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CHAI on their self-titled album and playing in Portland

The+cover+of+CHAIs+self-titled+album.
The cover of CHAI’s self-titled album.

I had the pleasure of interviewing CHAI via email ahead of their show in Portland last night. CHAI is a four-piece band from Japan consisting of twins Mana and Kana, as well as members Yuuki and Yuna. They just released their self-titled album on Friday and are currently on tour across the US.

GALBRAITH: What are you looking forward to about playing in Portland?

CHAI: I’m really excited to see all of our fans in Portland, and also really looking forward to how everyone there will react to our new songs when we perform them! I’m also excited about playing at the Doug Fir again. I remember the venue well, with the wooden walls, and I really liked the vibe.

GALBRAITH: Do you have any preshow rituals?

CHAI: We always do a group huddle! It’s to remind ourselves we are in this together and that we are not alone. We have different shout outs for every show.

GALBRAITH: What do you like about performing live?

CHAI: The reaction and feedback from the audiences. It’s fun to see how each audience reacts differently. The shows are the only place where we can see everyone’s facial expressions and their moves, so we look forward to that the most! Also it feels great and comfortable when I’m able to show my true self, when in relaxed and chill, and go all out in my performances! That’s what I like the most about performing.

GALBRAITH: What inspired this record?

CHAI: Artists like Rosalia, TOTO, Louis Cole, Wet Leg, Q, Talking Heads, ESG, Prince, JUNGLE, The Go! Team, and Japanese artists like Yumi Arai and Eiichi Otaki. Since the album was written during tour, so all the feels we felt during the tour as well as the energy we got from the fans, and food, and all of that were inspirations too!

But most of all, I was inspired by my Japanese identity. I’m Japanese, but I had never incorporated the interesting aspects of that into my own music.  For this album, I directly output melodies that existed within myself, that had were naturally within me. Music that I had grown up listening to, the music my mother would be singing to at home- those J-POP Melodie’s were incorporated into the songs! As a result we were able to make a hybrid of tracks that didn’t sound like J-POP merged with J-POP inspired Melodie’s- “CHAI POP.” We were finally make a new fresh sounding pop album, and we are so proud of it.

GALBRAITH: How was the experience of writing this album different than your previous ones?

CHAI: The fact that we focused on our Japanese identities for the first time. I’ve always been proud of my Japanese identity, but I had never converted the interestingness and the good parts about growing up in the Japanese environment, nor the unique experiences about being Japanese, into my own music.  But our motto “NEO KAWAII” was created because we are Japanese, and the more we communicated that message through our songs to our international audience, it made me realize more and more that everyone has their own insecurities, and everyone has different experiences, and “NEO KAWAII” is the best compliment that champions all of that. We really wanted to convey that message through this album, which is different from our last albums. In this album, our attitude has shifted to “You are all NEO KAWAII from the moment you were born. Are you ready for NEO KAWAII? You should be ready, right?!” and that change happened because traveling the world has changed our perspective.

GALBRAITH: What’s your song writing process like?

CHAI: It’s all the energy of the moment. The feelings of that moment! There’s no right answer so I do what feels right to me. Just like pooping out everything, I squeeze everything out of my body.

GALBRAITH: Mana and Kana, how does working with your twin affect the dynamic of the band?

CHAI: That’s an important topic. There are expressions and performance elements we can do because we are twins, and that is the base to all of our ideas. So it is the most important thing but at the same time an unconscious decision. Because we were twins from the moment we were born.

GALBRAITH: At what moment did you realize you wanted to pursue music?

CHAI: There was a moment when I thought, how great would it be if I could make a living from being a musician? Kana and I joined the high school band club, and we met our drummer Yuna and we started covering songs. That’s how we learned how music was played!  We learned where the drums are, where the bass comes in, instinctively. Then we got more and more into doing it, and the moment where we would all click together when we played, felt so unbelievably good Then we started to write our own songs and we got more and more into the songwriting aspect too.

GALBRAITH: How did you find your sound as a band?

CHAI: We would take inspiration from the music we liked and output that. It was all very instinctive. We didn’t want to sound like anyone else so we tried out different things.

GALBRAITH: What hobbies do you have outside of music?

CHAI: I love animals, I love to eat and I also love Japanese anime!

GALBRAITH: Is there a lyric you’ve written that you’re surprised fans have held on to?

CHAI: There are different ones, but maybe “NEO KAWAII, K?” Check it out!

GALBRAITH: Can you talk about the importance of the color pink to you?

CHAI: Pink is CHAI’s color. We chose it because it’s our favorite color, and also the coolest.  The moment I see pink, my love for the color overflows. But in Japan, it’s associated so strongly with the notion of cuteness, and it’s a color that people choose less and less as they grow older. We wanted to show people that we will choose whatever color we like and wear it, no matter how old we become, so that’s why we wear pink on stage. I think people’s impression of pink will change if we wear it when we perform.

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