Just one of the boys
Josie Ho Chiu-yee is dressed in a light denim dress hanging loosely on her petite frame. She looks a little frazzled after non-stop interviews throughout the afternoon in the showroom upstairs from Diesel's flagship store on Queen's Road Central.
'They wanted to take my photos for the backdrop, but I'm here to sing,' she mumbles before hopping onto the stage to join The Uni Boys - with Kevin Li on drums, Chan Siu-kei on bass, and Don Cruz and Dee Lam on guitar.
Less than two hours later, at the gig inside the shop to launch their new retro-rock album (her first in three years, The Third Eye), she has transformed into a serious rock chick. She's spiked up her Karen O-esque bob and dyed it red to match her stars-and-stripes sweatsuit. She completes the look with some red Ray-Bans.
It's hard to imagine she can channel such power and energy at the click of her fingers. Her rock chants pierce heads and paralyse hearing systems during a brief but intense performance. But Ho has never ceased to surprise. Born into one of the world's richest families - her father is Macau's casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun - Josie was brought up in a way quite unlike the woman she is today.
'There is a certain look that we're all supposed to have in the family, but I have always gone against it,' she says. 'It's not a good look for me.'
But when it's pointed out that the Haider Ackermann purple satin, low-cut, open-back dress she wore at this year's Hong Kong Film Awards was quite a feminine pick, Ho laughs. 'That's not very family-proof, either. It took me so long to find something that not only showed the girlie side of me but something also simple and edgy. It was Hilary [Tsui Ho-ying] who eventually found the dress for me.'
Ho's fashion epiphany happened when her sister, Pansy Ho Chiu-king, introduced her to Madonna's music in the early 1980s. She was hooked after listening to Borderline, a single from the pop icon's self-titled debut album.
'I went to the record shop to buy posters of her and watch her concerts on laser disc,' she says, adding that as a teenager she dressed herself in all of Madonna's signature looks. Ho says that, unlike the rest of her socialite siblings, she never had much interest in fine jewellery while growing up. She even had to borrow jewellery from Pansy for the red carpet at the Film Awards.
But she does have a lot of vintage sunglasses, which she started collecting from childhood. 'I've never counted how many pairs I have, but I know it's a lot. I started collecting because my sister's friends kept on giving me sunglasses,' she says.
There's one pair she'd never let anyone touch. 'My godfather [late Canto-pop icon Danny Chan Pak-keung] gave it to me. It's just something brandless he picked up from the Tokyo airport, but they are so dear to me,' she recalls. 'He always used to tell me, if I wanted to be a singer, to wear these shades.'
For the new album, Ho and the Boys have their wardrobe sorted; contemporary clothing giant Diesel is both their wardrobe and marketing sponsor. The album, which was finished late last year, has been released to coincide with Diesel's autumn-winter collection launch.
Although some people might wonder whether the band is selling itself out, Ho says they have nothing to justify.
'It's a win-win situation. We are very much in synch; the ideas and the timing. Our themes are on par. That's very important and, really, all that matters,' she says.
She admits the album promotion would have been more difficult without the Diesel collaboration but insists that the clothing brand wasn't involved in any of the creative side.
'Rock'n'roll has always been an inspiration to fashion,' she says. 'Clothes are just fabrics. It's your attitude that carries the message.'
Jamming with her for years, there are perhaps few people like The Uni Boys who have better knowledge of Ho's off-stage style.
'I sure don't dress up in the studio,' Ho says, laughing.
Li, the band's leader, adds: 'I think it's pretty awesome that she's not like one of those full-on fashion freaks. Whatever she wears, she's always doing her own thing. The other day, she looked funky turning up at a house party in training shorts and a beach top.'
Ho says she doesn't follow trends much: 'I'm so outdated. But I love that sense of awkwardness sometimes when you wear something out of place.'
It's been almost three years since her last album, Elastic Rock. Ho jokes that it's partly due to her laziness.
It's surprising to hear she's had time to slack off. Her film business has certainly kept her busy while she's away from the music scene. Her own film company, 852 Films, produced and financed its first film, Dream Home, last year. Playing a distraught office lady on a revenge killing cycle after her dream to afford her own apartment bursts, Ho got her first best actress nomination at this year's Hong Kong Film Awards.
She's landed roles in a string of Hollywood productions, including Steven Soderbergh's Contagion and The Courier, co-starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Mickey Rourke.
She also challenged herself, starring in The Liaisons, a dramatic performance opposite award-winning actor Tse Kwan-ho, directed by veteran Fredric Mao Chun-fai and co-written by Felix Chong Man-keung and Alan Mak Siu-fai of Infernal Affairs fame. It premiered at the Hong Kong Arts Festival and travelled to Beijing and Shanghai during the World Expo.
'She's a busy superwoman,' says Cruz, one of the band's guitarists.
But Ho says music is the one thing she can't live without. In the next two months, she'll tour with The Uni Boys to Beijing's InMusic Festival, Shanghai and possibly Taiwan.
'It's something I really enjoy doing,' she says. 'Whenever I'm not doing films, I want to have time for my music projects.'