CHAI introduce their Neo Kawaii ethos: “Everyone is cute”

Japanese four-piece CHAI are making waves with their rebellious new album, 'PUNK'.

Hello Dear Reader, we’d like you to meet Chai, a four-piece Japanese punk band who write songs about body image, housework and loving your family. They also wear matching outfits at all times and really, really like food. In the course of Dork’s interview, they talk about how to stay sane on tour (“sleep a lot and eat a lot!”), what they miss about when they’re away from Japan (“sushi, miso soup, kimchi, all we miss is food”) and their favourite thing about the UK (“That’s tough, but we love Nando’s chicken”).

The band, made up of Mana on vocals and keys, Kana on guitar, Yuuki on bass and Yuna on drums, do have a more serious goal than eating though. Their music is centred around the concept of ‘Neo Kawaii’ – roughly translated as ‘New Cute’ – breaking down the narrow definition of beauty in Japan and celebrating everyone, no matter their shape or size. Speaking through a translator (and a 9-hour time difference), we caught up with Japan’s most ambitious punks.

Hey Chai, how’s it going? Let’s start with a bit of background on how you formed…
Growing up, myself and Kana always dreamt of becoming singers. We would eventually join our school’s music club, where we met Yuna, and later Yuuki, and started off doing covers and random jam sessions.
We officially formed what is now known as Chai in 2015, and from here we began writing our original music, and it organically grew from there. We played on our strengths: Kana picked up the guitar and is great at arranging, Yuna was the best drummer in our school’s music club, so that was a given, and Yuuki picked the bass, but really the bass picked Yuuki! Yuuki is also the most creative in the group and is the brains behind all the lyrics and album illustrations.

What would you say is the one key message of what you do?
Self-love! That your insecurities or complexes are your allies. These insecurities are your charm. Our music reflects our experiences and personal insecurities that we’ve been able to overcome by looking at them in a positive way. For example, in our upcoming album, PUNK, we’ve got a song called ‘Curly Adventure’, based on having curly hair. Some people may feel insecure about having a certain hair texture or style, but we wanted to explain how amazing it is to have it.

Can you explain your concept of ‘Neo Kawaii’?
The values and definition of beautiful in today’s society are very narrow. You have to be skinny; your eyes have to be larger in size, your skin has to be of a fairer tone, your nose has to be pointier.
As a female, I’ve always felt uncomfortable and out of place with these ideals. I feel like everyone, and anyone is beautiful and cute from birth. This is what we call Neo Kawaii. We use this word to spread the message that everyone is cute and that “kawaii” has no definition. You are perfect the way you are and the way you want to be; everyone is Neo Kawaii!

Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
We all have similar tastes in music, but we love too many to count. I would say Devo have inspired us outside of just their sound. We look at Devo as a band that was able to express themselves outside of what many would define as just a ‘band’. They are visually creative and also have personality! That is something that we strive to do as Chai.

Do you always wear matching outfits on stage? How do you decide what you’re all going to wear?
The idea of matching outfits came from Devo. The idea of being the same but different. Devo’s matching outfits but uniqueness is so cute, and we adopted that from them.
Yes, watching Devo on stage all doing the same dance moves was so cute to us. I love how they don’t come off as just a band. They truly expanded the range for how bands can express themselves.
Our costumes are designed by the same person, she’s an amazing stylist! She’s able to take our ideas and bring them to life.
There’s this term in Japan called “skilful hands”, which is exactly what our stylist is. She’s really amazing.
The matching outfits reflect a woman’s strength. It makes a woman’s coolness stand out!

‘GREAT JOB’ is all about doing housework, why did you decide to write a song on the topic?
I’ve always felt like housework was a really amazing job. You can’t make money off of it, you don’t get complimented by someone for it, but it’s something you have to do or else you can’t live! More power to those who do housework every day!
For all the mums, the dads who do housework, all those who live alone, everybody, this song is to compliment you!

What’s your biggest ambition as a band?

*laughs* Besides winning a Grammy?
We would love the opportunity to perform live at a candy house like the one in Hansel and Gretel…

Taken from the April issue of Dork, out now. Chai’s new album ‘PUNK’ is out 15th March.

Words: Jake Hawkes

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