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Interview: Kishi Bashi

There are few better feelings than discovering an artist that truly excites and inspires you. In finding Kishi Bashi (pseudonym of multi instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Kaoru Ishibashi) I regret that I am late to the party – with two studio albums already under his belt, Ishibashi has accumulated a dedicated following of fans. To these fans he has become synonymous with complex violin loop patterns and the use of quirky samples, yet early indications suggest that his latest album, ‘Sonderlust’, will reveal a deviation from his usual themes. In an album ‘forged by heartbreak’, Ishibashi explores the natural arcs and falls in a relationship – from delirious infatuation to the darkest, deepest trenches of despair. I had the opportunity to listen to the latest single ahead of the album release, ‘Hey Big Star’, and spoke to Kaoru about violins, video game music, and 70’s funk.

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KM: Your new single is quite a departure from your slightly more folky earlier work. Does the rest of the album follow suit?

K: Definitely! The first single was a pleasant buffer so that the listener won’t start throwing up. Just kidding, it’s more like an “amuse bouche”.

KM: Well it certainly left me eager for the main course. You have previously described that using your usual techniques of songwriting such as violin loops left you feeling less than inspired. Was it a wrench to leave some of these techniques behind or did you find it liberating?

K: I was afraid when contemplating the departure, but it was definitely liberating after making the decision. It made me really excited about all the new sounds I was working with.

KM: You still retain that orchestral influence however; sweeping string melodies and complex harmonies are still a mainstay of your work. Did you begin your career in classical music?

K: I was a pretty serious classical violinist through high school (concertmaster of my youth symphony, practicing a couple hours a day), but around the same time I got into jazz violin, and I was also a Metalhead so…

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KM: Vocal sampling and close harmony singing also remains at the core of your work. It strikes me how many disparate vocal styles you combine in your music, styles that shouldn’t work together, yet they do, beautifully so. Do you think its important to explore what the voice can do within your music?  

K: I like close harmony singing because it’s so powerful when used in the right places (Queen!). Vocal samples are just one of the residual sounds that I utilise when I’m looking for unique tones and timbres to delight the ears.

KM: ‘Hey Big Star’ is the second single to be released ahead of your album launch, and its been pretty well received already. Are you feeling confident for the album release?

K: I’m finally feeling good about the album. I finished it several months ago, and it’s almost an afterthought now, but I’m looking forward to playing them live.

KM: Can I ask what the high-pitched slide sounds are at the beginning of the track?

K: The beginning of “Hey, Big Star” is a violin loop I improvised live once. I like it so much, I was playing around with it, and it became the impetus for the song.

KM: ‘Hey Big Star’ feels like a pretty exuberant track, particularly for an album ‘forged by heartbreak’. What message were you communicating with this track?

K: The different songs are the various aspects of a relationship, from sunrise to sunset. That just happens to be a happy bubble.

KM: I would describe your previous single from the album, ‘Say Yeah’ as retro 8-bit video game music meets The Bee Gees. Have video games inspired your work at all?

K: I love video games, but I purposefully don’t have a game console because I know I would just not make any further music if I did so. That’s actually from an instrument called a “pocket piano” which can at times sound like a video game music machine.

KM: How about the music of the disco era? ‘Say Yeah’ features an extensive jazz flute solo with rich orchestra hits, and combined with the falsetto vocal – it reminds me of those 70’s romantic slow-dance songs.

K: I particularly love instrumental funk from the 70’s. There’s a record label called CTI (Creed Taylor International) that I particularly love. They released analogue funk orchestral masterpieces by Bob James, Stanley Clark, and Hubert Laws, to name a few.

KM: It definitely comes across in your work. Overall what themes are you trying to convey with this album?

K: I’m trying to portray the birth and death of a relationship. The honeymoon phase till the bitter end, and a certain amount of solemn uncertainty and hope.

KM: You’ve certainly had a long and fruitful career in the music industry. Any regrets? How do you feel about the future?

K: I feel very optimistic and excited. To have a built in audience to support everything I make, it gives me an extra incentive to innovate and to push forth new ideas.

‘Hey Big Star’ is out now.

‘Sonderlust’ is out on the 19th September via Joyful Noise Records

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