CHAII has got a lot on her plate. On top of a string of singles, she provided the soundtrack to a Fendi campaign and is the first New Zealander to become a Spotify Radar artist. Amidst this flurry of activity, she has also put out her debut EP, Lightswitch.
Integrating Persian influences into her unique productions, her music is a whirlwind of uptempo hip hop, that has all the grit and grime of a punk show, underpinned by grooves that are ready for the club. What’s more, CHAII is committed to the DIY production ethos, which also extends into videos and artwork, driven by a passion that was sparked in her school days.
CHAII is one of New Zealand’s most formidable new artists. She took five with us to discuss her new EP, Lightswitch, and the DIY ethos that drove the production.
ENMORE AUDIO: Paint us a picture of your studio space. What do you love about it?
CHAII: Walk in and BOOM adjustable LED light for vibes. A pair of Yamaha HS8s, some good old Logitechs for reference, Sennheiser HD 260 headphones and Neumann U 87 microphone. And some snacks, which are crucial. I love the home vibe and the flexibility of being able to create whenever I want.
ENMORE AUDIO: Aside from the songwriting itself, you’ve also honed a strong sonic aesthetic on Lightswitch as well. What got you into working with sound?
CHAII: I produced half of the tracks on the Lightswitch EP and the other half was produced by the incredible Frank Keys. We both have different producing styles which I love and it keeps the project fun and exciting.
I got into making beats in high school when my music teacher set up a studio in our class. I absolutely fell in love with it all, making beats, recording, mixing. I feel I was very lucky to have ever been introduced to that side of things.
ENMORE AUDIO: Throughout the EP, there’s an unmistakable grittiness — the drum tone on Nobody Know springs to mind. How do you bring that aggression to your sound?
CHAII: I start my production with sounds that I like to set the mood but then I definitely manipulate the sounds and just go hard, pushing it to reach the vibe I want. I use a lot of overdrive/distortion and just effects you wouldn’t usually find on certain instruments.
Like, for example, delay and major overdrive on a kick sound. I like making things not perfect and dirty sounding because I feel imperfection carries a lot of grit. I co-produced Nobody Know with my friend Soraya who also loves that aggressive, unapologetic sound.
ENMORE AUDIO: Are you currently, or have you ever worked on other artists’ productions as well?
CHAII: Yes, I’m currently working on other artists’ productions too, yet to be released.
ENMORE AUDIO: Are there any challenges in working on someone else’s project?
CHAII: Not really. I tend to work with artists who want to go for the same feel as my production or stuff that they’ve heard of mine already. I don’t really have the challenge of having to change too much of what I already do.
ENMORE AUDIO: On Lightswitch, there are notable vocal performances, but with very different effects going on. How do you approach vocal recording and production?
CHAII: On this EP, it’s a mixture of my vocal production and my friend Rich Bryan who I reckon is the best vocal producer ever. I recorded most of the songs with him but the rest I did from home and so had to vocal produce myself.
I record and mix my demos but then pass it on for a different engineer to mix. I love collaborating with engineers. With this EP I worked with 3 engineers which I have so much respect for.
ENMORE AUDIO: Now that Lightswitch is out in the world, are you taking a break? Or are you straight back in the studio, working on the next project?
CHAII: I actually started my next project while finishing Lightswitch so I’m really excited to get straight back in the studio.
ENMORE AUDIO: Is there any gear that’s become an essential part of your workflow?
CHAII: My laptop, my headphones, my interface and my mic.
ENMORE AUDIO: Is there any particular DAW that suits your strengths as a producer?
ENMORE AUDIO: Are there any choice pieces that you’ve been lusting after?
CHAII: Focal Trio11 Be Studio monitors.
ENMORE AUDIO: Aside from production, you’ve also applied the DIY ethos to your videos and visuals. Can you explain why that is crucial to you?
CHAII: I feel the journey I’ve taken musically being raw and honest that needs to also translate in the visuals. I also just enjoyed conceptualizing and creating visuals.
ENMORE AUDIO: What are your goals for the future?
CHAII: To do an international tour. To make a sample pack and make my own piece of audio gear.
ENMORE AUDIO: That’s exciting! What piece of gear did you have in mind?
CHAII: I’ve always wanted to make a personalised live vocal processor specifically for rap vocals. There are already so many vocal processors available but I just thought it would be to make one that’s customised for my stuff.
We definitely look forward to reviewing CHAII’s vocal processor. In the meantime, head over to Spotify to listen to Lightswitch.