In Conversation: MICHELLE and CHAI

The alt-R&B collective teams up with the Japanese rock band on a new song.

MICHELLE: Thanks so much for collaborating with us on this new version of “FYO” and for chatting with us! To start, what is the meaning behind the lyrics in your new FYO verse?

Yuuki: At times when your opinions differ from others, it can be hard to stick to your guns!  To continue in your truth!  These lyrics tell you not to deny your true self, not to do anything that’ll be hurtful to you, but to be you and continue to live! I saw the original lyrics of the song and realized how aligned they were with our message!


MICHELLE: How would you compare and contrast CHAI to MICHELLE?

Mana: MICHELLE is totally different from us and that’s what we love about them!  The maturity they exude — which is opposite to us — is something we admire!  When it comes to “FYO,” ultimately, I believe we were striving for the same result sonically, but the actual creation process was totally different and interesting!  So, in addition to the new lyrics, we added our melody in as well and I feel like the result ended up being something really unique!

Yuuki: As I was writing the lyrics, I thought, “Wow!  The way in which MICHELLE, Mana, and Kana create their melodies is totally different!”  It was really interesting. I added the Japanese lyrics once I heard MICHELLE’s lyrics so it was interesting to hear our short melodies repeating over and over again, in combination with MICHELLE’s main melody, all come together as one!


CHAI: What’s your creative process in creating your music?  Do you guys jam out in the studio? Or produce your own beats?

Emma Lee: We tend to write in smaller groups with Julian [Kaufman] and Charlie [Kilgore], throwing ideas around to seeds of sounds that they create. We produce everything in house and depending on the pairing or group in the session, we lean into the kinds of sounds that are inspiring us, or that the track is inspiring in us that day. 

Layla Ku: Sometimes we’ll come into a writing session with some nuggets of thought individually, but it’s usually just an extensive brainstorm day-of. Sometimes a pair of us will pick up the work another pair put down a day or two before. We try to keep it as organic as possible, so as not to feel too structured but maintain a cohesive flow within the group of six.



MICHELLE: We are interested in the impact of a band like yours, and this intention/idea of “neo-kawaii” — can you speak a bit to why this is important to all that you make, and what you hope this represents to your listeners? [CHAI’s ethos of “Neo Kawaii” or “New Cute” refers to the idea that “everyone is cute” and should be celebrated, regardless of whether or not they adhere to the narrowly defined beauty norms within society.]

Mana: In expressing ourselves, of course music is our number one outlet.  However, what got us started in music is feeling the importance of needing to convey our message, something that only the four of us could do.

Yuuki: As an artist, having a consistent focal point assures me that no matter what kind of lyrics I write or what kind of performance I do, I will remain confident. We convey what we feel would make the world a better place, and to be able to speak things into existence has been the best part about it all thus far.



CHAI: We can really feel your lifestyle, your way of life, when we listen to your music and we love that part of you all!  What’s a day in the life with you all?  Anything you all aim to do each day?

Julian Kaufman: I try to make sure I sleep enough so that the days are not too tired. I also enjoy going on walks or bike rides. 

Jamee Lockard: I’m still in school, so I’m always zooming or doing work. But, when I have free time, I like to go on walks in nature and listen to music.

Sofia D’Angelo: If I have music work to do (studio time, a writing session), I’ll start my day with a workout to sweat and shake out the nerves, meditate, then have a good breakfast and coffee, and do my makeup if I want to lighten my mood. If I have time before work, I’ll pull a tarot card for the day and journal three pages (otherwise I’ll do it afterwards). Every day I try to be as present as possible in the time I set aside for creativity. 


CHAI: How do you all take time to relax? We want to know more about how you all spend your free time.

Jamee: I really like to embroider clothing while I watch TV

Julian: Relaxing? What’s that? 

Layla: I recently picked knitting back up which is quite soothing. I also love to cook. 


MICHELLE: How about you all? Do you have any creative interests or hobbies outside of music?

Mana: Knitting as well! Knitting wool, watching anime, sports (!) and engaging in some light activity – going for a run or a bike ride.

Kana: I’m obsessed with yoga right now!  I feel like the message behind Yoga overall aligns with ours and that to me is amazing.  I want to get my certification to be an instructor, so I’ve been studying!

Yuuki: Painting, pottery, and skateboarding!

Yuna: DIY-handicrafts, bead sewing, and studying Korean! I love the culture and how the language itself sounds!


CHAI: When you come to Japan, where do you want to visit?

Emma: I would love to see Mt. Fuji! I would like to go everywhere if we could, from Tokyo to more rural parts of Japan, it would be cool to meet you all too.

Jamee: I heard that Studio Ghibli World is opening in Japan next year! Since I grew up watching Ghibli movies, I’d love to visit and feel like a kid again. 

Layla: I’d love to go to the countryside and see a rice paddy in real life. Then Studio Ghibli World with Jam 🙂


MICHELLE: Who or what are you listening to right now? Any artists that we in the States need to know about? 

Mana: I’ve been listening to the Bee Gees lately!

Kana: EVERGREEN! A lot of world music or traditional music and also new-wave have been my interests lately!  At times I find myself Shazam’ing while I’m in H&M and there are always interesting finds.

Yuuki: I listen to this artist called Still Woozy! I love how his sounds are catchy yet so smooth that you can listen to it through every time.

Yuna: Maybe not a specific artist but I’ve also been listening to a lot of traditional music, world music. Music from certain parts of Africa, sounds of nature, water drumming — to be specific! You can really sense the fun that lies within these percussion instruments.


CHAI: What inspires you all? 

Jamee: My mom, my bandmates, my friends, and nature.

Charlie: New York and all the amazing art that New Yorkers make!

Sofia: The idea that my younger self would be in awe of where I am right now. 


(Photo Credit: right, Sophia Wilson)

Born-and-bred New Yorkers, MICHELLE is refreshingly comprised of predominately POC + queer members. The collective references equally diverse influences — Noname, Led Zeppelin, Sly and the Family Stone, Orion Sun, My Chemical Romance, SZA — all of which distill to create a cohesively diverse sound. The group’s unique stylings are the result of songwriting from Sofia D’AngeloJulian KaufmanCharlie KilgoreLayla KuEmma Lee and Jamee Lockard with production from Kaufman and Kilgore.