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Something’s Brewing with CHAII

Read our interview with the Persian-Kiwi multi-hyphenate artist as she performs in Australia this weekend



CHAII’s got something brewing. A lot brewing, in fact. But then again, there’s always been a buzz around the Persian-Kiwi multi-hyphenate artist.

Recognised by Rolling Stone AU/NZ as one of 2022’s 8 Kiwi Artists Tipped to Take Over back in 2022, we praised her fresh sound that blends genres and defies expectations.

“Rapper, producer, engineer and director, CHAII is the future of hip hop. Her 2020 Lightswitch visual EP is a masterclass that proves some artists can, in fact, do it all. CHAII returned in 2021 with Pineapple Pizza, a flavour explosion for the soul,” we wrote.

She’s since been lighting up stages in London, New York, and LA, appearing at showcases like SXSW, and is currently teaming up with Tones and I and Young Franco via Coke Studio’s global platform—proof that her music’s hitting worldwide. From FIFA to Fortnite, her electrifying tracks are soundtracking games and ads for iPhone, FENDI, KIA, plus popping up in Marvel movies and Netflix films. (It’s not bad work if you can get it!)

With her new album, Safar, expected in August, and singles and self-directed music videos building feverish hype, 2024’s looking being the brightest year yet for CHAII.

Yet CHAII, one of New Zealand music’s most distinctive artists, has been uniquely aware of her musical vision from an early age, as she told Rolling Stone AU/NZ.

“I found some emails from a very old account in high school. When I was in year eleven, I used to make beats, and I found my writing I sent to my music teacher saying I want to explore mixing Persian instrumentation with hip hop. It’s like I’ve been trying to do the same thing back then, but I’m just upscaling and getting better,” she revealed. 

“Upscaling and getting better” is just the half of it. Her latest banger, “Night Like This”, joins the ranks of her impressive album teasers like “Fun”, “Main Thing” and “Drippin In Gold”. Produced by Frank Keys, CHAII describes the high-octane and infectious track as “expressing two sides: the social butterfly, feeling like a boss and confident one minute, then craving chill solitude the next.”

True to her DIY spirit, CHAII took the reins on the production and direction of the “Night Like This” video, bringing her vision to life with a crew from New Zealand and LA.

It’s as if young CHAII, already so secure in what she wanted to do with her art and life, knew all that was coming.

This week, it’s Australia’s turn to get a taste of her music up close. Tonight, June 28th, she’ll perform at Low 302 in Sydney, followed by a show at Gaso Upstairs in Melbourne on Sunday, June 30th (more information here).

Read our previous conversation with CHAII in full below, where we discuss her creative process, directing music videos, what she loves about LA, her take on the local music scene, and much more.

CHAII’s “Night Like This” is out now via BMG. Safar is out August 2nd (pre-save/pre-order here). 

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: You recently had a song on the FIFA Soundtrack. Was it cool to get on that? 

CHAII: It was a big deal but then you just carry on and make music. I don’t think it kind of hits. Even now when I’m talking about it like, “Oh, that was really cool!”

It’s like you’re racking up these moments, but they’re just one of many. 

It kind of just makes you more hungry to keep pushing. Encouragement, like a boost saying, “Oh, keep going, you’re on the right track.” 

Is there something that would be the pinnacle for you though? A Grammy?

I don’t really stop and celebrate too much because if you do that, that’s like capping yourself. It’s like “this is my maximum” kind of thing. They’re all just good pushing forces.

How have fans reacted to songs like “Drippin’ In Gold”?

Oh, it’s been crazy. I hadn’t released anything for like nearly two years [before “Drippin’ In Gold”]. So, within the first week, it was like 100,000 streams, which I wasn’t expecting. The response has been great. The video was crazy, because a lot of things happened. I had to turn around the video within a week, so I made it just in time before release day.

Why did you only have one week to do it?

We went to America to do the lead singles videos but some stuff happened, and I couldn’t do it with that production company anymore. I was kind of left to do it myself. I usually do the videos myself, but to do two videos within a week in a foreign country, it was really full on.

Is that visual aspect something you enjoy doing? 

I do enjoy it. It was my background before I went full time into music. I was doing a lot of work in the industry, whether it was audio or film. So music video directing, producing, and then in the audio world, I was doing a lot of mixing and recording for artists and stuff.

Do you think all that experience helped you? 

Oh man, definitely, all the crazy projects I’ve been involved with in the past years. All that experience that I’ve had was definitely crucial. It was madness. There was like no sleep happening in that week.

I can imagine! The music video is fantastic.

Well, thank you. Yeah, the “Drippin’ In Gold” video, the palace scene, yeah, that was like two days before we were coming back. We lost all the footage; the card corrupted, so we had to reshoot all of that the morning before we came back.

I’m glad you got to release that then. 

I think the process is really fun for me. It’s like all the stories are in the process. And I’m just trying to be a little bit more transparent now. In the past ten years of doing this stuff, people always see the finished product. And I’m like, “Man, the stories are actually really interesting.” I should start sharing a bit more.

