays - but if they don't nobody would ever get to know them. And it wouldn't do them or the live scene any good at all,' Steve says.
Far from putting down their successors, Beyond are unanimous in praising their creativity. An album entitled Tribute To Beyond featured new bands masquerading their old songs as synth-pop ditties, hip-hop instrumentals and gurning metal anthems.
'It was brilliant,' Steve says. 'A lot of people just do covers along the lines of the original. However, here they have put a lot of effort into rearranging the songs. This is what musicianship is all about - and this is the enjoyment we would cherish if we were them.'