'Be positive, do your best, and we’ll get through this'
Oliver Corrigan
10:51 4th November 2020

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CHAI’s positivity is infectious. Even though the only words we exchange are through the medium of email and translator, the band's upbeat responses to our questioning strike a resounding chord. For many in 2020, this year has brought about an abrupt halt to proceedings, yet for the 4-piece Japanese group, consisting of Mana, Kana, Yuuki, and Yuna, it’s been fruitful to say the least.

Filled with the “honour” of signing to Sub Pop Records, as well as collaborations with Hinds and Gorillaz, CHAI now set about to release their new duo of city-pop influenced singles ‘Donuts Mind if I Do’ and ‘Plastic Love’ - all while keeping an admirable positivity. 

Pensive self-reflection and a refreshing upbeatness aerate through our online conversation: CHAI seem determined to make the most of a diminished touring schedule in the wake of COVID-19. As Kana claims “we’re taking things day by day while channelling our energy into creating new material”. It's a mindset shared with the rest of the band: "I understand how connected the world is now" Yuuki says; "It’s truly the little things that matter!" Yuna adds. Mana sums it up. "Be positive, do your best, and we’ll get through it!" 

For CHAI, not even a pandemic can stop the creative juices from flowing. And which artists are helping them stay productive? Well, “ABBA!” for starters, plus Mac Miller, Halsey, Remi Wolf and Marvin Gaye.

Whatever the secret listening sauce is, it keeps CHAI a ray of sunlight for their fans across the world. Their resolute spirit to champion the notion of self-love and challenge the rigidity of 'kawaii' persists. "Some have even said the music’s saved them" Kana enthuses, while Yuna notes that "I, too, have gained more confidence in myself since joining CHAI." 

"In Japan, there’s this general ideal that “Pink” is a color associated with someone attractive or someone cute so that is the reason why we purposely wear “Pink” outfits on stage!  In reality, “Pink” is a cool colour and anyone should be able to wear [it]" Mana explains. 

“I want people to challenge it even more, I hope more musicians step up” Yuuki adds, referencing body confidence and the kawaii intersection it sits at. One role model who garner CHAI’s unconditional support though is the US pop sensation Lizzo - "she took her insecurities and made [them] into hit songs! She's so cool!" Kana says. 

Influence lies closer to home too. A recent resurgence of Japan’s beloved ‘city pop’ genre from the 1980’s - made popular by Tatsuro Yamashita and Mariya Takeuchi - has transcended seamlessly through time and landed in CHAI's laps. On their new A/B side, CHAI draw on the slower-paced, dreamier slathering of a synth-laced pop concoction (on ‘Donuts Mind if I Do’) and cover Takeuchi’s 1984 track ‘Plastic Love’. It's just one influence of many though: "I want to make timeless music!" Mana clarifies.

Coupled with their infectious positivity, CHAI’s ultimate determination “to make timeless and genre-less music” is situated at the heart of their work. And in this obscure year that has proven no different. According to Yuna, the group “eventually became friends with Hinds", leading to the 'United Girls Rock'n'Roll Club' collaboration. That feature on Gorillaz track 'MLS' meanwhile? As you might imagine, it's "literally a dream come true." "We were huge fans of them from the beginning...speaking things into existence really is an AMAZING thing." These collaborations alone would prove impressive for any experimental act, yet their signing to Sub Pop Records, too, suggests CHAI’s 2020 is a harbinger of more excellent things to come.

"Stay tuned." That's what CHAI tell us at five points in our back-and-forth. For many others, these calls may come off as glib, but for CHAI, their hints bode well for what's to come. For the time being, try taking a leaf out of their book and stay positive. Perhaps with some food? CHAI suggest. "Dumplings" for Yuna, "shellfish from Brighton" for Yuuka and, well, "eat what you want to eat. The good life, right?" 

Pre-order CHAI's 7” release of ‘Donuts Mind If I Do’ / ‘Plastic Love’ here - out Friday 6th November.

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Photo: Julien Kelly Gross