VIRTUOSIC VIOLINIST, SINGER-SONGWRITER, AND VERITABLE HUMAN ORCHESTRA KISHI BASHI (BORN KAORU ISHIBASHI) IS A FOUNDING MEMBER OF SYNTH-ROCK GROUP JUPITER ONE AND CUT HIS TEETH TOURING ACROSS THE WORLD WITH REGINA SPEKTOR, SONDRE LERCHE, AND OF MONTREAL AMONG OTHERS. HIS DEBUT SOLO EFFORT, 151a, WAS RELEASED ON THE JOYFUL NOISE LABEL THIS YEAR. RIYD: ANIMAL COLLECTIVE, TUNE-YARDS, OF MONTREAL, VOCAL LOOPING, DREAM IMAGERY, WONDER WOMAN, EMOTICONS
NAT BRUT: You raised over $20,000 to help release your album through Kickstarter, a website that connects interested donors with people seeking capital to fund their creative endeavors. What were some of the pros and cons of using Kickstarter and recording the album yourself as compared to a conventional record label release?
KISHI BASHI: I’m a strong proponent of Kickstarter. It did wonders for me in creating a sense of self-reliance, and when my label approached me I was able to negotiate a very fair deal for the album. I was fully prepared to release it myself.
NB: Do you see this DIY aesthetic as the future of the music industry? What has the role of a label been in getting your music out there?
KB: It’s definitely one way to do it. I’m a fan of grassroots growth, but at some point, as you get busier you’ll need to hire people so that you can focus on your music and performing. My label does great things like mailing out albums and coordinating promotional activities. It’s things that you would do by yourself, but it could also take over your life if you’re not careful.
NB: Your songs contain layers upon layers of sounds, often your voice or a single violin harmonizing with itself. When you play live, you’re often responsible for generating intricate, orchestral songs all on your own. Harmonizing with your own voice, accompanying yourself—what kind of relationship do you have with these sounds? Are they still familiar to you, or do you feel a remove from them the way a hip-hop artist might when sampling an old record?
KB: When I began working with Kevin Barnes on the of Montreal records, I realized how multi-layered they were. They’re so thick and wild, and you wouldn’t really understand the depth of it unless you actually played in his band and had to learn the parts. I realized I was capable of handling that level of complexity, especially the vocal complexity that Kevin employs. I consciously tried to emulate some of that, as well as composing vocal parts in a way that I’d compose string parts.
NB: Can you take us through the process of creating a particular song on the album?
KB: For “It All Began With A Burst,” it started with a double-time pizzicato rhythm that you can kind of hear in the beginning. I began to improvise on that and came up with the melody that you hear. I kept adding items of interest and began to construct the song in that way. That one came easy. Most of the songs on 151a were inspired by violin loops.
NB: With so many layers, when is a song complete?
KB: For this album, I took the approach of over-creating and then subtracting to taste. I would leave it and come back in a few days and see if I felt the same way about it.
NB: After a childhood learning violin and listening to classical music, was there anything you had to unlearn in order to reach your creative vision?
KB: The concept of time and rhythm in classical music is very elastic. Things can slow down and speed up and it’s completely normal. In traditional jazz and most contemporary music, that idea is virtually non-existent. I had to learn about having “good time,” and it took me a while to understand that idea.
NB: Has having children influenced the way you think about music?
KB: I did notice that, living in a small apartment in New York, you’re forced to quiet down at night—the only free time you have sometimes. I did write a lot of quiet, soft songs in the earlier years when she was an infant. The middle soft singing part in “Intro/Pathos, Pathos” was created in one of those late-night living room sessions.
NB: Any non-musical influences that have been important to you?
KB: I am a very visual person, so I am influenced a lot by film and also everyday magic. I like to think about wild and tasty places.
NB: What is your relationship to the Japanese language? Some of your lyrics are in Japanese, but you’ve said you were hesitant at first to use it—often times it sounds like your Japanese lyrics dip in and out of meaning, blurring occasionally into almost primal sounds and then back into words and sentences.
KB: I’m not embarrassed about incorporating Japanese any more. The words actually have a relationship to the lyrics, so it just adds another dimension to the song—if you speak Japanese, that is. I am influenced by African music, so I wanted to incorporate those elements. Instead of using English like Animal Collective or tune-yards does or making up words, I found that Japanese was a perfect language to explore those concepts in. It opened up a whole new instrument for me, and it did what I hoped it would do to unify my schizophrenic album.
NB: Your solo tour begins this summer. Who is your ideal opening act?
KB: When I opened for the Barr Brothers last month, they were very collaborative, and we ended up sharing a few songs on each other’s sets. It was magical, and I realized that I like playing with musicians. I had been so fiercely independent in developing Kishi Bashi that I had forgotten how enjoyable it was to share the experience again. My ideal opener would be a band like that who I could actually play with.
NB: We wouldn’t be a literary magazine if we didn’t ask—any books you keep with you on tour?
KB: I’ve been reading some Dylan Thomas under recommendation by Kevin Barnes, and I’ve started reading The Fountainhead, which is good so far ☺.