It is a constant refrain that has dogged singer Alan Po from the get-go: The frontman of Hong Kong quintet Mr. sounds remarkably like acclaimed singer Eason Chan.
The comparison used to bother him but he has since made his peace with it. Po, 34, tells Life!: "Well, if the Eason Chan comparison meant it was easier for people to listen to us back when no one knew us, then it's not such a bad thing. Anyway, if someone likes to listen to you or to Chan, it's because you sing well."
He has even discussed the comparison with Chan. Their conclusion? Fellow Hong Kong singer Wilfred Lau is even more of an aural deadringer for Chan.
In a way, the band have cleverly made use of the connection by recording the cheekily titled If I Were Eason Chan, first in Cantonese and then in Mandarin. Four years after the latter, they have finally released their debut Mandarin album, 100 Reasons To Fly, which they were in town last Friday to promote.
The album is for the band to reach out to a bigger audience. Bassist Dash Tam, 33, points out: "The Mandarin music market is bigger. And when we travel to promote our Mandarin songs, we can perform our Cantonese numbers as well."
While Cantonese tracks cannot be aired on radio in Singapore, they can be performed live, he adds.
It took a while to come up with a full album as they had to first brush up on their language skills. So for about nine months beginning last June, the band members - who also include guitarist Ronny Lay, 34, guitarist Quincy "MJ" Tam, 33, and drummer Tom To, 26 - immersed themselves in a Mandarin- speaking environment in Taiwan.
Lay admits that he and To had the greatest difficulty coming to grips with the language. Tam chimes in: "It's because Ronny is such a homebody. He's practising the guitar at home but not practising his Mandarin."
They had considered covering their old material in Mandarin but the idea was vetoed by their record label, Universal Music's Cinepoly Records. Tam adds: "New songs are a form of sincerity for us as well."
Mr. put out their first EP, Mister, in 2008 and have since carved out a reputation as one of Hong Kong's top rock acts. But with 100 Reasons To Fly, they are experiencing the exhilaration of being newcomers again.
MJ says: "In Taiwan, it felt like we were starting out again and we were very excited and curious about everything."
That sense of discovery and adventure made its way to the album as the eight tracks span the gamut from balladry to hard rock. Po says: "There were eight different moods, so it was a little tough during recording. If you're not an emotional person, it's hard to nail the songs."
As a sign that they are doing something right, the title track has made it to the mid-year top 20 songs of the 5th Global Chinese Golden Chart, which involves seven radio stations across the globe, including Singapore's UFM100.3.
At the press conference, the band members joke and tease one another, betraying little sign that they had come close to breaking up towards the end of last year. Tam blames it on communication problems while Po points out their tendency to keep silent on areas such as musical direction.
Quarrelling, ironically, has helped them clear the air and has also served as an inspiration for their upcoming Cantonese album.
Po says: "Because of these fights, we wrote a new song for the record. So 100 Reasons To Fly is connected to our next offering and we hope that everyone will look out for that."
This article was first published on June 25, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.