Tung Chung rocker Glen Alfred opens up about his busy concert calendar and cutting his first EP. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
“This scares me to death. Promoting myself scares me to death. I like to keep life private and simple,” declares emerging rock star Glen Alfred of the interview he’s currently doing in support of his first extended play record (EP).
Glen says this with a chuckle but… while he doesn’t exactly bristle at being called a rock star, he does squirm. He neither aspires to nor believes he’ll sell millions of records (purely the purview of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift now), and his low-key life in Tung Chung belies any burning desire to be the second coming of Van Morrison (a major influence).
Musical influences and the EP
Glen is a bit of a contradiction; reserved about shameless selfpromotion – more Thom Yorke than Freddie Mercury on stage – but affable and easy to talk to over coffee. And make no mistake, he’s quietly making a name for himself here, on the mainland and in the US.
A self-proclaimed ’80s kid, singer-songwriter Glen counts ’70s troubadours like Dan Fogelberg and Van Morrison among his influences. “I love the way he uses his voice,” he says of the latter. “You want to say someone cool whenever someone asks you about influences, and Morrison’s an easy one to go to.”
Currently, Glen’s also really into Bon Iver, Beck, the UK’s Ben Howard and City and Colour out of Toronto.
A one-time trombone teacher, session player and co-producer for other musicians, Glen never intended to put a band together here, nor did he actively consider making a record – something he could have done 20 years ago. But with a little prodding from his wife (he’s lived in Tung Chung with his family since 2017), he finally knuckled down to make his debut EP, out now – glenalfred.com.
The self titled EP is five tracks worth of guitar-based, moody atmospherics reminiscent of Paul Weller or Eels that would best be consumed in a dark, smoky bar. The slightly irregular skip-beat of Run stands out, and Glen himself likes Something Not Right, about indifference to human life, as a product born of life in Hong Kong.
“I think it’s harmonies that draw me in,” he continues of his musical leanings. “The sound of the album is what I used to play, and what I used to write. It was very acoustic.”
The band he’s gigged with regularly over the past couple of years have tended to play boisterous bars… boisterously. “So if you see us live, compared to the album, it’s a bit rockier, funkier, and we play up to that a bit,” says Glen. “But I always wanted the album to be for people to sit down and listen to. No tickling the eardrums too much.”
Gigging in the mainland (and in HK)
Unfortunately for anyone looking to catch Glen live, Hong Kong’s not his primary market. He records in Shenzhen, and most of his live shows happen on the mainland and in the US.
“There are really only two Hong Kong venues that I play – The Wanch and Peel Fresco Music Lounge – and I’ve never really pursued them. It’s a bit of a contentious issue for me because I know that as an artist your roots are where you’re from,” he reasons. “That’s what I love about the US. I have a bunch of musician friends in Charlotte [North Carolina], and even there you could go out every second night of the week and see a good band. I’m not doing music to do music in Hong Kong. I very rarely play here.”
Which isn’t to say he’s abandoning the SAR. Glen is working on developing an Asian circuit, and he does pop up around town from time to time. Fans can definitely look forward to seeing him play Rotten Head Music & Craft Beer Festival on October 26 in Tat Tung Road Park, Tung Chung. (Hong Kong’s newest family festival is already creating quite a buzz and you can grab your tickets when they go on sale in June.)
Meanwhile, Glen is enthusiastic about gigging on the mainland. “I’ve got a lot of musician friends living there,” he says. “It gives me a stage to play on and work through new songs on.
“I’ve played in some great clubs throughout the mainland and at festivals like the Midi Music Festival in Beijing. I also play a lot of private showcase events. Audiences are both local and expat and I’m finding that the younger Chinese are eager to hear and experience new sounds that haven’t been available to them in the past.”
As Glen’s mainland fan base grows, possibilities with an agent have opened up. “I have an opportunity to showcase my songs in a film that is being shot in Beijing at the moment,” he says. “And I’m also about to release my EP on QQ and other mainland platforms.”
Glen Alfred in Tung Chung
Opportunities in the US
Of his forays into the US music scene, Glen says modestly, “I’m really only starting out, so any opportunity to play in front of an audience is one more person I can share my music with.”
But dig a bit deeper and you discover that Glen is heading to the East coast in the summer to do a short promotional tour and meet with some A&R types, who have shown interest. (In case you need a translation: A&R – Artists and Repertoire – is the division of a record label responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters.)
“In addition to doing some house shows in the US in the summer, I’ll open for some artist friends who already have an established fan base,” he says. “What I can do with my music in Asia is limited, so I’m keen to put my effort where I believe I’ll get the best result.”
Glen admits to cabin fever if he doesn’t play for extended periods, but ironically, he will have to make more records in order to keep up the American touring schedule. He admits to finding the songwriting process “painful.” Still, he has five more tracks in the can should he choose to release a second EP; he pulled a Prince and dropped the idea of a full-length album because the remaining set gels with the first five.
Smart business? “I don’t exactly do it for the money,” Glen says with a grin. “But I would like people who are good at what they do in this industry to get rightfully rewarded.”Tags: music, us, band, glen alfred, concerts, EP, rock