Jun Kung, Daniel Wu, and Prodip Leung on Playback Is A Bitch

Upon returning home to Hong Kong from the Drummer’s Collective in New York City, ace musician Jun Kung began his career as a rock musician. Despite winning the 2000 Hong Kong Commercial Radio Music Award for New Artist, Jun was quickly disillusioned by the local music industry. Instead, he became the most demanded drummer in Canto-pop and went on to collaborate with the likes of Jacky Cheung, Eason Chan, and Faye Wong. It wasn’t until 2010 that he returned to making his own music with Jun K, released on his friend Daniel Wu’s Revolution label. Upon the release of its hard-rocking follow-up, Playback is a Bitch, I got in touch with the Hong Kong-born and Macau-raised artist and asked him some questions about his new EP, his dabbling in acting, and working with Dan.

MW: Is it difficult to squeeze in your more rocking personal work when you are so busy with Canto-Pop gigs?
JK: I am very blessed to tour with big-name singers and I am very comfortable on the road, hanging and touring in amazing cities in China. That’s my full-time gig.

I also have a production team based in Hong Kong called Mofo Music Ltd. We are a one-stop music production team. I believe in being flexible and capable, and that’s our attitude when we work with clients.

When it’s my own project, it’s really whatever feels good. Hence, my latest, Playback is a Bitch, is a feel-good album.

MW: When you are recording an EP like the new one, what is your goal? To get played on the radio, develop songs to play live, work with friends…
JK: For many years, my whole idea of making music has been to just get in a studio and record my songs. I haven’t cared about airplay, because it’s way more complex than one thinks.

Working with friends is a must, because most of mine are in the band. Even though I can play all the instruments, I have certain musicians in mind when recording. The new album, in particular, was written, arranged, and recorded on the spot. Very organic and natural–I wouldn’t do music any other way.

MW: In some of your new songs, I hear Guns ‘N Roses, Funkadelic… What are some bands that you are into? Do you listen specifically to drums when you hear music?
JK: Bands that I’m into… Pre-concert music in recent years would be anything from Pantera. I love loud hard stuff! And definitely Guns. I am a big fan of Slash’s recent solo projects, too.

I co-wrote the first cut on the new album, “Damn,” with a good friend of mine, Adrian Da Silva (of the legendary underground Hong Kong group, Audiotraffic). He does a mean Axl Rose impersonation, and I had to beg him to do a verse about “hot chicks with issues.” I am sure we can all relate to that.

Since I’m a drummer, yes, I do listen to drums a lot. But because music production has become so advanced, I really listen to any genre with good production. I’m a fan of any genre, depending the day.

MW: What exactly is the Drummer’s Collective? Can you talk about your experiences there?
JK: Drummers Collective is a school situated in the heart of NYC, for drummers, by drummers. Anything I know about being a pro was learned at Drummer’s Collective.

MW: Did you always plan on returning to Hong Kong when you were learning and jamming in NYC? What was it like going back?
JK: I always knew I was going to make an album in Hong Kong eventually, just because I had contacts there. But as soon as I came back, I realized that I didn’t really like the way people were making music. It was so non-musical and manufactured, with no quality control. So I spent the last 13 years building my own team!

MW: It think it’s rad that your solo work has big-time Canto stars like Jacky Cheung as well as more street-level guys like 24 Herbs. Are those worlds totally different or are they closer than they might seem?
JK: We all come from the same background. When I say that, I mean we can all agree that Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin played a huge influence in our musical upbringing. Rock music is our foundation. If you asked Jacky Cheung, he would say the same, and so would 24HERBS. That’s where we started exploring. Of course, there are more than two bands that influenced us all, but if we were to start naming them, it would take up the rest of the afternoon!

Funnily enough, I first met Jacky Cheung at a Deep Purple concert in Hong Kong. We were sitting in the same row and after the show he asked me if I wanted to meet the band. I was like, “Sweet Jesus! Mr. Jacky Cheung is bringing me backstage to meet Deep Purple!”

I think deep down inside, we are all rockers in one way or another!

MW: How did you wind up on Daniel Wu’s management group and label? Do you remember when you met him?
JK: I met Daniel roughly 10 years ago. I don’t remember where, but we just hit it off and he has been a great influence in my career. He’s the hardest working person I know.

Two years ago, he wanted set up his own management to handle his projects and at the time I was a free agent. One thing led to another, and it’s been a great collaboration. Our professional relationship is as pure as it gets: transparent and progressive. In other words, we get shit done!

MW: You’ve worked on a lot of soundtracks, but got to act in Punished. I thought that was a really cool movie! Can you tell me about acting in it?
JK: Wow, acting is a different world. Anthony Wong Chau Sang once said, “As an actor, half of our life is spent waiting!” And I couldn’t agree more.

I very humbled when asked to make appearances in movies, but I absolutely do not consider myself an actor. I greatly respect actors and the art of acting. One needs classes and training for it. I am a trained musician who is lucky to have famous movie director friends, and that is all. I love my job and wouldn’t change it for anything!

Hong Kong rocker Jun Kung is part of director, actor, and friend Daniel Wu’s Revolution Talent Management group. I went ahead and hit up Dan with some questions about his working with Jun.

MW: Do you remember when you met Jun?
DW: I had known about Jun for a couple of years before meeting him. I heard that he came back to Hong Kong after studying in San Francisco, and was this incredibly talented drummer and musician who was just starting out in the local music industry.

By the time I finally met him, he had already released his first album and gone through a bunch of label bullshit that really turned him off. His contract expired and he had been left to sit, so he had no choice but to be a gig and session drummer. He was kind of at a low point.

Coincidentally, I was at a low point and looking for some direction as well. So it was perfect timing when we met. We got a long really well complaining about our respective businesses.

MW: When did you consider working with him?
DW: I remember watching him play a drum beat on one hand while playing a bass line by tapping the strings with the other. I thought he had to be the most talented musician in Hong Kong–a really talented individual who didn’t like to be caged–and I told myself that I would try to help him one day.

Eventually, I got him to do the soundtrack for a movie I produced called Night Corridor. Then I got him do do the soundtrack for my directorial debut, The Heavenly Kings. When I started Revolution Talent Management in 2008, Jun was one of the first people I approached about joining. It had been 10 years since his first album was released and I was determined to help him put out his next release, despite the industry giving up on him. Playback is a Bitch is his second release with us.

MW: What are the coolest things about having him on the Revolution team?
DW: Jun has a very easy, happy-go-lucky spirit, and when he is onstage performing, he’s electrifying. Jun brings a lot of funk and energy to our Revolution family as well. Our music division is bumping now, and his skills as a producer have also helped our other artists like 24HERBS and Terence Yin.

The amazing packaging of Jun’s new EP was designed by another friend of mine, Prodip Leung, whom I met when I interviewed LMF back in the day. I asked Prodip a couple of questions about the project, too.

MW: How did you approach the design of Playback is a Bitch?
PL: He can play almost any music instrument (drum, guitar, bass, piano) and he can also sing. That’s why the CD cover looks like that. As for the drawing style, Jun mentioned that he liked the 8FIVE2 x Vans Hollieday DVD artwork that I did.

MW: Do you remember when you first met Jun Kung? What were your first impressions?
PL: I met him almost 12 years ago, and had heard that he was a complete musical talent beforehand. It was true!