Wearing a wide grin and round, black-rimmed Harry Potter glasses framing mischievous eyes, Subyub Lee Chi-fung has all the air of a new rising star. Sitting crosslegged in a cosy music studio with racks of CDs and walls plastered with movie posters, Lee talks about his first studio album, to be released tomorrow. It's called A Brave Coward Singing Love Songs.
"It's my first-ever album, and I want to tell people who Subyub Lee is," says the 23-year-old. "I'm not messing with any special style or huge concept. I just want to introduce a new voice, a new alternative ... that you can make good music even with a guitar that's out of tune."
The album's first song Dead Wait, with lyrics written by Chet Lam Yat-fung, speaks of Lee's impatience to be heard. "I studied at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts [HKAPA], and I graduated a year ago ... when can people start listening to my stuff?" he asks.
Lee has known Lam for four years, and says the singer-songwriter is his mentor. "Subyub Lee has quite a bit of Chet Lam in him," says Lee. "He reminds me to hold on to my core values." Lam also helped produce two songs on the album.
Lee started playing the guitar when he was in Primary Five. He also plays the piano, drums, and bass, but has never had any formal music training. He began writing music when he was in Form Three, and after Taiwanese singer Yoga Lin chose to sing his composition Wake Up in 2011, Lee went to work full-time in the music industry. Since then he's written soundtracks for hit movies such as Love in a Puff and Tiny Times 3.
Lee pays more attention to music's functionality when writing for films. "[The songs] need to emphasise the film's emotions. This is good training. You have to think ... how will people feel when they listen to the music?" Lee says it is important to keep the audience in mind when composing, or else they wouldn't be able to relate to the emotion he is trying to convey.
His music has a lot of English rock influence, as he likes listening to Oasis, Radiohead and Muse. Recently, he's taken an interest in Elephant Gym, a Taiwanese math rock band. When he's writing his own songs, however, he tries not to copy the songs of his favourite artists.
"Who knows, the next song I might be writing could be about a bird who happened to fly to space," says Lee.
Coming back to Earth and talking about his debut album, he says Freefall is a love song inspired by daredevil Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking skydive from space. The Sorrows of Young Waidup, on the other hand, is all about his bullying tactics in secondary school. It's a bit strange, because when Lee was in primary school, he was the one who got bullied all the time. "I was a lamb," he says. "But after joining the drama club in secondary school, I learned to be more confident."
Lee is quite a dramatic speaker, changing voices and making comical gestures, so it's no surprise to learn that he received his initial training at the HKAPA as an actor. "My name 'Subyub' actually came from the first role I played when I was in Form One," says Lee. His videos show his acting skills and wild ideas, such as asking 100 girls to kiss him in Gimme a Kiss.
For Lee, music and drama are inseparable. For now he's chosen music, but does that mean he's given up drama? Lee pauses for a moment, and gives a simple answer: "No."