By Arthur Tam
Robynn Yip and Kendy Suen know a thing or two about live, unplugged performances. The singer-songwriters started their careers busking and uploading pop song covers onto YouTube with little more than a guitar, ukulele and microphone before signing with Universal Music to produce full-length albums (they are now on their sixth) under the stage name Robynn & Kendy.
Ahead of their performance at PROJECT AFTER 6: Busking, Taikoo Place’s latest tenant engagement programme, we talk to the duo about their music evolution, social media savvy and advice for the amateur buskers that will be showcasing their talents at Taikoo Place during lunchtime in August and September.
R: Robynn K: Kendy
Starting out, did both of you busk often?
K: I did a bit of busking when I was studying in London. I joined a campaign organised by the TFL (Transport of London) to find buskers. I toured around different parts of London with a few other musicians for the chance to win a busking licence.
R: I did the college a cappella thing, and then I posted myself doing covers on YouTube. I started officially busking after Robynn & Kendy formed.
What advice do you have for first-time buskers?
K: Sing a song that you are passionate about and enjoy the moment. Don't focus on wanting praise. The main point is just to have fun.
R: The first time I ever auditioned for anything I dragged along my friends for a confidence boost.
How did the two of you meet?
R: We were introduced to each other through a friend that knew we were both into music. We started jamming together and thought there was chemistry, so we decided to start a YouTube channel together.
How do you think your music has evolved over the years?
K: In the very beginning it was our affinity for acoustic sounds that bonded us. As time went on, we were exposed to more music and different kinds of performances. Finally, after we went on The Voice of China, it dawned on us that we needed to evolve and become a bigger version of ourselves.
R: At this point in our careers we are trying to find new ways to express ourselves instead of only being framed by our acoustic and folk songs. We are trying something more daring, but it might not be something Cantopop listeners necessarily want.
Do you put a lot of thought into how you communicate with your fans through social media?
K: Recently, we've started a segment where we pre-record some things, and then we'll put it on our Facebook Live. It's like our mini-unplugged series.
R: I get really dorky with these and edit all sorts of things. We always create our own videos and we enjoy sharing it on our Facebook pages (facebook.com/robynnyip and facebook.com/kendysuen).
Who is currently inspiring you?
R: I've liked Ed Sheeran for a while now. But, after watching his documentary, I gained a new level of respect. When he goes to these big stadiums, he goes there alone with just his loop pedal. He doesn't have a band to back him up. So, now, I've learned how to use a loop pedal and started incorporating it into our performances.
K: I'm a big Oasis fan, and I’ve been recently listening to Liam Gallagher’s new single. He reminds me that bands are really hard to maintain and you need to appreciate the bonds you have between musicians and everyone around you.
So how do both of you keep up the dynamics of this duo?
R: It has been a unique experience. I never expected to have a music partner. I didn't even think about being a musician. I was a therapist for children with autism. There are times when we disagree on things and need space, but we respectfully give each other that when we need it. We are open with each other and communicate how we feel.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges you are currently facing in your career?
R: Overcoming self-doubt and reminding ourselves why we started this journey in the first place. Given that this industry is so unpredictable, I think you never know what's coming ahead of you, and a lot of the battles are mental. A lot of musicians are probably less confident than they appear, so it’s important to have a centre.
How do you think the Hong Kong music industry is doing these days?
K: I think it’s still quite segregated, and I think the number of people listening to Cantonese music is shrinking, but people appreciate music more in general. On top of that, I think there are more passionate young musicians in Hong Kong, and the quality and diversity of sounds are better than ever.
What else are you working on?
K: We’ve had three new singles out so far, and we are planning to have our first ticket-selling concert at the end of this year.
PROJECT AFTER 6: Busking has just finished the audition on 14 July and the result was announced on 18 July. Stay-tuned here for more interviews with the other artists performing at PROJECT AFTER 6: Busking and the final shortlisted buskers.