Interview: CHAI
The Japanese rockers taking the world by storm!
Mad Love
Words by Andrew Yee July 13, 2020

There’s nothing quite like CHAItrust us.

The Japanese quartet, made up of Yuuki, Yuna, and twins Kana and Mana, have taken the world by storm with their earwormingly addictive brand of avant-garde alt rock. Initially meeting in Nagoya, the girls would spend their time covering songs and absorbing a wide array of music, varying from the candy-coated sounds of J-pop to the more refined sounds of artists like Cero and Kimyō Reitaro.  

In the last five years, CHAI has been a welcome breath of fresh air to the international music scene and it’s easy to see why. The band crackles with a live wire charisma that permeates everything they do. From their energetic sound to their colourful visuals, they consistently approach their work with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Part of this is due to their ethos of ‘NEOkawaii’, a concept envisioned to spread ideals of self-love and inclusivity. Like a group of rebels flying their flags of positivity across a barren desert of monotony, these women have captivated the world, touring internationally including when they visited our shores with good mate Mac Demarco earlier this year. 

Their latest single keep on rocking accentuates the band’s signature lively instrumentation with melodic high-pitched vocals that marches towards a triumphant ending of choir-esque chanting and cathartic strings. It stands as one of the group’s most ambitious undertakings yet, and is also the theme song for the much anticipated film adaptation of popular manga  Kotera-san Climbs!. 

We caught up with Nagoya’s favourite daughters to talk about how they formed, their rapid success, and why self-love is so important!

In the beginning you all met in your school’s music club, what were your first impressions of each other?

MANA: You see, back when we were in school, there was a rumour going around in our school’s music club that there was a really good drummer in the class! I went to go check out the classroom one day and it was YUNA!  She was so balanced, with natural wavy hair, an irresistible smile…she’s been multitalented from the very start!  Our bassist YUUKI, was kind of pale, with her hair cut short, and super stylish!  She definitely stood out! YUUKI knew a lot about music, we became friends, and she introduced me to a lot great tunes! KANA and I have been attached at the hip (literally) since we were born so I could never imagine my life without her!

KANA: I met YUNA, our drummer, in our school’s music club and remember the first time ever hearing her play and thinking, “wow! that’s powerful!”  I kept thinking, “that bass drum really adds something!”.  Also, can’t forget her smile! A person with an amazing smile was my first impression!

YUUKI: I’m actually the only one who went to a different school!  I met everyone after graduating. We connected without any of us knowing our musical instrument backgrounds but as we got to know each other more and more, I was surprised when I realised, “hey! we actually might have something here!”.

YUNA: When I first met MANA and KANA, they had the same exact hair style, to the point where you couldn’t tell them apart! They always put 100% into everything, bring a lot energy, and make sure to pull us along! Lead the rest of us!  MANA and KANA had been making one of kind music since back then.  I’ve been moved by their musical talent ever since!  When I first met YUUKI, I thought, “how cute and pale this girl is!” YUUKI’s illustrations and lyrics were always diverse, multicoloured since back then and yet despite being new to playing the bass, she mastered it in no time!  I just thought, “if talented could be packaged, it would be YUUKI!”.

Since forming in 2015, you have experienced an amazing amount of success in a relatively short amount of time. What have the last 5 years felt like?

MANA:  They’ve felt rather long, yet in a split second everything changed 360 degrees. 

KANA: We’ve been running through these past 5 years!  There were hectic times but the excitement never stops! That’s what you call happiness right there!  Also, getting to meet our favourite Artists, the importance of speaking things into existence, like our dreams, are what I found to be really important!

YUUKI:  Overall, HECTIC! We had tons of amazing moments, one after another, but even with that, I still feel like we have so much more to do!  That’s why I can’t wait to do even more amazing things in the next 5 years!

YUNA: These past 5 years really flew by!  We were able to accomplish things that I would’ve never even thought were possible 5 years ago and I’m so thankful for that!

In music videos like N.E.O. and CHOOSE GO!, You have always shown a penchant for daring and unique visuals. What inspires your colourful themes?
N.E.O. CHOOSE GO!MVのように、大胆でユニークなビジュアルを表現されていますが、このようなカラフルなテーマをつくりだすのに、どういったものからインスピレーションを受けていますか?

MANA: We’ve always had a love for colourful things and being immersed in a colourful environment!   We love simplicity too but we feel that if “simple” would make CHAI seem “too cool” so we aim to be Pop-like! Colourful indeed!

KANA: We admire Artists like DEVO, Tom Tom Club, and tUnE-yArDs so we definitely got inspired by them for these music videos!

YUUKI: We get our inspiration from every and anything! No matter the era, or country, we mix these components together!

YUNA: With “N.E.O.” music video, the song itself directly expresses our concept of “NEOkawaii” and utilises a lot of Pink! A colour that’s so important to us! We do get a lot of our inspiration from overseas artists as well!

