The Japanese band Chai is knowledgeable purveyor of caprice. In live performance, its 4 members carry out carrying an array of colourful, coordinated outfits — a great deal of pink, a number of orange, some reds and greens, however by no means black. Its lead singer and keyboardist, Mana, will typically ship exuberant monologues about “Neo-Kawaii,” a band-created ethos meant to redefine fashionable beliefs of cuteness. (The phrase interprets on to “new cute.”) The group has been identified to cowl Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.” The chorus of certainly one of its hottest songs, “N.E.O.,” goes “You are so cute! Nice face!”
“We’ve always been kind of energetic,” Mana stated in a latest video interview from Tokyo, by means of the band’s translator. “It’s not that we decided to just go out and be extroverts.”
That stated, the band ran right into a minor downside when engaged on the follow-up to its 2019 breakout file, “Punk”: Channeling all that power within the studio wasn’t really easy, and its makes an attempt to “dumb it down” weren’t very enjoyable. “It’s actually harder for us than to go all out onstage,” Mana stated.
But when the pandemic pressured the group to stay in Japan moderately than proceed touring the world, its members discovered themselves with an surprising second to breathe. They pursued different pursuits — Mana began an Instagram for canine lovers; the bassist/lyricist Yuuki bought into pottery — and extra consciously thought of the brand new music they wished to make, now that they didn’t must hunt for studio time in between international commitments.
Owing to the band’s rising debt to hip-hop, the drummer Yuna began experimenting together with her enjoying method in StorageBand. And Mana, who primarily drives the band’s music, labored on cultivating an album she described as “more than a human friend — someone you can go to when you’re upset, someone you go to when you’re happy, when you wake up first thing in the morning, when you want to cry.”
The result’s “Wink,” out Friday, a file that doesn’t dim Chai’s enthusiasm a lot as redirect it throughout genres and moods. Because Chai seems like a conventional four-piece band, it’s straightforward to see it as a rock group, when in actuality its sound displays a style-bending pool of influences. On “Wink,” the scrappiness of Chai’s early information is peeled again to disclose a dreamier assortment of melodies pushed by Yuna’s sprightly and diverse drumming.
A tune like “Nobody Knows We Are Fun” lingers in a hazy, whispered register earlier than instantly flowering right into a chanted singalong, whereas “End” energetically toggles between rapping and singing. (Mana cited the R&B group TLC and the rapper Mac Miller as influences.) “Wink” will likely be launched in Japan by means of Sony, however the band signed with the distinguished indie label Sub Pop — certainly one of a handful of suitors — for its American launch.
“As a listener, you never really know what to expect when you hear a new song,” stated Julien Ehrlich of the band Whitney, who toured with Chai initially of 2020. “It’s completely not formulaic, the way that they create things — and they’re always trying to change it, which is really exciting.”
The groundwork for Chai was laid practically a decade in the past when Mana and her twin sister, Kana, met Yuna at their highschool’s music membership in Nagoya. Not lengthy after, Mana and Yuuki have been launched by means of mutual buddies of their undergraduate program. Though Yuuki had by no means performed an instrument earlier than, she instantly purchased into her new buddy’s imaginative and prescient of forming a band.
“We never really had this expectation of what exactly a band is, because none of us had ever officially done it before,” she stated. “But we just naturally became friends, and it kind of all shaped on its own.”
Growing up, the members of Chai hadn’t been uncovered to a lot Western music. That modified in school, when a buddy of Yuna’s made them a playlist of eclectic artists who would turn into formative influences: Basement Jaxx, Tune-Yards, Justice. Very rapidly, the band fashioned a definite identification — matching outfits, an obsession with meals — and bonded over its alienation from the sweetness requirements of its native nation.
“We didn’t fit into this definition of cute, which was considered the biggest form of accomplishment in Japan,” Mana stated, whereas carrying a fundamental pink T-shirt studying “Overdressed” on the entrance. “Once we started exchanging our insecurities, it gradually became a kind of comfort blanket.”
She pointed to their adoption of the colour pink, extensively thought of a infantile hue in Japan, as one such method of repudiating these expectations. Early on, the members additionally claimed they used stage names as a method of obscuring their identities. Over time they’ve admitted that Yuuki and Yuna are actual names, whereas Mana and Kana are adopted from nicknames — it was simply cooler to think about in any other case, and undoubtedly cooler when styled in all caps, because the band does.
While the band initially struggled to search out native assist, it accrued momentum with each foray in another country. After profitable appearances at South by Southwest and Pitchfork Music Festival in 2019, the members realized they have been discovering the viewers they’d been searching for. “It’s actually really fun to get more recognition overseas, because then we can actually bring that back to Japan,” Yuuki stated. “Even if they don’t understand, we can actually say ‘Hey, the world understands, so I think we’re OK with it.’”
The Devo co-founder Gerald Casale, who met the band at a 2018 present, stated this sense of exclusion from up to date music had additionally animated Devo’s entry into the business. “We were reacting to just how far off-track we thought pop music had gotten, and how lame it was,” he stated. He praised Chai’s “precise, architectural” stage presence, and stated that he’d hoped to carry them aboard for a deliberate (however finally canceled) Devo tour.
One of Chai’s extra identifiable and charming traits is its lyrical preoccupation with meals: “Karaage,” which analogizes younger like to a sizzling meal, is known as for Japanese-style fried rooster, whereas “Maybe Chocolate Chips” compares physique moles to the confection within the title. Asked about this, Yuuki, who composes the band’s lyrics, stated meals was immediately tied to the band’s mission of self love. “I feel like the first type of love you recognize is ‘what I want to eat,’” she stated. “Music is important to us, but food is, too — it easily just connects for us.” (The band lives its credo: Whitney’s Ehrlich stated that Chai had sought out an ice-cream parlor day by day of its tour.)
Japan has pitched from one state of lockdown to a different, however the band has began scheduling dwell live shows for the summer time and past. Finding a option to carry out these quieter songs in live performance is a brand new problem, as is resuming the band’s momentum, however the Chai members have been sanguine concerning the future. “It’s because it’s the four of us that we have a special message to say,” Mana stated. “We never even really consider ourselves just a band — we dance, sometimes we do D.J. sets, we do all different types of things. We consider our genre just ‘Chai.’”