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TAS In Session: Chief


A Santa Monica band with roots at New York University, soulful, folk-leaning rockers Chief first broke out in the UK. They even played Glastonbury, where they signed their deal with Domino Records in the middle of that muddy festival.

Like Midlake, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Fleet Foxes, Chief's relaxed sound feels indebted to rambling, loose-limbed California bands of forty years ago, a languid journey of jangling guitars and blissful harmonies.

Chief kick off an early autumn tour this week with a stop at the Austin City Limits Festival on October 8.

Just recently the quartet of vocalist/guitarist Evan Koga, bassist Mike Moonves and the brotherly team of vocalist/guitarist Danny Fujikawa and drummer Michael Fujikawa visited The Alternate Side to play four tracks from Modern Rituals: "Night and Day," "In The Valley,"  "You Tell Me" and "Breaking Walls."


Alisa Ali: I understand that this project began when you were all attending NYU.

Evan Koga: Kind of. Chief itself probably started after Michael and I graduated.

Danny Fujikawa: [Mike Moonves] was in NYU at the time but we were all out of there.

Alisa: So you all graduated? Evan: Michael and I did. I feel like they will one day.

Danny: I never had a real college experience because I was in a band the whole time.

Alisa: Everyone’s parents were cool about you dropping out of college?

Danny: No it was one of the worst times of my life.

Michael Fujikawa: Danny didn’t leave school because of the band. He was not meant to go to school.

Alisa: How did you explain it to your folks?

Danny: That I hated it, basically. I went there for a semester. I’m not trying to talk crap about NYU but the program I was in was a brand new program and I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t very inspiring. I went for a semester, took a year off, went back and just wasn’t having it. I just stopped going to class completely and had a rough time with my parents. But they’re happy about the band now and support it. I think the band started the year I was on hiatus.

Alisa: Did you learn anything that might have helped you?

Michael: I definitely did but how it informs the music I do, not so much.

Danny: I’m way better at paper måché now from this Mexican art making class I took.

Alisa: Do you reckon you’ll incorporate paper måché into future shows?

Danny: I think that would be pretty cool. What do you think, guys?

Alisa: Why did you move back to California?

Danny: New York is the best city ever. But there are certain places that are right for people at the right times and for me, I know for Evan and even for Mike, not so much for my brother, LA is the right place for us now for so many reasons.

Michael: I miss New York so much. Being in LA, there’s too much down time and it’s too monotonous of a life style.

Danny: When we were living in New York, I felt the same way about New York. Repetitious.

Michael: It has to do with relationships with people too, wherever you are.

Alisa: Did you establish a cool group of people while you were here in New York?

Michael: Only the coolest.

Mike Moonves: We had a gang.

Michael: I’m coming back here.

Evan: Word.


Alisa: Even though you’re a brand new band you managed to score yourself a deal with Domino Records. You didn’t even have an EP when they signed you.

Danny: We did have an EP but it’s been taken off of the board. You can’t find it anywhere.

Michael: They boxed us out, man. They wanted to start fresh, a clean slate.

Mike: Some of these songs were on the EP as well.

Danny: “Irish Song” and “Your Direction” was supposed to be on the album. Domino intended a clean start.

Michael: But we still play some of them live.

Danny: We’ll probably re-record those songs one day.

Alisa: Did Chief begin in New York?

Danny: Yeah. Our first show was in New York. I think Evan handed me the four track demo that he recorded as Chief in LA, but our first show was in a loft space in a commercial building in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We were staying there at the time. I was staying in the rehearsal space in the basement. It wasn’t a residential building. We had 30 or 40 friends at the show and it was really intimate and special. [Mike] wasn’t there. It was just a three piece at first, for about six months to a year.

MIke: I came and saved the day.

Alisa: What was that first show like?

Danny: So nervous.

Evan: And it wasn’t even a show. We just invited friends. But it was very casual, but very nervewracking.

Danny: The band Wild Yaks, friends of ours that ran the building, that was their first show too, that night.

Michael: The Wild Yaks did not perform.

Danny: Yes they did!

Michael: They didn’t. But look out for Wild Yaks.

Danny: Rob [Bryn] and Chris [Parachini] performed! You don’t know what you’re talking, about dude.

Alisa: Brothers!

Michael: I love you, Danny.

Danny: I love you too.


Alisa: Do you notice things about each other’s songwriting styles? What would you say is Evan’s themes that he leans on that are different from yours.

Danny: Musically, Evan writes songs different than I do and I love his songs. I love playing on them. He writes songs in a way that I can’t. Our brains are wired differently. He comes up with songs that are great.

Mike: There are definitely themes that these guys relate to. They have individual styles and themes, lyrically.

Danny: There shouldn't be a static theme in all of your lyrics.

Evan: Danny, do you write about specific things in your mind?

Danny: Yeah, usually. But there can be a few different themes in a single song. They’re usually pretty specific and serious.

Evan: I tend to write a little more abstractly. So when people ask what a song is about, I don’t really know. I write and I usually demo and record gibberish to get a melody. And then sometimes I hear things in that and go from there. We’re not really writing right now. Maybe in ten years we’ll look back and see a progression. But now, in it, we’re not really sure.