Speaking of NEOkawaii, You guys have been passionate about spreading the message of self-love. Why is this so important to your music? How have audiences responded to this?
CHAIのみなさんはNeo Kawaiiをコンセプトとし、ありのままの自分を愛そうとメッセージを広められてきたと思いますが、みなさんの音楽にとって、このコンセプトがどのように重要だったか、またファンの皆さんの反応はどういったものだったか教えてください。

MANA: It’s a message that only we can relay!  There’s no question about having insecurities and making these insecurities your closest allies and thus turning them into art is the strong point for all 4 of us!  I think it resonates with fans!  Especially in Japan, where majority of one’ insecurities are most likely negative, and us having experienced it ourselves in Japan, better helps in the fans understanding the message!

KANA: Relaying a message through music that can only be said by us 4, becomes art…we’re not trying to preach or anything but I think, putting the concept #ComplexesAreArt itself into a song is a form of art!  I think in Japan especially, where there are a lot of people who harbour insecurities, we’ve been told many times  that our music has helped them, has uplifted them.

YUUKI: This concept has been our biggest support system!  It’s an ingredient we can sprinkle in at any time, so I actually feel like it’s become our weapon! I would love for more people to understand that their insecurities are not the seed for their worries but are actually the source of their inspirations.

YUNA: I, too, learned to love myself after joining CHAI!  It’s because we are the way we are that we can relay this message ,and by using our insecurities, we can show you guys more and more art!  We get so many positive comments from fans so I do think the message is being heard!

Having toured extensively abroad, what has it been like seeing so many different audiences react to your music? What was it like touring Australia with Mac DeMarco earlier this year?

MANA: I felt the audiences were all genuine!  Any and every place we toured!  My impression of Mac DeMarco was…totally a dude!  Watching him have so much fun while performing really was a positive surrounding for us. I admire him a lot!

KANA: It settled in for us that we still have more expanding to do, that the audience understands that we have so many forms of expression, and that more and more people come to see us and like our music, so we are overjoyed!  Being able to tour with Mac is a miracle!  We were really really happy!!  Mac was one of our favourite Artists anyway, so seriously, it was a dream come true!

YUUKI:  Being able to feel the difference of cultures in the way the audiences get pumped during our live performances is so interesting!!  This is the 1 thing that I’ve been happy to get a taste of while touring the world!  Australia is one of the countries on our “favourite’s list”! The place, the people, everyone was so warm, so loving…it was a super fun tour!

YUNA: The audience’s response is very straightforward and easy to read!  Mac was what an “overflow of a music-lover” would be in human-form!!!  I have nothing but appreciation in being able to tour with a person like him!

Your latest single ‘Keep on rocking’, seamlessly fuses your signature energetic sound with catchy, melodic vocals. What inspired the song? How does it feel having it a part of the upcoming film adaptation of Noboru Kotera-san?
最新のシングル「Keep on rocking」は、特徴あるエネルギッシュでキャッチーなサウンドとメロディックなボーカルの融合が感じられます。この曲に影響を与えたものは何ですか?

MANA: All 4 of us are fans of Christmas-like jingles and we’ve used this as a song theme before however with this song, we wanted to have all the feelings that Christmas jingles bring about without it literally being a holiday song! Why like a Christmas jingle you ask?  This is because no matter the surrounding, or time period, a Christmas-like jingle brings out all the vividly bright colours and romantic vibes!  Whether it’s Summer or Fall, you’re always in a loving mood!  This is how we made this song!  YUUKI wrote the lyrics but it’s exactly what the song title states!  It’ll make you tear up!  It’s really the movie itself!

KANA: We really love the melody of this song, although the arrangement was difficult, with the movie in mind, knowing this song was to represent the movie helped make the end result become exactly what we needed! There are points of this movie that relate to us, CHAI, so I was thrilled when I found out we were chosen to do the theme song!

YUUKI: It’s such a bright song that makes all of us what to shout out right?  I wrote the lyrics after watching the movie but I would love for those people out there who may not have the courage to shout out their dreams, or unsure about what it is that they love to do, to listen to this song! That’s what the movie is about!

YUNA: It’s a really great song!  I love this song! The movie follows Kotera-san, an ambitious high schooler going after her dreams to where fellow students around her watch and admire, unknowingly influenced to chase their own dreams as well.  We, as a band, are also moving towards our dream so there’s a lot of parts of the movie that relate to us!  The feeling of empathy just overflows!  YUUKI’s lyrics, the movie, all link with CHAI, so it hit us right in the gut!  In a good way!

Do you have a message for your Australian fans?

MANA: Hey Aussie friends!  How are you guys?  No matter the form or situation, we’re going to keep making music and keep relaying positive messages, so stayed tuned!

KANA: It was our first time ever going to Australia for this tour but I’ve come to LOVE it! It’s such a comfortable place, with tons of scenery, delicious food, and the cutest koalas!  I want to go back!!  Can’t wait until we can perform a solo show there!  Can’t wait to see you guys!!

YUUKI: Can’t wait to be back in the land I love, Australia!  The next time will hopefully be a CHAI solo show! Stayed tuned okay?!

YUNA: I can’t believe that it’s already been 6 months since touring in Australia!  Stay tuned as we keep on evolving!  Looking forward to the day that we’re back in Australia again!


Find more on CHAI here and here, and follow @chaiofficialjpn.

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