We chatted with Lil’ Ashes about recreating Cantonese children’s songs, growing up, their childhood inspirations and secret wishes.
We are here for all the great Hong Kong musicians, including My Little Airport, Wesley Jamison, and Thud, so we were thrilled to sit down with these talents. Consisting of Pollie Tong and Jonathan Wut, Lil’ Ashes started performing at local cafes and livehouses in 2012 and have since gained a dedicated following with their heartwarming English folk songs, as well as Cantonese pop tunes. The two got signed to Sony Music Hong Kong in 2013 and we sat down with them to talk about life as musicians in Hong Kong.
An interview with Lil’ Ashes
Named after two things: Jonathan’s cat whose name is Chan Chan (meaning ashes in Cantonese) and one of Pollie’s favourite childhood songs More Than Ashes, Lil’ Ashes were born in 2012. Using Lil’ instead of Little is a way of saying how small and insignificant each individual is compared to the rest of the universe.
Hi, Pollie and Jonathan. Lil’ Ashes are often described as sweet and lovely, but having known you for years, I know you (especially Pollie) have had your sad moments. What’s your songwriting process like when you’re dealing with emotional ups and downs?
J: There is an obvious distinction between our song demo and actual production. We projected a lot of intense feelings onto our song demo, and that really needs to be altered a little bit before being shown to the world. If you listen to the album’s demos, you’ll probably be shocked by how different it’s from what you usually hear from Lil’ Ashes (laughs).
P: Songwriting is an exit for us to express those emotion, like catharsis. My hope for the song is that when we hear it (or people hear it), we can find a way out of our negative emotions.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
P: The Carpenters! Their music definitely planted a seed in me when I was little. Hopefully, we can do the same with kids these days. If we’re talking about Cantonese singers, then it’d be Ivana Wong and Eman Lam.
J: When I was a kid, probably Bee Gees and Sam Hui. Now, I really like Of Monsters and Men and Oh Wonder.
Recall A Little Bit is a concept album on children’s songs, what inspired you guys to make that decision?
Pollie: When we first did a cover on a children’s song called Little Sun (小太陽), I felt like we were on the tip of the iceberg of something really special, as if those were hidden gems that have been waiting for us to rediscover. We ended up deciding to do a full rearrangement on these songs. The album is called Recall A Little Bit because we hope to bring back some memories from the golden days of Cantonese children’s songs for both kids and grown-ups.
Which song on the record means the most to you?
J: Definitely Little Sun for the both of us. I used to listen to that cassette tape with my sister all the time when we were kids.
P: The song is about starting fresh every day, like you’ve got enough to worry about for today, so don’t get stressed over about what’s coming the next day.
Is there a running theme throughout your albums?
P: Our previous records are called Be Little and A Little Louder. The word “Little” reminds us to always stay genuine and down-to-earth like a kid, and be open-minded to learn new things. When we grow up, the unpredictable routines of everyday life scare us. But kids, they look forward to experiencing new things instead of being dreadful of what is to come, and that’s what we’re trying to be. And sometimes, don’t be afraid to just be a little louder to get your message across!
Having spent six years making music already, how do you feel?
P: It feels like the whole time you were waiting for the epic sunrise, and somehow the sun has already risen without you noticing.
J: For me it’s more or less the same. I was learning at school and now I’m learning about music production. There is not much of a big difference, just a different position that I’m in.
So, Jonathan, you started doing more vocals on Recall A Little Bit, do you enjoy that?
J: It’s quite nice. It gives me an opportunity to spill out what is on my mind. For the first two albums, Pollie did more on songwriting while I focused on arrangement, and lately our roles have been interchanging – I tapped more into song demo and promotion.
Have you figured out the best way to work professionally as a couple?
J: We’re still figuring that out. I think it is a case by case situation, it depends on what project we’re working on.
P: It feels like we’re dealing with problems that only married couples will encounter for the past five years, sort of like how some parents sometimes get into an argument because of the household financial situation (laughs). When there is emotional attachment, it’s more difficult to handle things professionally but we’re trying to stay as professional as possible.
If you were granted three wishes, what would they be?
P: First, people living in Hong Kong get to have more personal and work space because this city is so jam-packed. And I wish it was easier to express what is in my head to others. Lastly, it’d be great if vegetarianism or being environmentally-friendly was less difficult, for me and for everyone else.
J: I hope people have a moral compass that is held to a higher standard (laughs). I want happiness but In Hong Kong it feels like happiness has to be built with hyper consumerism, so I want simplistic happiness. And, world peace, duh!
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