It's been a year since Young Post spoke to Rachel Lui - better known by her stage name J.Arie. This time the pop singer had just celebrated her 25th birthday. She holds up one of the gifts she received - a retro microphone - and tells us how she used to hide in her room after school and record herself singing with cheap equipment for more than 10 hours at a time because her parents didn't let her join the choir.
A performer at heart, the short-haired singer is living proof of how fortune favours the brave. Even though she lost a singing competition in Form Six, a judge invited her to sing demos, or draft versions, for recording artists. Two years ago, Sun Entertainment offered to sign her just as she graduated from university. She also got to star in a film after actor and producer Gordon Lam Ka-tung saw her at a party and invited her to audition. "I didn't do well at all, but he still gave me a chance. I was really lucky," she admits.
J.Arie thinks that acting and singing are complementary, because for both you need to be able to adopt different emotions really quickly.
As J.Arie knows from starring in Get Outta Here, acting requires her to become a completely different person.
"You really have to let go of yourself. My character is kind of crazy. I had to scream down the phone in the middle of Mong Kok - normally, I'm a tad more reserved," she laughs.
While acting was a challenge, she could be more of herself in her latest album, Psyche Voice, which was released in November last year. J.Arie hopes her songs express the things people find it hard to say themselves. Ice Island reflects on how cold and heartless society is. Starting Point is a playful song about the repetitiveness of daily life, and Sisters is about lost friendship.
"I relate to this song [ Sisters] in particular. After I graduated from secondary school, my friends and I suddenly spent less time together. Our values changed and we didn't have much to talk about anymore," she says. "Everything felt so different. Hopefully this song moves people to rebuild broken friendships."
Most of the songs from Psyche Voice are in typical Canto-pop style, but Heart's Devil stands out musically, with a jazzy style rarely heard in the local music scene.
J.Arie's also doing a lot of reading to hone her writing skills. "You have to be really cultured to write good lyrics, and you need lots of life experience, too," says J.Arie.
But being a singer isn't exactly like J.Arie expected. "I always thought it'd be fine to just make good music, but I've learned that the whole thing's a package," she says. "It includes how I talk, what I wear - my image should match my songs. My producer's quite firm about this." As her music is hugely influenced by music from decades past, she loves sporting a vintage look.
She's not about to get involved in fashion, though. "Some people like to seem multi-talented, but I think that blurs their original intentions. I always remind myself that first and foremost, I'm a singer. I want people to hear my voice and know right away that it's me."