ELLEN LOO HOI-TUNG didn't win the award for best female singer at last month's Taiwanese Golden Melody Awards, where she was nominated alongside Taiwanese diva Jolin Tsai Yi-lin and fellow Hongkonger Sandy Lam Yik-lin. But she doesn't sound too disappointed.
For this talented singer-songwriter, success has never been about beating her peers, but more about personal growth. And her upcoming shows at Queen Elizabeth Stadium titled "Ellen & The Ripples Band V Live" will celebrate her achievements during the past three years.
"The 'V' can stand for a lot of things - such as vanity, valour - and I've chosen victory to be the theme of the concerts. These will be the first big concerts I've held since going solo [after leaving Cantonese folk duo at17]," says the 27-year-old.
"And as trivial as it may seem to some, the word also symbolises the courage I found during my endeavours in Taiwan and on the mainland. Courage was when I didn't feel ashamed to sing under the sun for 45 minutes in a campus playground in Taiwan. Courage was also when I was in Wuhan and there were only 50 people watching me. I wasn't afraid and didn't feel I was worthless. That's because I'm confident about myself and know my own value."
This value was first spotted by music industry veteran Anthony Wong Yiu-ming when Loo was 15. He signed Loo and Eman Lam Yee-man, whom she met in a singing contest, resulting in the formation of at17 in 2002.
In the following years, their energetic and youthful tunes featured on albums such as Meow Meow Meow and Kiss Kiss Kiss became sources of inspiration for many post-1980s fans.
However, they may have been too "indie" for the Hong Kong market, which never fully embraced them. They soon realised they were being recognised more for their individual talents, and went their separate ways in 2010.
While former at17 lead singer Lam has since dabbled in theatre, Loo toured with Eason Chan Yik-shun as a live concert guitarist - a role that allowed her to show off her superb skills and ability to perform other musical styles.
Loo started learning guitar at the age of nine from her father, who was a fan of crooners such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.
"Playing the guitar gives me the same thrill as playing video games. The guitar is not just a musical instrument to me - I take pride in being able to strike every note correctly and to play faster and faster. It wasn't so much about music in the beginning - it was really cool to attain that finger co-ordination," says Loo.
She eventually fell in love with music, especially after her brother introduced her to English rock band Radiohead and taught her how to play their songs.
Loo says Radiohead have been the greatest influence on her music because "they make me realise that music can be beautiful like architecture. Its structure creates images, and the structures don't have to follow any cliches".
"Some of their pieces are like classical music, they have different movements," she adds. " Paranoid Android from the album OK Computer, in particular, showed me that I could go wild - like running across a big grassy field instead of just walking down the same corridors."
Although Loo has won fame and fortune as Eason Chan's guitarist, and has written her own material since the age of 15, she now wants to be recognised more as a songwriter. She says she started writing lyrics in Putonghua because Cantonese lyrics are too hard to write, and because she's tired of writing in English.
Anthony Wong in particular loved Freckles, one of her first demo tracks in Putonghua about unrequited love, and encouraged her to come up with more. The result was her first solo album, The Ripples (2011). And with a Mandarin album under her belt, it made sense that she developed her career in Taiwan and on the mainland.
But it wasn't always easy. Taiwanese audiences vaguely know her as the female guitarist for Eason Chan during his shows in the Taipei Arena, and not much more, so she went on Taiwanese radio, hit the university campus circuit and performed different shows to reach out and build her fan base.
Loo says she sometimes feels as though she was starting from scratch, just like when she was starting out with at17 and performing shows in shopping malls. Still, her new image and her new sound eventually attracted attention, and led to the release of her second album, You Quietly Hide Away, released last year.
The two solo albums produced within a short period of time make very different statements - the first is loud and a cry for attention, while the second is more fluid and relaxed.
And her transformation from a clueless teenager into a mature woman is best shown by two songs, both revolving around the theme of having a secret crush, written during and after the at17 era respectively.
"You can see how different the feeling and mood was when dealing with the same emotions. I Love Classroom was really poppy, and more about charging ahead. But Wait Wait is more mature and laidback.
The passion is the same, but there's a sense of melancholy and hesitation in the later song," says Loo.
"It provides another layer to the track. This comes from life experience, where you must have dumped someone or been dumped yourself, and then learn a lesson. These experiences allow you to view one emotion from different perspectives."
In the upcoming concerts, she will perform with The Ripples Band, which notably also includes Chochukmo guitarist Mike Orange. She will be performing original songs and newly arranged covers, while trying a new approach to performing by using augmented reality technology - audience members can use smartphones to see special effects and visuals which complement the live action on stage.
"This technology is rarely used in concerts, but it's fresh and gives another dimension to the music. Sometimes it's hard to understand the sophisticated arrangement or electronic elements in rock music, so instead of just offering an auditory experience, we can now offer a visual experience as well."
Ellen & The Ripples Band V Live, August 23-24, 8.30pm, Queen Elizabeth Stadium, 18 Oi Kwan Road, Wan Chai, HK$300-HK$450 from Urbtix. Inquiries: 2541 6778