Chenai is a London based vocalist, songwriter and producer. Over the last few years she has collaborated with and written for the likes of Hurts, Tensnake and Gorgon City, toured relentlessly and performed at some of the world’s biggest music festival, including Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, Benicassim, V-fest, Glastonbury, Tomorrowland and Parklife. Her latest release is Mark Knight’s Tonight, on which she features along house mainstay Mr. V. Ahead of its release on Toolroom this week, we caught up with Chenai to discuss her musical influences, the collab, the incomparable buzz of performing to a crowd and how she recently launched her solo career…
Hey Chenai, welcome to DMC. What’s the first record you heard today?
Hey! It sounds like a really shit plug but it’s not, it’s just the cringey truth. I was rehearsing an acoustic version of my single ‘If You Love Me’ today, so I’ve been listening to that all day. Trying to get better at playing guitar but don’t have much patience and it’s not where I’m naturally gifted so it takes a lot of practice! Haha.
How did you first get into music, do you come from a musical background? Any formal training?
My Dad is a musician and my Great Grandad played trumpet and composed music for the BBC years ago, so it’s in the blood! I quit a Law degree at uni, and started writing songs with local musicians in Leeds, doing small gigs, then moved to London 7 years ago, and met Carl Mcintosh from Loose Ends, a legendary band who were big in the 80’s. He and his wife sort of took me under their wing and mentored me, I’m really thankful for that. A few vocal lessons, but mostly self-taught. Maybe it shows. Ha!
A lot of people will know you from your features on club tracks… were you involved in the club scene as a fan, and do you still go out raving?
House music was big in Leeds, so my first night’s out were to house raves. I used to love raving, working in music and touring really makes you appreciate downtime, and these days I have to be really boring because my voice doesn’t work if I party too hard. There’s been a lot of Bonobo, and Kaytranada streams during quarantine.
What’s been your career highlight to date?
Producing my first single and actually being brave enough to release it! The inner critic has been running my whole life for some time now so it felt powerful to wrestle him to the ground for little while.
Describe the buzz of performing in front of thousands of people. Do you ever get stage fright? If so, any tips on overcoming it?
Electric is the only way to describe it. Tangible energy. Like listening to your favourite music and having goosebumps continuously for 1 hour. I love performing and connecting with people so much. Meditating really helps with stage-fright. Like with anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The nerves never really go away, but you can use them in a good way. I’d say getting up in front of crowds as often as possible. Smaller crowds are so intense because you can see faces, but really great for building a thick skin. I used to get sick with nerves and it would really affect my performance, but that fades over time.
We’re huge Mark Knight fans and we love Tonight… what was it like working with him and Mr V on the record?
Yeah, it was really cool working with Mark, he’s such a lovely guy and an absolute legend in dance music, so it’s such an honour. It happened really organically. We were doing a writing camp at Toolroom, and right at the end of the day as I was about to leave, Mark played me this tune that felt amazing. I started playing with a topline and it just fell out, which is always a good sign. I’ve never met Mr V but his energy is beautiful over email and what he did on the track really completed it, it wouldn’t be what it is without it.
You’re also now releasing your own records… has that been something you’ve been working towards for a while? What can we expect from your solo material?
Yes! The Solo EP ‘Sanctum of Gemini’ has been 2, maybe 3 years in the making. My next single ‘Water’ is out at the end of August. I was working on the EP between touring, so that i could communicate this sound from my head onto a record, learning how to play and produce. There are some really incredible producers and artists on the EP. I call it cinematic RnB, which doesn’t really exist as a genre, and Mark finds that hilarious. Dreamy and electronic, with lots of harmonies. I’m really excited to share it.
What else do you have coming up this year that we should be looking out for?
A band called Hurts that I have written with also have a new album called ‘Faith’ out, so looking forward to everyone hearing that.
Finally, if you could work with one artist in your career, who would it be?
Hmm, there are so many sick artists, but I’ll choose a musician. Frank Ocean and his producer Malay, they basically come as one, right! I’d love to watch Frank’s writing process and how he manages to create such beautiful imagery and melody. We wouldn’t even have to make a song, I’d love to just watch and learn their process.
Mark Knight feat. Chenai & Mr. V – Tonight is out now on Toolroom Records