On The Records: Kishi Bashi

Hi Mr. Ishibashi, how are you? How’s your day so far?
Fine, thank you. I just ate great Korean food two days in a row and I’m feeling very content.

You have been touring recently, how was the experience?
I’ve been touring non-stop for the last three months. It’s very exciting, kind of akin to having a birthday party every day for 30 days straight.

Was it kind of nervous when you about to perform as solo artist on the stage for the first time?
The first time was extremely nervous. I’m never fearful of performing, but I do have anxiety when I’m unprepared. A couple of drinks usually takes that part away.  

Can you tell me a little bit about what you were like when you were kids? What did you like to spend your time doing and thinking about?
I was a quiet kid. I was also very inquisitive about everything.  Music never really dominated my psyche until I was in high school, when I got into chamber music. I remember being very excited about playing certain violin and orchestral pieces.  
How do you think your childhood has shaped your music? Do you think it would be different if you were grown up in Japan?
My parents were very supportive of me playing violin. It’s the only thing I really stuck to consistently, and it’s paid off (I think). It helped me to really involve myself with classical music from the inside out, which I think has a lot of bearing on my melodic sensibilities. I try to imagine what I would be like if I had grown up in Japan, and I every time I think that, I’m extremely glad that I hadn’t. There’s a negative premium attached to being individualistic and also to “show” your emotions. As a musician and performer, those are the characteristics that are absolutely necessary on stage and in the studio. I don’t think I would have been able to flourish as much as I have in the US.
When exactly you know you’re good at music and decide to pursue it?
I knew I loved music all my life, but I never thought I would pursue it as a career until I was faced with a very grave academic situation in college. I was rapidly flunking out of engineering school (Cornell), and I decided then and there that I would go to Berklee College of Music and study jazz violin and musical composition and make a career out of it. It was terrifying to dive into the unknown and unproven world of music, but it was the best decision I had ever made in my life.
How you describe your music to someone who hadn’t heard it?
Isn’t that your job? Just kidding 🙂  I always like to describe it as orchestral and somewhat experimental pop. There’s a lot of analog synths because I just love the sound of that.  
Which musicians and albums are you most inspired by?
I listen to a lot of music old and new, but I do remember being very excited by Beirut and Sufjan Stevens. My work with of Montreal has been a huge influence on my writing, especially concerning dense textures and vocal complexity. 

Tell me about your debut LP, how long it takes for you to finish the album?
I brought over two songs, “Manchester” and “Bright Whites” from a previously existing EP, but the bulk of it was composed in a couple of months, mixing was done in two weeks. 
How’s the creative process behind the songs? What’s the main theme?
I tried to keep the album positive and uplifting in general. I decided to not use any electric guitars or full drum sets. Instead I relied on percussion and the violin. Also acoustic guitars and analog synths were a theme.  
You’re known as multi-instrumentalist, why you decide to pick violin as your main weapon for 151a? What the first instrument you learn to play?
Violin has always been my first and most comfortable instrument. It is also my “professional” instrument, but for some odd reason, I never really wanted to use it for my own work.  I would really just want to play guitar or piano or sing, etc.  It wasn’t until I realized that I had something unique that I decided that I would do what I do for other people on myself. My debut album is the result of this experimentation. I basically hired myself to produce my album. 
Talking about the title of your album, 151a, I heard it’s like Japanese phrase, ichi go ichi e, would you mind to elaborate the meaning of that phrase?
Ichi go ichi e means “one time, one meeting” and is a very popular Japanese idea that expresses the ideal of sado, or the “way of the tea”.  It means to cherish this one time meeting (and can be extended to include performance) and its beauty, because it will never happen again in that same way. It came to me at a very good time, and it helps me to understand that my musical experimentations on stage and off stage in the studio, are unique to that one moment only, and to embrace it for all it’s worth. 
Do you have any other favorite Japanese phrase? Mine would be mono no aware, and I think your music is kinda describing the phrase, its jubilant and charming but also has certain kind of bittersweet on it, do you agree?
I would have to agree. The bittersweet comes from a darker side of me that I’ve suppressed for the most part in the creation of this album for consistency’s sake. I’m always aware of the idea of impermanence with art and music and life in general.

As a songwriter and musician, are you kind of hold back some of your ideas/fantasies for the song or just let it burst?
“Bursting” is my theme really for this entire album. When I was working on it, I oversaturated the productions with as many wild ideas I could, and then subtracted from that. Also, in writing songs, I would set 30 minute sessions where I would improvise something and create a loop, and then quickly do all I could to be inspired by it. I would quickly record it, and then move on to a new idea. I’d revisit them later to see if anything good actually came out of it.

On the side note, I once take a hallucinogenic trip and listen to your music while watching the artwork, the tiger and the girl is kinda moving around and the clouds or swirling pattern on it kinda move on their own. Who made that great artwork? 
You took mushrooms and stared at my cover? haha 🙂
My friend JLP had created the actual design of the girl (my daughter), and the tiger (my wife who was born in the year of the tiger). I like it alot, but it didn’t feel like the album to me. David Woodruff, another great designer who works for the label, traced it and turned it into a piece of art, which I’m very happy with.
How do you see life in general?
I am very positive, and I love the fact that the world is filled with such shiny toys. 
Do you feel any differences in life/music after you got married and have a daughter? Is your daughter listening to your music? What she say about it?
My daughter loves my music, and she’s my biggest fan. She’s sad when I have to go on tour, but she understands. Having a child can really take over your life, so it’s very difficult to create. I need a lot of idle time and a distractionless workspace in order to flourish. I can find this at night, so most of creation happens at night or during the day when she goes to school.
What are you doing beside music?
Hanging out with my family. it’s basically back and forth between those two. 

What do you hope for right now?
I hope that my album will continue to do well and I hope i’ll be able to come to southeast Asia sometime soon! 
Next project?
Another album, but I haven’t even thought about it. My album is doing well and the rest of my year is booked solid with shows. 
Is there any chance you come to Indonesia?
I hope so! My friend Sondre Lerche says he has big shows there, so I’m hoping that Indonesians will like me enough to invite me. 
Thank you so much for this interview, I’m sorry if some of the questions kinda boring and tedious. Thanks for your music as well, it’s a heaven on earth.


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