Being happy to take creative liberties with their lyrics, My Little Airport paints vivid waves of emotions through their heartfelt indie pop tunes
There is plenty of local musical talent in the city, with some of our favourite Hong Kong bands being Thud, Life Was All Silence and Blood Wine or Honey. And when you think local indie pop, you can’t miss out on My Little Airport. Since releasing their debut album in 2004, My Little Airport has become a local indie wonder under Harbour Record. Most known for their hilarious and borderline diabolical Cantonese lyrics that ridicule daily affairs – the horror of Admiralty station at 6pm, cheap hotels in Kowloon Tong or the embarrassing moment when getting caught eating alone at Yoshinoya – they have established a highly inventive musical style that is so lacking in today’s popular music.
With their indie pop songs slowly adopting a different approach that is apparent in their latest releases, we chatted with the frontman and frontwoman from MLA, Lam Ah P and Nicole OuJian, about their music evolution and plans for future creative output.
Meet the minds behind My Little Airport
Some musicians write music because they have something to tell the world, some do because music helps them to cope with their own emotions; how about you guys?
Ah P: Maybe because I’ve never heard of those songs, so I create the kind of music that I wish existed in the world. When we were young, we thought pop music was meant for crowds of people, but no – there are times that I just want to write a song for one person. So sometimes I’ll write a song for one particular person, and hopefully it’ll blossom into a form of expression that engages others as well.
Nicole: I kind of think that it’s a calling… I still don’t know if I chose the path to music or if music is the path that chose me. Everything just falls into the right places when inspiration hits. It’s not as intense as say a visceral instinct, but rather a natural inclination to simply let things happen. Because I feel like if I keep them bottled up, I’d be mad uncomfortable.
It has been thirteen years since your debut album, we can see the evolution of My Little Airport – from being a juvenile teenager talking about crushes to becoming more philosophical and political, and touching upon the reasoning behind the “holy” matrimony – how do you feel when you look back at your earlier works?
P: A portion of them I don’t think are good enough… But I guess most of them are considered okay? In our earliest works, I depleted my every ounce of teen spirit to write about the wild and dumb ideas we had in our teenage years, and now looking back, there probably isn’t that much wisdom in them.
N: Starting from the very beginning, most songs have been about Ah P’s life, which set the tone for My Little Airport’s songs – the idea of not being attached to certain people or things, validating a free spirit and acknowledging the uncertainty in life. But in 2017, there’s a notable change in his songwriting (as he has entered into a serious romantic relationship). So I genuinely look forward to how the narrative of MLA would evolve in the future.
Your latest single Hey Hey Baby is considered the sweetest song that you’ve ever written – unlike your older stuff such as You’re a Lang Zi, Don’t Settle Down which convinces people the biggest cause of divorce is marriage – how would you react to people’s disbelief in the sudden change in MLA’s musical style?
P: For songs like You’re a Lang Zi, Don’t Settle Down or those revolving around modern dating, I’ve already exhausted that part of my life and written about them all. Now I want to put a cap on it and move on to another stage. Changes often spark a new vein of creativity and it’ll be boring if there’s no variation. Also, I’ve never tried writing love songs like Hey Hey Baby… Nor living life the way I do now.
N: At first it was quite astonishing indeed, it did take us a while to get used to it.
P: It just so happened that Fai Young Chan (the Cantopop composer) provided me a sweet melody and asked if I wanted to write something about obsession. It was emotionally difficult for someone like me. And when you’re being really happy, you don’t have a lot to say. So I extrapolated ideas from a tiny notebook where I jotted down random stupid things in my life and pieced the stories together. Everything I put in the song was real, except for the line about me taking the bus with my girlfriend in Sweden, it didn’t really happen in Sweden… I was just trying to make it rhyme (laughs).
N: Maybe in two years time, there will be a sequel to it called Hey Hey Baby Baby! I wonder how the listeners will react to it then, since we’ve received quite a bit of feedback that a lot of them still hang on to the old Lam Ah P.
Two of your other recent releases – A Good Trip One Night Along Nathan Road and The Afternoon where We Took a Pregnancy Test – have quite a sentiment behind their seductively funny titles, what inspired you to write them?
P: For The Afternoon where We Took a Pregnancy Test, I was reading the Chinese literature Dream of the Red Chamber at the time. I admire the way Jia Baoyu the protagonist rebelled against his parents and didn’t succumb to fame and money despite societal pressure. If one ever has kids, that’s the message I’d like to deliver: Just be a genuine person instead of pursuing the so-called “success”.
And with Good “Trip”… We’re socially conditioned to follow many unnecessary rules in life. It becomes clear that you’ve subconsciously suppressed a bunch of stuff on a daily basis when you’re mildly stoned (in Amsterdam), hence Good Trip, meaning you’re finally confronting it. It could be simple as following the sequence of breakfast, lunch, dinner… Why couldn’t I just get ice-cream before dinner? Do things that make you happy without depending your actions on antiquated rules.
Do you censor yourself in music writing – political or personal – since a lot of your songs are very political and might have raised some eyebrows?
P: Since some of the songs already got red flagged in China, that ship has sailed, I no longer care about it. Also, the political climate in the past two years has gotten even worse, I probably have reached a point where I feel too hopeless about the situation to even write about it anymore.
N: For me, if you’re talking about self-censorship that are apolitical, yes. With our new song Heart, the lyrics were first written as “I reveal my heart” (我把心打開) and I was pondering whether I should change it to “my heart reveals itself” (我的心打開)… Because it would appear to be more transcendental and poetic right? When I asked for Ah P’s opinions, he told me that I didn’t have to put myself on a pedestal or trying to sound smart. Sincerity will prevail when you stay grounded and be authentic.
You guys were playing seven gigs in five days during Christmas past, it was pretty huge. Have you ever considered why these people come to your music?
N: When I was playing the last couple of shows, what struck me more was how fortunate we are that we get to be here because of these people, instead of wondering why they came here for us. Standing in the same spot for five days, feeling almost repetitive, the only thing that marks the difference is the individuals standing in front of us. And I’m grateful for that.
P: Sometimes I don’t think seven is a huge number, and I wonder what constraints have kept us from exceeding what we’ve done in the past few years. If we manage to open us up to other parts of ourselves, maybe we can reach out to even more people.
How have your experiences so far been different or similar to your initial thought when you first set out to be a musician/part of a band?
N: I’ve been asking myself that too lately…
P: Now that we’ve matured a bit, there is this nostalgia that grows from within me and makes me want to help preserve the good things in Hong Kong. For example, we covered these old Canto songs like 青春舞曲2000 live, as these oldie hits probably are unheard of amongst the younger generations. It’s a song from the compilation album called Huang Hou Da Dao Dong by Music Factory in the 90s. It’s quite meaningful and I want to share it with others.
N: I didn’t come from a creative background, I started to become more aware of what creative freedom means only after I met Ah P. A decade ago, I just found being in a band is a fun thing to do. You got to wear your favourite T-shirt and play a gig in front of say three people, it was still very enjoyable. Last year when we played at MacPherson Stadium, I wore a fabulous dress… But that only made me think, what’s most important is the performance instead of the wardrobe. So in that regards, I feel like it’s the same.
Still, as MLA progresses and evolves to a point where we no longer have to separate music from work and pleasure from survival, where we can still manage to make ends meet by making music, there comes more fundamental and practical things to consider. I wouldn’t have thought that Ah P would learn Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator from scratch, and even make prints and T-shirts.
Keep up-to-date with My Little Airport here