Hello, CHAI! Food, cats, and neo-kawaii jams from Japan – US Tour 2018

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CHAI is comprised of twin sisters, a high school friend, and college classmate who have released two super-fun EPs (1st EP, 2016 and 2nd EP, 2017) and two 7″ singles (“Sound and Stomach” b/w “ボーイズ・セコ・メン” and “N.E.O.” b/w “Sayonara Complex” in 2016 and 2017), made bunch of cool videos (too many to list), and even live in a house together. That alone would be living the dream as blueprinted by The Monkees, but now the Japanese band’s first full-length LP (Pink, 2017) has been released by Sony in Japan and Burger Records in the US. Bridging the big time and garage rock, their trajectory is a cool one.

Mana, Kana, Yuna, and Yuuki’s music about food, cats, and other neo-kawaii topics is fully DIY with raw punk energy filtered through mutant dance grooves that will please fans of Tom Tom Club, CSS, and Le Tigre, in addition to younger, fun-loving listeners who have never even heard of those ancient bands.

My household is pretty excited about checking out CHAI’s live show. Looking forward to the upcoming tour, I shot over some questions to find out more about their sound, their scene, and the mass quantities of gross American food they will be eating on their impending tour of California and Texas. My 10-year-old daughter made art to go with their collective answers.

This is a great time for CHAI to come to the US because women’s voices and international culture are more crucial here than ever! What can American audiences expect you to bring to the stage on the upcoming tour?
This will be our second time touring in the US, so we are super excited! We’re bringing you entertainment that you’ve never “seen before” or “felt before” so wait on it!

We’re super excited about your first US release, too. What songs should beginners check out first to understand the CHAI message and vibe?
“Complexes Are Art” is the concept we want to share and we use our music to do so. “N.E.O.” is one track that encompasses this theme. It’s a super cool, major explosive song! “Sayonara Complex” is a totally different, romantic song compared to “N.E.O.” This song is also based on the “Complexes Are Art” theme. Isn’t it great that there are so many different types of music?

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Why are you called “CHAI” instead of something more exciting or hectic like milkshake or soda?
It’s simple and we like the feel of the word. It sounds enticing!

Your videos are so fun and cool. Are they as effortless as they seem or do you spend a lot of time planning them out?
As a team, we brainstorm a lot and we’re even involved in choosing our outfits and makeup. We can do what we want to do. We like to do intriguing things, unique things!

It’s awesome that you started the band in high school and are now doing it as adults. Does being in a band keep you young or does getting older make being in a band different?
We felt as if we were going to be artists, then we would have to be CHAI because there are things that only CHAI can express. We will continue to express ourselves on our journey to a Grammy award.

Has your songwriting process or things that inspire you changed since you began?
Our inspirations come from music and artists we personally like: Tom Tom Club, CSS, Justice, The XX, Basement Jaxx, Passion Pit, and many more! We’re influenced by so many types of music that, at any given moment, when we feel like we want to do a certain type of sound or music, we do it. You can’t narrow us down into any one genre!

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What do you do when you aren’t making music? Do you all hang out together or do you have separate lives and come together like a giant robot or super hero team when duty calls?
All four of us live together in the CHAI house. On days off, we usually go to the onsen (hot spring) and relax.

The Hong Kong video is cool! What other Asian countries have you played in? Have you found a lot of cool indie friends and scenes out there?
We joined Sultan of the Disco onstage this past January in South Korea. We really want to go to other countries, too!

How did you wind up on Burger Records? Burger is a rad label, and they’re extra perfect because they’re named after food.
We’re so happy that we are able to release our music in the United States! Burger Records reached out to us via our contact forum and we were ultimately included in their Burger World: Japan cassette compilation.

What would you like to do during your second trip to the United States? Is there stuff you’d like to do again or different things you want to check out?
Last year we performed at SXSW as a part of the Japan Nite showcase, but this year we’re excited to be able to take on the challenge of crossing over the “Japan” border. Also, I want to eat something that makes me feel “America!” like steak. A big piece of steak or a large slice of pizza. Enjoy!

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Check out CHAI at chai-band.com and catch them on tour now!

