CHAII – Lightswitch EP Music Video Series (Interview w/ Musician & Stylist)

CHAII - Lightswitch Music VideoPhotograph by Abe Mora

Lightswitch, the six-track EP from New Zealand-based Persian rapper, CHAII, draws upon her visual art background and comes paired with six highly-stylized music videos that span continents. Including a three-part series shot in Oman — which involves a rich roster of local residents and aims to portray the Middle East in a colorful, positive light — the remainder of the EP’s music video offerings span from the kaleidoscopic, Escher-esque “Nobody Knows” to the hypercolored “Lightswitch,” which cruises through LA’s various landscapes.
In the following Q&A, CHAII and Brooke Tyson, her long-time stylist, discuss their close-knit working relationship, the natural flow of their collaborations, and the importance of representation.

 

CHAII – “Lightswitch” Music Video

This article is a part of our Compare & Contrast Series, where we analyze a creative project from its many varied viewpoints. VIEW THEM ALL

 

First off, thank you for making this amazing series of visuals to pair with your EP! That obviously requires a lot of additional work and vision to pull off; why do you feel it is important for musicians to take an audio-visual and interdisciplinary approach in this time?

CHAII (Musician):
Thank you!! I personally really enjoy the visual aspect, it’s always been as important as the music for me. It’s another dimension into the overall art. Music has been a way to communicate and express how I feel and visuals make it even easier for me to do so.
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
CHAII always has a very clear vision of what she wants to express in her videos, and I feel — especially for the ones we shot in Oman — it was super important to convey the perfect tone, keeping the fashion fresh and exciting, and also respecting Middle Eastern culture at the same time. I love going through the process with her, because we are on the same level of wanting to push the storytelling a little bit further with the garment choices and visuals all being intertwined.

 

CHAII directed all of these films. What would you say is the ethos or vision that guides and unifies all of your work? Is there any unified connective tissue or particular themes you feel are important to message across all of it?

CHAII (Musician):
Bringing the same emotions from the songs and translating that into a visual format has come naturally for me . Coming from a visual art background and having the tools and skills has made it a no brainer to be drawing up and directing the videos. One important theme for the first project was to show a different side to Middle East since there’s so much negative press around it and as artists we have a platform to share our perspective. A more raw perspective.
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
It was quite an honour being a part of the crew for this particular set of videos, and supporting Chaii on her quest to show the Middle East in a positive, real way, while still pushing boundaries of the garments visually. Always I feel she is uniting her two cultures and that theme comes across in everything she does. On a personal level I love the design challenges that come with being more thoughtful around the story behind the looks.

 

The fashion and styling for this series of short films and music videos is absolutely on-point. How did you approach that process and pull it off in a way that feels authentic to CHAII?

 
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
CHAII and I have been working together for a few years now, and we know each other well, so from a design perspective, this definitely makes the styling ideas for videos and shoots just flow. I generally have a fair idea of what CHAII will be into — usually something visually striking, which makes designing for her a lot of fun. We start with chatting about her overall vision for the shoots and then work out a colour palette and rough garment plan and go from there. Celebrating CHAII’s multicultural heritage is always really important in the direction we go with design or fabric prints, and we love coming up with fashion-forward, thoughtful, and exciting ways to achieve this.

Color is huge throughout the series. What significance does it play, and how are color themes chosen for each film?

CHAII (Musician):
Depending on the overall mood I want to go for and the locations. I make the treatment, draw up the timeline of the videos, and have a visual board before we get into making it. That way I get a good idea of what colours work and whether it’s achieved on camera or in post or a combination of the two. From there, we work on achieving that colour palette through fabric choices, lighting and post grading etc.
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
This is the exciting part for me, and CHAII is super hands on with choosing fabric colours and prints… always a fun time for us! I feel very blessed to design for someone who is so open to ideas and loves bold ideas. Because of her visual arts background, it’s really easy to convey my thoughts and we are generally pretty good being on the same page with interpreting what the other is trying to get across.

With CHAII’s music and visuals going global, what lessons have you learned about working as a cross-over artist? Any surprises or interesting anecdotes?

