Jing Wong Won't Smash His Guitar Yet
The indie star writes rebellious music with a poetic twist, a genre he’s dubbed “Book Rock.”
I think I had ADHD when I was a kid. I used to run all over the place. There were always bruises on my legs since I kept running into things. Most of the good kids in my class thought I was a weirdo. I used to sing all the time. I even hummed songs during exams. Once, I was singing during class and my teacher caught me.
She punished me by saying, “If you want to sing, you have to sing so loud that everyone in school can hear.” I did what she asked. At that time, my favorite song was “Do You Hear the People Sing” from “Les Misérables.” I imagined I was Prisoner 24601. I was asked to join the choir. Persuasion works on me, but coercion is out of the question. My sense for music was a genetic gift from my father. He was very well educated. He wrote poems and had great taste in music.
People always make fun of my name: “You are so noisy. How come your name is Jing [“quiet”]?” I went to international school for my A-Levels and later went to the UK for university. In the summers I would spend whole afternoons listening to Britpop.
I was heavily influenced by UK music. I went to many live shows. I was also influenced by improvisational live jazz with weird melodies. Every day I was educated by atypical music. I played in a band where all five of us had different tastes. We loved to share them—industrial music, free jazz, experimental, big band, art school, psychedelic rock.
I came back to Hong Kong after getting a first-class degree and a master’s degree from Central Saint Martins and the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. Then one day I picked up an acoustic guitar and started busking. At the beginning I couldn’t afford a mic. I lost my voice after two hours of singing. Then I played better and saved money for a mic and an amp.
I busked in different places in Hong Kong, for six hours every Sunday. Buskers now work in shifts with a few people—I used to play all by myself. Once there was a kid with his father, they stood and listened to me for an hour. The kid left and came back with a bag of McDonald’s for me.
Later I joined Anthony Wong Yiu-ming’s label People Mountain People Sea. The next year I joined their 10th Anniversary tour in China, performing in Shanghai, Beijing and Fuzhou. In Fuzhou I met my manager, who was a DJ. When I first started I played mostly folk-pop. During my days in People Mountain People Sea, a lot of electronic elements were available, adding to my songwriting experience.
This past June I made an explosive change, destroying my past image totally. I found there was no word to perfectly describe my style. I reconfigured my genre—I named it “Book Rock.” It’s a mixture of blues, rock and post-punk. It’s rock, but in a poetic and subtle way. I’m not just a musician—I’m more of a performer who uses music.
Aside from music, I love theater. Theater has the greatest capacity—involving time, visual and performing art, sculpture, music, dance, literature and poetry. When I was young I used to like [singers] Noriko Sakai and Gigi Leung because they were pure and innocent. Now that I’m older I like [Taiwanese TV host] Dee Hsu (Little S) most. She’s gutsy and straightforward. She’s funny and sexy too—she’s a Latin dancer.
As for my girlfriend, she can’t just be a pretty woman. She should know her own thoughts but not be a feminist. She needs to have her own thoughts and also be interested in art and culture. I have a daily habit of looking for guitars on eBay, even though I already own so many guitars that I don’t need to buy more. But I’m still obsessively checking guitars on eBay, just like people checking the Hang Seng Index every day.
My performing style is highly influenced by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. There were many musicians in the ’60s who would smash their guitars on stage. I love my guitars and I won’t damage any of them. It’s only acceptable when the performer’s music reaches that level of emotion. But I’ve never seen a performance reach such a level in Hong Kong—not even Nicholas Tse.
I’ve published my first Chinese EP after two English ones, to get closer to local audiences. I’ll also be performing at Clockenflap this year. For Cantopop singers, the ultimate goal must be to have a concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum—but for an independent singer-songwriter, performing in Clockenflap is something we should be proud of.