Here it is, the Ray Chan interview that I've been promising for months! Thanks very much to Christie who took out the time to transcribe this interview for me.
Click here to listen to the audio version.
Also, thanks to Neil Chase from Hong Kong Radio 2 for providing me with the tape.
Interviewer: Neil Chase, 1999.
I: Ray Chan - thanks for taking the time out. “Before The Calm” has had a great deal of critical reviews. Are you surprised at that?
Chan: Not real surprised. We knew we’d done a really good album , but the amount of reviews yeah we were surprised at the actual amount of reviews we’d got.
I: Are you happy with the album? Is it what you were expecting?
Chan: Yeah, we’re totally happy with the album. I know it’s got loads of critical acclaim, but whether it sells or not I don’t know.
Does that bother you actually whether it sells or not? Because listening to it
myself I was thinking, you know, these are guys that don’t really care, that
they’re saying “This is it, this is us, like it or lump it”.
Is that how you feel?
Chan: Um… well, I suppose when you’re doing music you’ve got to feel like that. You know, when you’re writing the album, you can’t pander to any kind of outside pressures at all. You’ve gotta do something that you want to do.
Because it always seems a conundrum as well in the U.K. that the country
produces some good music and some great bands, but the charts are always
dominated, or usually dominated, by the little boy or little girl bands.
Chan: Well, I don’t know if it’s a problem really. I suppose if there weren’t bands like that, these little girl bands and boy bands there wouldn’t be bands like us. You know boy bands and girl bands, they kind of come and go, and we’re just here for the long run.
What about the critical acclaim you have had?
Is that getting converted into commercial success?
I mean are you getting pressure from the record company to, as they say,
Chan: No, not as I know of yet (laugh). But you never know, the next album , we might be writing two minute pop tunes (laugh).
I: So how long did it take you to actually write the album, and write it and make it, and finish it?
Chan: Well some of the songs are quite old. You know, some of the songs are a couple of years old. But to actually develop the songs could take anywhere from … I mean some songs take months, some songs were finished in like a couple of weeks. And then we went in to record the album in January and we took five weeks to do that. Which isn’t that long amount of time really to record an album.
I: And how do you actually do it? I noticed that in your sleeve notes, you say songs by Witness. I mean how does it actually gel? Who does … do you divide up the music and the words, who does? Or does it just happen by like a group affair?
Chan: A lot of the times it’s Gerard comes in with a melody and a vocal and then we kind of work around it. Sometimes it’s through a jam, we’ll all get together. Sometimes it’s just through like a guitar riff. When we’re recording the album, it’s just any instrument anyone could find, we’d pick it up and have a go at it you know.
I: Now you’ve performed at Glastonbury in the summer, one of the biggest and most respected festivals in the world. That must have been quite an experience.
Chan: Oh, totally, yeah. I mean, it’s just something we never through we’d do up until a couple of years ago. Which is a bit strange, we should have loads of rock ‘n roll stories to tell, but we don’t (laugh)
I: Yeah, you should have actually. I thought you’d be rubbing shoulders with the big guys, you know, and sort of have some dirt on the big bands to share.
Chan: Oh no, no no no, we’re too timid for that. (laugh)
I: Now you’ve also just done some dates with Hurricane #1. How was that?
Chan: Oh, that was brilliant. Usually you don’t get to hang about with the main act so much when you’re supporting. But because it was a 20 date tour, we gradually got talking to each other and now we’re friends.
I: But I don’t imagine Witness as like a warm-up band for a concert. I can’t imagine you sort of jumping around and going mental on stage. I mean, how does it work for you?
Chan: Um .. (laugh).. that’s exactly what we don’t do. We just stand there (laugh). I’m afraid we’re not very .. um.. eye-catching when we’re on stage. We’ll leave that to the lighting guys I think.
So, it’s all happened very quickly though hasn’t it?
There has been this industry buzz, whatever that is, about you and about
the band. Do you feel that? Do
you feel that from your side?
Chan: When you’re reading interviews about yourself, it doesn’t feel like you’re reading about yourself. It feels like it’s some other band. So it’s like I said, just sinking in now that we’re actually getting known. That’s weird. (laugh)
I: Now you’ve been likened to other bands like the Tindersticks or Scott Walker or even, I thought in some of the mellower tracks , like the later stuff by Talk Talk. But you still have a very unique style. When you’re writing together, are you ever conscious that you might be sounding like somebody else? I mean, do you have to actively try to be different or do you just sort of do your own thing?
Chan: Oh no. I mean, you can’t worry about sounding like anyone else. If you’ve come up with a song that you like, you know … you like it and it’ll come out your own way you know.
I: New bands coming in with a first album, they often sort of go the tried and tested way with like big power ballads or strong choruses and stuff. But you’ve taken a much more subtle approach. Again, did it just happen that way, or do you plan it that way or how?
Chan: Uh .. it just happened that way. What we did was pretty natural. You know it was like … I can’t explain it really but it just started coming about.
I: Now what about Ray Chan the person? Do you have … you have roots in Hong Kong, right?
Chan: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah … I mean my sister and my brother are there. My grandmam’s still there, my granddad, some uncles and aunties ..
I: But you grew up in the U.K.
Chan: Yeah , yeah.
So what about you when you were growing up?
What were you listening to then? What
were your sort of influences when you were growing up?
Chan: Oh ….. oh really dodgy heavy metal bands (laugh) … too dodgy to mention (laugh)
Now something I ask everybody, what are you listening to now?
What’s on your Walkman at the moment?
Chan: Umm … What’s on the walkman? Stuff like Nick Cave and people like that at the moment.
So what was the last CD you bought?
Chan: The last CD I bought actually was “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns ‘N Roses (laugh)
I: You actually bought a Guns ‘N Roses album as the last album you bought?
Chan: I got it for free. We did this acoustic set in this record store and I blagged it (laugh)
So, Ray Chan, one of the biggest, most innovative, highly tipped band
Witness… Ray Chan listens to Guns ‘N Roses.
Chan: (laugh) It’s terrible isn’t it.
I: Congratulations again on “Before The Calm”. One of the most beautiful albums of the year I think so far. Make sure you drop by the next time you’re through Hong Kong won’t you? Ray Chan, thanks very much.
more info on the interviewer, Neil Chase visit his website at