CHAII (Musician):
Well, it’s always interesting seeing the way people connect or react to your music. I found that there’s actually a lot of people who can relate to being multicultural and owning that fact. But outside of that, I’ve had so many different responses and it all varies, from people enjoying it for bop or people who have had a deeper connection. I love the fact that music can be what you want it to be for you at different times in your life.
 

 

CHAII – “South” Music Video

Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Courtesy of the Artist
CHAII Behind-the-Scenes
CHAII Behind-the-Scenes
CHAII Behind-the-Scenes
CHAII Behind-the-Scenes

 

Three of the films — “South,” “Digebasse,” and “Trouble” — were shot in Oman. Why did you settle on filming there, and can you tell us about casting and working with locals?

CHAII (Musician):
The three Oman videos were a bit more challenging than other videos I’ve produced. The main factor being having to organise locations, casting, [and] permits from a long distance. Things you would usually be able to do like location scouting or meeting people in person to organise camels, permits, etc. were suddenly much harder. I chose Oman as I wasn’t able to go to Iran. Oman is located south of Iran, so it has very similar vibes, but also for me, it didn’t matter what part of the Middle East I captured. I had to gain the locals’ trust to be filming, as they were sick of having journalists enter the Middle East to find something negative to film and blow out of proportion. I felt no one ever captures the true culture and beauty of the Middle East, and the locals agreed with me and were extremely helpful in helping us navigate around Oman and get the filming done. I did the ‘ask while on the shoot’ approach for casting. It was very on the go, very full on, and pressures were high, but we got there in the end, and it was one of the most unforgettable and fun moments in my life.
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
Agreed this was an unforgettable experience and will be treasured forever! It was definitely more challenging being a part of the filming process there; we had to work on the fly a lot more. Filming days were long because we never quite knew what to expect or if we would end up where we had planned. I even bought a sewing machine over there, because with casting last minute and not knowing 100% what was going to happen, I had to be prepared with the right pieces for styling. (Now I take that machine overseas on our shoots every time!) I absolutely loved watching CHAII work with some of the locals who were just so incredible and accommodating. Going through a village just outside the city and making friends with the inhabitants was a highlight for me. We went back there three times. CHAII’s work ethic is amazing; she pushes herself hard to get everything right, which comes across in the details of the videos.

What are some favorite moments from this extensive filmmaking journey?

CHAII (Musician):
My favourite part of this joinery is getting to do it with my crew of friends Brooke Tyson, Abe Mora and Frank Eliesa. We have so many stories and memories that we will never forget. Getting to travel together and do what we love is really special.
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
Yeah we are all such great friends now with a pretty spot-on dynamic; just feel so blessed to have so much fun with people I love, while pursuing our different crafts and really getting to be so creative together. The bond we have from being in intense and crazy filming situations is one that we will have forever!

Is there anything else you would like to add? Any upcoming audio-visual projects you would like to share?

CHAII (Musician):
I have many more projects in the making and will have more releases this year that I’m really looking forward to sharing with everyone. We gone do some crazy shit.
Brooke Tyson (Stylist):
We definitely have some exciting things in the pipeline… all starts for me with a call from CHAII starting with “Brooooooke,” and I know something new is on the way! Watch this space!

 

CHAII – “Digebasse” Music Video

CHAII – “Trouble” Music Video

CHAII – “Nobody Knows” Music Video

CHAII – “Middle Ground” Music Video

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Vivian Hua 華婷婷 is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer. As the Executive Director of Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary arts publication, REDEFINE, much of her work unifies her metaphysical interests with her belief that art can positively transform the self and society. She regularly shares human-centered stories through her storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE! In 2020, she will [hopefully] begin production on a comedic Asian-American series entitled Reckless Spirits.

Ask Vivian about MARSHMALLOWS, cuz she's gross... and being tips for being frugal while nomading!

Vivian Hua
vivian.redefine@gmail.com

Vivian Hua 華婷婷 is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer. As the Executive Director of Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary arts publication, REDEFINE, much of her work unifies her metaphysical interests with her belief that art can positively transform the self and society. She regularly shares human-centered stories through her storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE! In 2020, she will [hopefully] begin production on a comedic Asian-American series entitled Reckless Spirits. Ask Vivian about MARSHMALLOWS, cuz she's gross... and being tips for being frugal while nomading!

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