Our email chat with Japanese dance-punk quartet Chai

Chai opens for The Drums July 31 at Brooklyn Bowl.
Photo: Julien Kelly Gross / Courtesy

How did you come up with your band name? And is it pronounced like the tea?

Mana: Yes, it’s Chai!

Kana: I was the one who initially suggested the name Chai. When I was still in school, I studied Russian literature and culture and discovered Russian black tea. The taste is different from Japanese black tea, but I thought the sound of the word was cute. I asked the rest of the band, “What do you guys think about “Chai?” Everyone immediately responded, “That’s a good one!” We also thought it was important to give ourselves a name that was short and easy to remember.

Yuna: It’s such a simple yet good name, right? The sound of the word, especially. Plus, it’s a short name—no one will try to shorten it or give us a nickname. In Japan, a lot of times bands will name themselves long names, and everyone ends up making nicknames for them. We wanted to stray away from that.

“N.E.O.” is an older song but it seems central to the band’s outlook, especially the chorus about being cute. What does being cute mean to you?

Mana: Cute is a word that represents the biggest compliment to many women in Japan. A lot of people have the desire to be called kawaii or “cute.” It’s a very normal desire. To us, what defines the type of cute that currently exists in Japan is too narrow; [there’s] not enough variety. We created this word neo-kawaii [new cute] that compliments everyone.

Kana: I want everyone to not get caught up in the word kawaii, and to know that you all are cute! Kawaii is such a strong word that some people may be really hurting or struggling because of that word. That is why we want to let people know that there is no such thing as someone “not being cute.”

Yuna: I think because cute is such an influential word. It has the power to hurt some people [and] make people struggle, but we think everyone is cute. What you feel is an insecurity is actually the part that makes you amazing! It’s the cutest part about you. Everyone feels good when they’re being called “cute,” right? It’s a magical word.

Why is redefining beauty standards important to Chai?

Yuuki: Right now, what defines and what values are placed around what it is to be “beautiful” is very narrow. You have to be skinny, [with] larger eyes, [be] of a lighter skin tone, have a pointier nose … all these set narrow standards. As a woman I always felt uncomfortable with these ideals. It should be that from the moment you’re born you’re beautiful, you’re cute. [That’s] how it should be!

Mana: We always had a lot of insecurities growing up. We never thought that we’d fit into or be recognized for how cute is defined today. That’s why redefining cute to us was something we felt would have an impact on many people.

Yuna: I was very insecure about the shape of my face, the outline. I lived my life hiding the shape of my face with certain hairstyles until I met the rest of the Chai members. They told me that that was what made me cute. From there, I gained the confidence to never hide the shape of my face again.

Yuuki: The word neo-kawaii was created to relay the message that we are all cute, that we all should be confident, that we are different and it’s OK.

How did Chai form? And how do you come up with the topics for your songs?

Mana: I was in my high school’s music club and started to understand the ins and outs of what makes a band. We were a cover band for a while, but as we continued to perform together, we realized that we could make our own music.

Kana: I guess you can say we originally made music for ourselves. I simply just love music. Plus, music is the best way to grasp someone’s heart. That’s why we wanted to relay how we felt through music. We feel like we always want to live with music, side by side.

Yuuki: I write most of the lyrics for our songs, and the lyrics usually come last. It’s whatever we are thinking about at that moment, at that time.

Yuna: Performing live shows is truly and purely fun. I’m a drummer, so from my point of view I try to not to ruin the vibe but also not make the drumming too simple. I think about what kind of beat I want to play based on the feeling of the song.

What message do you hope people get from listening to your music and from seeing you perform live?

Mana: That music like ours exists [and] that you can live the life you choose. ... That there are people who live their lives like this—free!

Kana: We’re living carefree, right? We look like we’re having fun, right? Music is art, so there’s no rules. Your body truly just moves without warning, without a cue, that’s what’s so fun about it. … We would love it if the word and concept of neo-kawaii reached people, too. Come watch our show, and you’ll see what we’re talking about!

Yuna: Your insecurities are your most important charm points—that’s the message we want to relay. Do what you want with the one chance at life you get.

Your latest album is called Punk. What does being punk mean to you?

Mana: Punk is our ideal way of living. We want to live a life that is punk, and to live our lives exactly how we want to!

Yuna: To us, punk isn’t about the genre but about becoming who you want to become. It’s the mindset of, “It’s OK to be what you want to be.”

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Is there anything you look forward to doing while you’re here?

Mana: [It’s] our first time! I have this image of the desert—very American summer-like! I want to get a taste of the American-ish scenery.

Kana: I don’t think we’ve ever been to Vegas! I just like how it’s portrayed in the movies. I’m excited to get to see how lit up it is with all the lights and nightlife.

Yuuki: I want to hit the casinos!

CHAI opening for The Drums. July 31, 7:30 p.m., $22-$25. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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