Tuesday, March 6 – Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco
Wednesday, March 7 – Amoeba, San Francisco 
Thursday, March 8 – The Hi Hat, Los Angeles
Friday, March 9 – Amoeba, Hollywood
Saturday, March 10 – Burger Records, Fullerton
Sunday, March 11 – Alex’s Bar, Long Beach
Monday, March 12- The Casbah, San Diego
Thursday, March 15 – SXSW Showcase at Maggie Mae’s, Austin
Saturday, March 17 – Burgermania VII at Hotel Vegas, Austin

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The return of Dengue Fever, Senon Williams art update, and Burger-A-Go-Go

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I’ll never get sick of sharing the story of how I met Senon Williams. After hearing what sounded like a far-out, psychedelic, Cambodian garage rock jam on KXLU while driving across town from my home in Silver Lake to the Giant Robot compound on Sawtelle, I called the DJ to find out the name of the band. He said it was a demo from a local group called Dengue Fever, and that Senon wouldn’t mind him giving me his name and number. I went on to stalk the band and write its first article in print, followed by various pieces on the band’s milestones.

After the magazine ran its course, we’ve kept in touch. Dengue Fever played one of the Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows that my family went on to start organizing and Senon painted a poster for us. Then we followed his trajectory in art, which has included multiple shows around town and a beautiful book.

When it was announced that the band would be joining the upcoming Burger-A-Go-Go tour, it was a perfect excuse to catch up once more.

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Dengue Fever has been out of the headlines for a while, but now you’ve got this Burger-A-Go-Go tour coming up. What are some of the interesting things you and your colleagues have been doing during your break?
We all been doing a bevy of life living. I been painting, traveling, and playing music. Paul has been recording a bunch of his own music and doing sound design. Ralicke plays with everybody under the sun and swims with the fish in the Pacific the rest of the time. Zac is a mystery but I know he has been making a record with a friend of his. Ethan’s family is growing and he practically has a zoo of exotic creatures at his house. Nimol has been traversing the country playing traditional music in Cambodian supper clubs.

That being said, we are always recording and experimenting. We are enjoying different processes of songwriting, in the past we have simply stayed to our instrument. These days we have been thinking more to what the song needs and care less who plays it. We are unhurried with our ideas and have the feeling to evolve and embrace the ethereal.

There’s new music in the works? Without getting too detailed or giving anything away, can you further describe this direction, style, or vibe that you’re sensing.
We are slowing it and being minimalists. Making Nimol’s voice be the center and not using traditional drum kit as often.

I think it’s cool that Dengue Fever is part of the Burger family, and I give the label credit for having a roster of old and new punks, psychedelic groups, garage rockers, lo-fi bands, etc. and breaking down so many barriers to support just plain cool music. How did you get into the fold?
I don’t really know. But my guess is way back when our manager Josh developed a friendship with them and they were into our music. Then one of them suggested we do a Best Of album on cassette with a ton of songs on it. After that, they have been licensing all our albums for cassette release.

Pasty’s Rats, Feels, and The Coathangers are great and I can’t wait to check out the other bands! Which ones in the Burger-A-Go-Go lineup are you particularly excited about joining?
I am mostly excited about all the women in the line-up. It is going to be great, I always have a better time in mixed crowds. I think the deep vibes will spread.

It must be hard leaving your family, but is going on the road with the band still fun for you? Do you ever miss it during a long hiatus between records and shows?
Yes, I love to tour. We are still a band because we respect each other and love each others company…and cool shit just keeps happening.

And I will miss my family. We only go out for short stints or, if there is a long tour, there is generally plenty of time in between. When I am home I don’t do a 9-5. I am with my family with my time, heart, and soul. But I think the love is enough to bridge the gap when I’m gone.

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Aren’t you in another combo besides Dengue Fever now? What’s up with that?
I play with Mark Lightcap, Steve Hadley, and Jason Yates. We have no name, we have no plans, we play all the time, and let the music flow out of us. We don’t write songs; deep melodies find their way into the outer space where we reside. We record everything, then I edit all the magical spots together… And presto! A song.

We have recently played a few shows performing Acetone songs. A band that ended 15 years ago to support a reissue of music and a biography book. Mark and Steve were in that band. We have no plans to continue with Acetone music but will play those songs if invited… It will be peppered with far-out excursions if not entirely.

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Finally, what’s going on with your art? Now that your book has been published and is getting some distribution, are you taking a break? Working even harder?
I have been seriously making paintings for a few years. I have had several solo shows and been in a bunch of group shows. I find painting to be a very important part of my life, and I am becoming more prolific and the scale keeps growing. I will be painting until I can’t.

My book published by Hamilton Press is exquisite with a masterful design by Green Dragon Co. and the beauty of it has got me stunned. I am still in dis belief.

I also just completed my first lithograph with Ed Hamilton in an edition of 20. There will be a reception to celebrate the release of my print March 10th at Odd Ark Gallery.

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Catch Dengue Fever up and down the West Coast from mid-February through early March. I think I’ll go to the March 3 show at 1720 in Central L.A. and then say hi to Senon at Odd Ark Gallery in Highland Park on March 10.