CHAI on Fashion, N.E.R.D., Nagoya and Touring the US · At The Wharf This March

Ever wonder how your favorite band is received overseas? If you’re a big N.E.R.D. fan, you’ll be happy to know that four teens in Nagoya, Japan—MANA, KANA, YUUKI and YUNA, aka CHAI—are doing their best to pay homage to Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo with infectious grooves and left-field sounds found across their music. While the inspiration might not be immediately clear in sound—CHAI’s music is unmistakably their own, a blend of punk, J-POP and buoyant electronica—the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ concept pioneered by Williams and Hugo is applied on CHAI’s music, to great success. If CHAI is any indication, the next class of indie rockers will be even better than the last.

We’re excited to host CHAI’s Washington, DC debut at Union Stage on March 18th! It’s going to be a great show, be sure to get your tickets early. We caught up with the band while they were getting ready for tour, read the conversation below, and pre-order your copy of PUNK!

Interview by Kayley Nagle

US: Your newest single “Fashionista” is great! What was your biggest inspiration while writing this song? Do you have a favorite lyric from the song?

MANA: We really love N.E.R.D so that’s where are our inspiration came from for “Fashionista”. We expressed our respect for N.E.R.D in our own way through song.

KANA: It was a challenge to express that N.E.R.D-type of coolness that they possess when they perform. I think in a way our (CHAI’s) sexy side might’ve been able to come out with this song.

YUUKI: I actually wrote the lyrics for “Fashionista”. The part where we say, “So We Are Fashionista”, is my favorite lyric from the song. Fashion is free! Putting an emphasis on that ideal is what I love most. Fashion is truly free, you can express yourself how you want to, and it also gives one the ability to have their own identity. This is that type of song!

MANA: I agree with YUUKI, the lyrics that were grouped together in the A melody section of this track really is amazing, really resonates.

US: I love your sense of fashion, who or what is your biggest fashion inspiration? How can fans replicate your style?

MANA: We can’t say that we’ve actually been inspired by someone as far as our fashion sense goes.

KANA: We really love to wear different things, especially thrift clothes! Every chance we get to run to a thrift store while overseas, we make sure we do! To be honest, thrift shopping is probably our biggest motivation for touring! Ha!

YUNA: I just feel like everyone should be able to wear whatever they want! If fans like our matching pink outfits, then do you and wear that pink outfit! If you like thrifting like us, thrift! We don’t really have a set style so I think that makes fans feel at ease to where whatever they want to! Anything goes with CHAI, so that means anything goes for CHAI fans.

YUUKI: I really love the fashion sense of people overseas. There’s a boldness in the fashion sense of those overseas compared to those in Japan. It’s sexy but at the same time healthy!

MANA: Seeing so many different fashion styles and senses actually is a good learning opportunity.

US: How did you get into designing and directing your own music videos? What is that process like? How do you create your own unique vision? Can we expect a “Fashionista” video soon?

MANA: At first we gather all of our ideas as a group and visualize what we want to do in a particular MV. We then take those ideas to the MV director and after brainstorming together, we decide on what exactly we’re going to do in the MV. This is usually our process every time.

YUUKI: We always have so many things we want to do! Like incorporating the color pink, or not wanting to hold our instruments in the MV, down to wanting to dance in the MV!

YUNA: For the choreography shown in our MV’s, there’s times when we have a choreographer create the dance moves but we’ve also come up with the moves ourselves many times as well.

MANA: Adding to what YUNA said, we’re not real dancers, we’ve never taken actual dance lessons, so for the most part we come up with the moves ourselves.

YUUKI: Overall, we just want to be constantly moving at all times! As far as a MV for “Fashionista” goes, stay tuned 😉

US: I read that you are from Nagoya, what type of music did you listen to growing up? What is the music scene around Nagoya? Any local favorites you recommend we check out?

YUUKI: I grew up listening to J-POP for the most part.

MANA: Growing up, the type of music shown on TV was predominantly J-POP right? (to YUUKI)

KANA: Yup, so one day we realized how interesting Western music was and from there we began listening to all types of music from all over the world.

MANA: Nagoya’s music is predominantly J-POP as well. Even within J-POP, it’s pretty trendy so I wouldn’t say the sound is particularly new or innovative. Discovering Western music and all different types of music has played a huge part in who we are today. DEVO, Justice, N.E.R.D, CSS, to name a few, are our biggest influences.

YUNA: There’s also a Punk Rock scene in Nagoya! A lot of local bands that perform around the Nagoya area. If I could recommend a band from Nagoya, it would be us! CHAI! Ha! We really want to be able to broaden Nagoya’s music scene. With different types of sounds and better music in general!

US: It is a few minutes until showtime, do you have any pre-show jitters? Are you snacking on your favorite food? Do you have any pre-show traditions?

MANA: We’re always nervous!

KANA: Yes, the nerves are always there. It’s not right before we hit the stage but prior to leaving our apartments or hotels, we put our palms out and imagine having glitter in them. We do a throwing motion where the glitter is tossed all over us. Having this imaginary glitter all over us makes us feel invincible and gives us the assurance that we are going to have a great show. The glitter represents a “shiny” aura that surrounds us. Like we’re shining!

YUUKI: We always make sure we eat something that makes us full before hopping on stage. Food is one of our favorite things so we ALWAYS make sure to eat. We never want our bellies making noises while on stage!

YUNA: When performing back home in Japan, we ease our nerves by putting ourselves in a particular mindset. The mindset is, “we are a band from overseas”, and that actually gives us more strength, making us feel able to perform any and everywhere without any worries!

US: What are you most looking forward to as you tour around the US?

MANA: I’m most excited for the audience’s reaction! I hope the DC crowd is ready for CHAI!

KANA: Since we’ll be releasing our 2nd album, it would make us super happy if everyone listens to it and is waiting for us to perform it.

YUNA: This time around, we’ll be performing in places in the states that we’ve never performed before like DC where you guys are, Seattle, Portland, and even Idaho! That’s what I’m most excited for.

YUUKI: I’m also really stoked about returning to places we’ve performed at like LA and NYC because we’ll be performing songs from our new album. Looking forward to seeing the crowd’s reaction the new music.

US: What do you have planned this year?

MANA: This year, CHAI will live our lives as “PUNK”!

KANA: We’re going to live invincibly! Just wait on it!

MANA: From a personal stance, I went to a fortune teller who told me to wear red so that’s what I’m going to try to do! Haha!