You don’t want to seem too polished, you know, like a big pop star. You want people to see that it’s work. 

I feel like I haven’t really. The times you’re working, the chaos that happens, you’re really not documenting those things. But I’ve been trying to bring a bit more of that to my socials and just, you know, this is the work, this is the process, and it’s fun. It’s crazy. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

LA has a massive Persian and Iranian community? 

Yes. I’ve got a few friends, Iranian artists over there. I love going to the food shops, just polishing up my Persian, and talking in Farsi. It’s nice. And I’m so excited talking to them, like, “Can I get this and this and this?” And they just look at me like I’m crazy. “Why is she so happy?!”

I can’t imagine Auckland has a massive Persian community.

No, I don’t want to guess but maybe like, under two thousand. 

Do you get back much to Iran these days? 

No, I haven’t been back since I was 19. 

Is that something you want to do more of in the future? 

If things change in Iran. I mean, for tourists it’s fine. People go there all the time but to be someone from there doing music… I don’t know, there’s a lot of a lot of factors at the moment, too. But hopefully in the future, I definitely will love to go back.

It must have been so enjoyable, being in that LA community then. 

Oh, yes. LA is kind of like a capsule of pre-revolution Iran. It’s as if time has frozen, like in another Western country, obviously, but that’s what it used to be like. So to be able to slip into a place where it’s like, “Oh, this is what my parents lived through. It was like this.”

What was it like moving to New Zealand at such a young age? Was it hard to acclimatise? 

I think I was too young to remember, even though I have heaps of memories from Iran. It was a clear change moving here. But I think as a kid, you just think it’s moving somewhere else, and I moved a lot within Iran. So it was just like another change, I guess. I think adapting was a lot easier than for someone who comes here when they’re like a teenager or older.

The gap you took between releases is becoming much more common. More and more artists say they want to take two years, three years between releases, because they need to recharge creatively.

Yeah, because there’s so much you can do, so much planning and writing the music. I like to keep going back to the drawing board because I think it’s crucial not to get stuck in one place and to make it about the music again. You can get caught up in releases, content, and it’s great to do. I love the way the industry is now, that you can share a lot of content and things like that. But I think it was nice not to have the distractions of having to do those things and just focus on the music.

I wanted to get your thoughts on breaking into the New Zealand music industry in general. How easy/difficult did you find it?

I think the music industry, in general, is a tough industry; everyone knows that. But if you’re doing it for the right reasons and because you enjoy it, then you can always succeed. It sounds cheesy, but I 100% believe that if you work hard, you can take your music somewhere. It is difficult. Obviously I’m experimenting a lot with my music, and it’s not your mainstream, easy radio listen kind of music. I wouldn’t consider it easily marketable. I’m challenging the norms.

It’s already challenging being in the music industry, but then I’m challenging it even further by asking, “How much of the pure me can people accept? How much of me messing around with sounds?”

Obviously you’re making music for the fans but you’ve got to make the music for yourself first and foremost.

Yeah, people can hear if you’ve made it with love and if you’re connected to your own music or if you’re just doing it to get followers and fans. I think fans are very smart, especially these days; they know when it’s genuine or when you’re just trying to please everyone. I don’t mind sparking conversation with my music, whether people love it or hate it. It doesn’t bother me. 

So what themes do you want to explore in your music in the future? 

I really want to get a lot more conceptual with the visuals, and musically I really want to explore more vocal sampling. A lot more upbeat dance music, less lyrical and more about the feels. 

Oh, that’s cool. 

Yeah, just like music that focuses more on the sounds and the acoustics, the way it makes you feel, rather than on storytelling or saying things.

I think a lot of pop has been going that way for maybe the past one or two years. It’s less about the lyrics and more about the soundscapes.

The soundscape is so important, it’s really fun to explore that. Even when it’s not in English, people can listen to music and understand it, feel the emotions. I want to take my sound to the next level by focusing more on the instrumentation and using vocals as an instrument themselves. I’m interested in what kind of world that would create — Persian dance mixed with vocal samples. 

It must be cool being Persian in New Zealand and bridging those two worlds.

So cool. I’ve been doing this Persian mixed with Western [music] for nine or ten years now. I’ve seen people’s reactions and the world around them change. It’s so interesting because now it’s so much more accepted, even encouraged.

It’s definitely encouraged.

It’s cool, which is bizarre for me because I’ve been told it’s uncool for so long, but I just always stuck to it because this is what I want to make. Now it’s just trending and you’re like, “Well, I told you back then!”

I found some emails from a very old account in high school. When I was in year eleven, I used to make beats, and I found my writing I sent to my music teacher saying I want to explore mixing Persian instrumentation with hip hop. It’s like I’ve been trying to do the same thing back then, but I’m just upscaling and getting better. So it was funny seeing that. 

I mean, that’s consistency of character! That’s good.

Yeah, it’s good. It’s been something in me. I guess it’s good to be reminded why I was trying to do it. And that was purely because I was just curious.