Thursday, May 20th, 2021


Sweet Dreams

May 20, 2021

By Mark Moody

Photography by Yoshio Nakaiso
Issue #68 – Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)

When the members of the Japanese four-piece band CHAI were younger they never would have imagined collaborating with their idols. Twins Mana and Kana along with high school pal, Yuna, and future friend, Yuuki, were happy just to be making their own music. But with an infectious stage show along with a message of pink positivity, friends came quickly. Early career sets at SXSW evolved into invites to Pitchfork Music Festival, Primavera Sound, and their home country’s Fuji Rock. Crossing so many borders and genres fluidly, you can start to connect the dots as the group quickly cemented relationships with the likes of Hinds, Ric Wilson, and most momentously to them, childhood heroes, Gorillaz. They have now recorded collaborations with all these artists and more.

Originally formed in Nagoya, Japan, the band’s members migrated to Tokyo to broaden their reach. Operating on a first name only basis, lead singer/keyboardist Mana and bassist/lyricist Yuuki caught up with Under the Radar bright and early from their respective homes. Speaking through an interpreter, they were eager to share how their album came to be.

With plenty of quarantine time on their hands, the members of CHAI started collaborating with each other over Garageband and Zoom to piece together their third full-length release, WINK. Since the demise of their prior U.S. label, Burger Records, the group has landed in the open arms of the ever diversifying Sub Pop. “We know about Nirvana and big acts with Sub Pop, but we didn’t think we, as CHAI, would be able to have this opportunity,” Mana says. “We were totally down.”

WINK brings out a softer and maturing side of the band that some may not have seen coming. Also, elements of American music—namely R&B and hip-hop—have crept into the group’s sound. Generally composing together, and with their live sets always in mind, forced distances and closed stages begat simpler melodies, more comforting lyrics, and an eye towards inevitable maturity. “Since this album was made during the pandemic and we were all at home, this album was the opposite of what we usually do,” Mana explains. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do you make yourself feel at home. How do you make yourself comfortable in the midst of chaos?’”

One of the album’s subtler highlights, “Wish Upon a Star,” brings layered harmonies and a wistful eye to growing up, while not leaving childhood behind. “We are growing up physically and emotionally, but you still have your kid in you that worries sometimes,” Yuuki says. Inspired by the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, CHAI also wrote and recorded lead single “ACTION” in solidarity with Black Americans, but also with an ever-present belief that things will get better. “We aren’t from the States obviously, but we know this is a serious topic, even though we never portrayed CHAI as serious before,” Yuuki says. “I believe if people have a positive mind the next action they take will be positive. So the song is pop and happy sounding because we want people to be positive and take positive action.” Given their track record to date of winning the world to their side, who’s to argue with the straightforward logic of two well intentioned sisters and their besties.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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