Few local groups have achieved commercial success with material tackling social issues. In the early 1990s there was Beyond, then came rappers LMF. A more recent example is RubberBand, which comprises bassist Lee Siu-wai, drummer Lai Man-wang, vocalist Mau Hou-cheong and guitarist Clement Fung Ting-ching. Their songs describe Hong Kong life and issues such as conservation.
The quartet were spotted by producer Mark Lui Chung-tak and landed a recording contract with entertainment company Gold Typhoon in 2006. Their 2008 debut album Apollo 18, and subsequent productions Beaming and Connected, yielded chart-toppers such as Simple Love Song and several music awards.
Now putting together a new album Dedicated to ..., the group is to stage a series of concerts - Caravan Tour 2011 - next month.
What's on offer in the new shows?
Lai: In 2009, we played just one night. We could give it our all and didn't need to worry about our energy. We named this concert series the RubberBand Caravan Tour because it will be like being in a touring van for the audience, experiencing what we've been through over the past few years.
How's your fourth album going?
Fung: The album is titled Dedicated to ... because we want to pay tribute to some of our favourite singers and musicians, such as the Bee Gees, John Lennon, Tanya Chua, Danny Chan Pak-keung and Teresa Teng. We've completely changed the arrangements on some of their classics; audiences may not immediately recognise the songs when they listen to our renditions. We've turned them into very RubberBand-style songs.
How do you define your musical style?
Mau: We are searching. At the moment, we are into music that is fun and groovy. We also like hearing interesting stories and putting them into our songs. We want to bring positive energy to people through our music.
Keyboard player Kelvin Chung left after Connected was released last year. How has that affected the band?
Lai: It has had some impact. Since all five of us were involved in the songwriting and production, his departure has meant one fewer creative brain. Also we have had to rearrange our songs for live performances as we have only three musical instruments now. If we have sufficient funds and the stage is large enough, we'll invite two friends to play keyboard and guitar for us.
Mau: Chung left because of his health. He used to do his own music projects during the day and played with us at night, so for quite a long time, he was getting just one or two hours of sleep every day. He was really stressed and his body gave him a signal that it was time to take a break. We understand his condition and respect his decision.
Despite being signed in 2006, you didn't release anything until 2008. Was it a difficult time for you?
Lai: Yes. When we first signed, we all quit our full-time jobs right away. Firstly, we lost a stable income. Secondly, we were still not confident about our music. Thirdly, we hadn't won any recognition or established ourselves. When you add it up, it can make you doubt whether you have made the right decision.
Mau: We didn't think about being stars. We only thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we should do our best to record our songs. If you hold down a full-time job in the day and record at night, you'll just be too tired and won't be able to perform well during the recording sessions. Our manager Mark told us that we might need time to establish ourselves. But it improved after we received a best newcomer award in early 2009.
What did you do for a living before joining the music industry?
Lai: I was an information technology programmer, Wai was a building consultant, Clement wrote jingles for television and Six (Mau) was an assistant director at the RTHK television channel.
All your music videos are directed or co-directed by Mau. You also filmed a mockumentary based on Connected. What inspired you to do that?
Lai: We believe visuals combined with music and lyrics can enhance the experience and stimulate your imagination.
Mau: It has been my dream to be a director since I was a child. When there is a chance to direct, I take it very seriously.
Do you think it's hard for bands to survive in Hong Kong?
Lai: Hongkongers appreciate people who are serious about music. Some may have the impression that it's hard to be a musician here and they don't care about Canto-pop any more. But I think it's partly because there are fewer channels to promote our music and the media gives more coverage to entertainment than music.
You had very different hobbies before forming this band; do you still find time for them?
Fung: I stopped practising karate a long time ago. We really don't have much time for hobbies. All I think about now is going on a holiday.
Lee: I seldom play soccer now. It's hard to gather friends to play when you don't know when you are free.
Lai: I can't commit to my sailing team. I haven't sailed for two years.
Lai, you and radio DJ Jan Lamb Hoi-fong look so alike. Have people mistaken you for him before?
Lai: No. Some people say I look like him, but they don't mix us up. But recently, a song by Jan was playing in a cab that I caught. When I got out at the end of the journey, the driver said, 'Thank you, Mr Lamb.' Maybe he was just fooling with me.
RubberBand Caravan Tour 2011, 8.15pm, March 19-23. Rotunda 3, 6/F, Kitec, Kowloon Bay. Tickets HK$380, hkticketing.com. Inquiries: 2996 3988