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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Stories from his heart: A decade on, JJ Lin finds his identity as a musician and is ready to share of himself on a deeper level

JJ Lin pours his personal feelings and experiences into his latest album, Stories Untold.
The Straits Times - July 18, 2013
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Stories from his heart:  A decade on, JJ Lin finds his identity as a musician and is ready to share of himself on a deeper level

At his last concert here in 2011, local singer-songwriter JJ Lin showed off his lean, mean torso to a stadium of screaming fans.

He is revealing even more of himself on his new album, Stories Untold, which is currently out in shops. It is doubtless a significant record in the 32-year-old's decade-long music journey.

Speaking over the telephone from Taipei where he is based, he says in English: "This album being the 10th, being the one to commemorate the 10th anniversary and thank the fans with, I thought of taking it to a different level, a level closer to my heart and my roots."

So he is sharing stories and experiences that he has not revealed before. After 10 years, he is ready to open up. "It's time to open up more of my heart and I think it's time to really let everyone see that I'm ready to be more myself."

Ask him which song was the most personal for him on the album and you feel as though you are asking a parent to pick a favourite child.

He says: "They are all kind of personal but from different angles."

Take, for instance, the moving ballad Practice Love. The dedication in Chinese and English at the end of the music video reads: "For the victims of the SilkAir Flight MI185 incident, and their families, and for my dear friend, Xu Chue Fern." There is an additional line in Chinese only: "I really miss you."

The two became friends through a Christian youth group and Lin, then 16, was shocked when he found out that Chue Fern, then 14, was on that ill-fated flight in 1997 which crashed into the Musi River in Palembang, Indonesia. His photographs were among her personal effects recovered.

Lin says: "She was a dear friend to me and the event affected many families in Singapore as well. For many years, I've kept this inside and didn't think it was apt to talk about it."

Finally pouring his feelings into song and through the music video has proven therapeutic as well. "I realised that letting go is a very important part of missing someone."

Sharing the experience has brought back more memories "and even sadness", but he says: "In keeping someone in your heart, part of the process is to face it and not try to forget because you can never really forget."

He also hopes that the song and video can be a source of comfort for those who have lost a friend, regardless of the circumstances.

On a less sombre note, another highly personal track on the album is the heartwarming Fly Back In Time, on which he duets with his elder brother.

Lin and Eugene were enrolled in music company Ocean Butterflies' Very Singers' Training Course together in 1999. From the 2,000 who auditioned, both of them made it to the final 10 alongside husky- voiced crooner A-do.

In secondary school, the brothers used to be part of an all-guy band called The Gents and they had "the same musical dream to be writing and singing together and releasing albums, maybe, one day".

While Lin is living that dream, his brother, 34, is now in banking. So their duet together is, in a way, a chance for Lin to help realise his brother's one-time music ambitions. "I also want to give my brother the space to understand my life a little bit more and show fans this side of me they have never seen before".

Stories Untold also features collaborations with top music stars. The rock number The Dark Knight is cowritten and performed with Mayday's frontman Ashin, while Taiwan-based singer- songwriter Wang Leehom plays the violin for the dramatic pop of lone English track One Shot.

Lin also roped in old colleagues such as his former dance choreographer Rambo and former producer from Ocean Butterflies, Billy Koh.

His first album, Music Voyager (2003), was released under Ocean Butterflies. The record won him the prestigious Golden Melody Award for Best New Artist.

He moved to Warner Music with his ninth album, Lost N Found (2011), for a contract said to be worth NT$900 million.

The departure from Ocean Butterflies was amicable. Label co-founder Koh has raised the possibility of letting Lin run the company one day. And Lin's response was: "That is the biggest compliment and trust he has given me."

One reported estimate last year of the total sales of his albums was seven million. Stories Untold has topped the competitive G-Music album chart in Taiwan for a total of six non-consecutive weeks.

He kicked off the Timeline World Tour on Saturday and Sunday at Taipei Arena. According to reports, more than 10,000 fans flocked to the first show despite official warnings about heavy rains and floods.

In the face of such overwhelming support, he ploughed ahead with his second night's show and did not even let on that his paternal grandmother had died of liver cancer on Sunday afternoon. He revealed this on Weibo in a tribute to her only a few days later.

The world tour will take him to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and, of course, back home on Nov 9.

Apart from his versatility as a songwriter, part of his enduring appeal stems from his boy-next-door looks and clean-cut image.

The Mr Nice Guy portrait is not just an act. He comes across as genuinely thankful and humble when he says: "Even though I'm not in the same company as Billy Koh anymore, the working relationship is still healthy and that's rare in this business and I want to keep that alive. These 10 years couldn't have happened without dear friends and colleagues. Through this album, I want to thank everyone, including people presently helping me."

The collaborative nature of making music has been a source of inspiration for Lin. He says: "Working together with people I admire has always been my dream and motivation. Music shouldn't always be lonely and about writing songs alone."

It has also taken some time for him to figure out his identity as a musician. He says: "People always saw me as a ballad singer and writer and I wanted to prove it was not just that. But I tried a little too hard to prove people wrong and that process made me a little confused and lost along the way."

He does not point to any specific examples, though he could have been referring to tracks such as The Killa. The slinky track off the album West Side (2007) had a music video featuring the singer as a creepy killer no less.

Still, he professes: "I don't regret what I've done but the growing process took many albums."

That was not the only controversial moment in his career. Other headline- grabbing stunts include kissing A-do on the mouth at Lin's Taipei concert in 2006 and sitting on a toilet bowl for a pictorial book earlier that year.

He might have no music regrets, but you wonder if he has any about the sacrifices any entertainer would have to make when it comes to the issue of privacy.

While the bachelor has been linked to various women, including host-singer Smire Weng and bosomy model Lilian Chen in recent months, Lin acknowledges that dating can be a minefield, given that the media culture in Taiwan is to "put a big spotlight on your personal life".

He says he usually steers clear of talk about his romantic relationships. "Not because I don't want people to know but if you have someone you want to be with, you need time to know a person and develop a relationship."

Media glare just adds unnecessary pressure. As he notes: "Maybe it's just the second time I'm meeting the person, so how can I say I have a girlfriend? That's why I try to keep a low profile on this."

And while the string of reported dalliances makes him seem like a Casanova, he says with a shy laugh: "I'm actually quite a long-term guy."

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