Third time lucky for Phil

Third time lucky for Phil

Phil Lam's music career didn't begin quite as he had hoped, but now he's finally hitting his stride, writes Candace Kwan

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Phil Lam has finally found his true voice on his third release.
Phil Lam has finally found his true voice on his third release.
Photo: Bruce Yan/SCMP

Saxyphil, the username singer-songwriter Phil Lam uses on Instagram, says a whole lot about him. He grew up playing the saxophone, and the nickname itself goes back to high school.

Putting sax in his songs for some extra "groove" helped set him apart from other Canto-pop singers when he released his debut album in 2012. But the self-titled record was not as well-received as he hoped.

It was back to the drawing board for Lam, who had released his first EP in 2010. Now he's back with a new EP, 3, which he says sounds far more like him.

"The last album … was out of my comfort element; it wasn't exactly done in the true spirit of songwriting, or producing music," he says.

In 3, he says, "there's growth in me as a person, and as an artist. [This time] the first thing we did was pick songs specifically with [my] character in mind."

High Hill Low Valley, one of Lam's recent singles and the second track on his latest release, sums up the feelings he had of being at a low in his career. "The elephant in the room was whether my [full-length debut] would be my last album. I was worried," he says.

"What I could control was my songwriting. I could express myself, and prepare myself. The more good songs I write, the more likely I have a chance at this career."

Luckily the demo version of the song - which is about falling, and picking yourself up again - caught his producer's eye, and was a catalyst for recording the album. It's now his favourite track off 3.

"The biggest charm of my music is the groove … as I play jazz," he says. "But I don't think I've actually had an honest Cantonese ballad - even though that should be the meat and potatoes of Hong Kong artists. [High Hill] is my first real go at one, and this was a big breakthrough for me."

Lam's songwriting prowess is evident - he wrote all the melodies and accompaniments.

Growing up on Canada's Vancouver Island, writing in Chinese doesn't come easily to Lam. "Cantonese lyrics are very difficult - and they are very important," he says. "I might be able to express the ideas, but I might not be able to express the poetry or the chemistry in Chinese." That hasn't stopped him from trying: he co-wrote Cantonese lyrics for the first time on the track Closer.

With his music career back on track, Lam is excited about the future.

"There's still a long time before I become an established artist. There's a line in High Hill Low Valley, [which translates as]: 'There's no way you can shorten your journey, there's always going to be a long way to go'." But with 3 selling well, it seems Lam's journey will be rewarding.

"What do I want from this album?" he asks. "A fourth album - because [that would prove] a lot."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Third time lucky for Phil

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