Terence Yin on Transparent, Dan The Automator, and the state of Cantopop

Hong Kong movie freaks know that Terence Yin has acted for some of Asia’s coolest directors, including Yonfan, Takashi Miike, and Johnnie To. But he’s also a singer, and his new Transparent EP features world-class production by Dan The Automator. A serious follow-up to the The Heavenly Kings mockumentary (which Yin co-produced with his friends, co-stars, and boyband imposters Daniel Wu, Conroy Chan, and Andrew Lin to skewer Hong Kong’s celebrity-driven, cookie-cutter pop music industry), the seven songs have dark lyrics, complex arrangements, and serious beats—not to mention hints of dark wave, dub, and even Britpop.

Although I hadn’t talked to the philosophy major from Berkeley in years, I had to reach out find out how this cool project, which was produced by Wu’s Revolution Management company, came together.


MW: Many of your friends are trying to subvert HK’s music scene by playing rap or rock. Can you talk about doing your thing but within the Cantopop genre?

TY: Cantopop has remained largely the same for a long time, and I believe there should be a broader space in the HK music scene to include other types of music. However, “subvert” is not what I am trying to do. If I can make music that helps stretch the definition of popular music, I would like to do that. But although I deliberately stay away from the karaoke-driven formula of Cantopop and make music that has a much broader range of influences, I do not set out to make music that is too far from what local audiences will accept.


MW: Not counting the Alive boyband from The Heavenly Kings, you haven’t been in the studio for a while. Did you have a lot of ideas and energy pent up and ready to go or did it take some warming up to work on songs and become comfortable behind the mic?

TY: It was definitely a process to work my voice and my outlook back into being a singer and a songwriter. In order to make good music, you have to be completely honest with yourself and open up your deeper vulnerabilities. I probably would not have found the courage to do so without the help of my good friend Jun Kung. With Jun and through the writing sessions with Dan The Automator, I was able to find my voice and turn my thoughts and feelings into stories.

MW: What was it like working with a non-HK producer? What sort of new ideas or sounds did Automator bring to the studio?

TY: Working with Dan and Tim was definitely a great learning experience for me. My favorite aspect of Dan The Automator’s music is that it is cinematic and filled with so much detail and color. The more you listen to it, the more new elements and inspirations you will discover. The depth of Dan’s music made it very easy for me to find the right emotions to carry each song. When I was recording the vocals, sometimes I found myself playing different characters with my voice to suit the “scene” created by Dan’s beats.


MW: How does the final product compare to what you originally envisioned?

TY: My voice has also evolved over the years and my tone now is very different from the way I sounded in my first album 11 years ago.  I have grown and become more mature.

I see this EP as a personal journey and a capsule of feelings I have carried over the past years. I wanted to make something good in order to repay the good faith my friends Daniel Wu and Jun Kung have in me. I hope and think the end result accomplishes that. I also hope that the people that buy my EP or follow my music will like what we have done and feel the heart we put into this project.


MW: Being one of the principal team members of the Alivenotdead site, acting in movies and on TV, and everything else, you have a pretty packed schedule. Do you have time to listen to music as a fan? What do you listen to?

TY: I haven’t really had much time to find new bands or artists to listen to these days, but lately I have been listening to Adele and Damian Rice a bit more than usual!

Sawtelle, 2007

Check out the “Passing Summer” video here (shot by Jan Lamb with Wing Shya) and the scoop on the EP as well.