Tedman Lee, co-founder of creative agency Hehehe and vocalist of NI.NE.MO, is the realest. We could think of a million other adjectives to describe this independent thinker, but nothing can quite capture the way he speaks his mind. He will follow his creative impulses without caring what other people think, because behind his outspokenness and risk-taking attitude, lies a genuine desire to create good work.
It is a drive we can attribute to being dissatisfied with the current creative climate. How else are creators pushed to change if not from a sense of frustration? For those watching from afar, it is intimidating. To those who step closer, an easy-going charm and sense of humour is revealed. Luckily, we get to see different sides to this multi-faceted character and what keeps him pushing forward.
So first off, life been good?
Always good but never good enough! Just finished a couple music videos, one for Pakho Chau and another for a new crew formed by Sam Lee, Phat and Kit from 24herbs… also working on some new material with the band and just finished DJ-ing with my crew Living Discoheads, and also with a new rapper I have been working with named Young Queenz.
Tell us the story on how you started Hehehe…
Hehehe is a creative agency. We direct music videos and promo videos for brands, and also do branding, consultancy, and design. I started the agency back in 2012 with my partners Dee Lam and Eddie Yeung.
The core vision was (and still is) to do something more bold and innovative for brands, record labels, etc. We had actually just known each other for a very short period of time and started talking about how the creative industry in Hong Kong is very boring and no one dares to do something ‘un-safe.’ It’s all about filling up the gap. We saw a necessity and we saw a gap in the industry and we were there to fill it.
What things do you see that make you go “Hehehe”?
The fact that people with hella followers on Instagram are now called “key opinion leaders” and “influencers” now.
You once said that your attitude was a little negative… You still think so?
I’ll try to not say too much about this because they always say I should portray myself as this positive dude because that’s what people in Hong Kong want to hear. But to be honest that’s what the city has too much of, you turn on the TV and all you see are these pretentious dudes acting like good innocent personas and making everything seem fine because they want to seem likeable, which is a big reason that’s keeping people in Hong Kong shallow.
I’d just like to be the one who gives a radical and opposite point of view. I’d be the one going up to teachers (my father is a teacher) telling them that we do not need schools for education. I’d be the one going up to the big guys in the chain telling them that they ain’t doing enough for the culture. I always feel like I’m the guy in the middle who doesn’t really fall into any specific category or label, it’s all about the balance and the perspective.
A lot of people say I’m too negative about a lot of things and how I should stop giving off negative energy. But to me I’m all about the positivity but I just don’t portray myself in that “OH MY GOD LIFE IS SO GREAT RIGHT NOW AND I AM SO HAPPY” sort of way. I’m definitely not that type of person.
So I guess being a little negative or frustrated birthed something positive for you…
To me, it’s the negativity that drives the positive energy to do quality stuff. I see something and I think its wack, that’s what drives me to create something better. This never-settling and never-being-satisfied attitude is my motto of creating.
Did you ever have a moment in your previous job that woke you up to what you really wanted to do?
I’ve had the vision of starting my own creative agency since I was around 17-18 while watching all those talks from John Jay and Jeff Staple back when I was young. So to me, everything I did between the years of finishing school and quitting my last job was just ways of trying to make myself into a more diverse person who could do multiple things… I always just saw it as a process of picking up skills and experience that I needed to run my vision and dream of having my own agency.
How has the shift been from being a creative to becoming an entrepreneur?
It’s a necessary move for me. If you got that feeling and ambition to do bigger things in your life then you must take the risk. “Creativity is how you get to the door, the business end of things is how you sustain yourself for years.”
A lot of people are self-conscious when it comes to creating new things, how do you put your vision out there without fear?
As lame as it sounds, the most important advice is to just do it. A lot of creative guys out there, especially in Hong Kong, often tend to think too much into a specific idea before they try to execute it. And in my very honest opinion, when you think too deeply into something, 9 out of 10 times you’d very probably ban your own idea before even doing anything because there’s probably thousands of reasons why your idea sucks.
I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times where I considered upon too many factors before killing an idea (especially when I was younger). But I’d say the most important part of getting through that is to stay open-minded and force your self to keep going.
There was a quote from Nick Cave in 20,000 Days on Earth which I find really inspiring, “To act on a bad idea is better than to not act at all, because the worth of the idea never becomes apparent until you do it.” And to me, this is the spirit of creating, you just got to keep progressing and changing and learning new ways of doing things no matter how old you are.
Leadership lessons: how do you strive to keep your team happy and inspired?
One thing about being a leader is having the vision and the charisma to be able to motivate everyone in the team to be on the same page. It was a sort of a tough adjustment for a lot of team members when they first entered the company because a lot of the work that we do and the ideas that we push forth are quite ‘crazy’ according to Hong Kong standards, and a lot of creative individuals based in the traditional education background or work background are not used to thinking the way that we think.
So the most important aspect of getting them involved is to get them to see what we see and feel what we feel. And once they understand that process of thinking, it’s all about getting everyone involved and excited.
And now throwing the question to you: how do you keep yourself happy and inspired?
The older I get the more I feel like I have a responsibility to push boundaries for the kids in the younger generation. It’s all about passing knowledge and being a part of the force that pushes things forward to make it easier for the next generation of kids to start at.
This is what keeps me motivated and young. It’s way bigger than whatever we are doing or whatever I am doing; it’s about driving the whole scene and making progress in our city little by little. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by a lot of older creative people around me when I was younger. And now I want to be there for the new kids if they need me.
When you work, what ritual do you uphold?
Music is always the core inspiration so it’s the root of all sorts of inspiration that drives everything that I do, whether it’s for brainstorming or any sort of work or even to whatever I’m wearing.
Perfect. Now tell us about your band and the music you create…
When we started the band NI.NE.MO back in 2009, I always saw it as a social experiment to see how far a band with this sort of sound could go in a city like Hong Kong. So when we first started out, I had all these plans of short-term goals to accomplish and to be honest we reached all those short-term goals pretty quickly. But now we’re at the bottleneck of having no place to go. Some industry people thought we could hit mainstream/get picked up by a major label here in Hong Kong and to this day I honestly still feel that we let down some of those people since we didn’t…ha!
I now see the music as a growing process and a reflection of my life and my mates’ lives. For example, our first album was called Afterparty, composed of music we wrote together when I was 23 to 27, sort of like the age when we kind of reflect on all those teenage party years (the years before we were a band). You know, sort of that feeling of taking a night cruise after a night out and you’re just thinking about your life.
And this coming album is gonna be called The Morning After, where we’re at the age where we have to wake up and face the sad and ugly reality in our world and try to work something out to make it a better place…that’s pretty much how I see it.
What’s next for you?
My mind is always all over the place with a lot of ideas and plans. Obviously there’s a lot of bad ones, and then some good ones, which I’m not going to talk about yet.
Aside from the stuff mentioned earlier, we’re looking to start a new line called Hundred Hundred and get into the event creative management game. There are a lot of great events here in Hong Kong because we have some really dope event agencies and party organizers out here, and I feel like they’ve paved the way for something even more quirky and alternative and that’s what we want to try to push.
Also going to be getting into art directing and styling for one of my family member’s suit tailoring business. So from now on if you need to get a suit made, hit me up and I’ll make you look fresh.
Photos by Home Kong