Kishi Bashi talks his new album, Lou Reed and Of Montreal ahead of SXSW 2014By Dylan Owens | March 11th, 2014 | No Comments »
Combining a background in classical violin with pop sensibility, Kishi Bashi has the hallmarks of an NPR-approved musician—and indeed he is. But listen to the glowing “Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!,” off his upcoming album “Lighght,” and perception shifts. The song is vibrant and youthful, as if someone recorded a child’s hyperactive energy in audio form. We aren’t listening to Terry Gross over coffee; this is a round of Mountain Dew with your five-year-old nephew.
Kishi Bashi, who’ll headline Reverb’s SXSW showcase on Saturday, chatted with us last week about the magical realism of his music, the reality of going solo and how Lou Reed influenced his new album. Take a look below, and be sure to RSVP for Reverb’s SXSW showcase here.
Your stage name is Kishi Bashi, but your real name is Kaoru Ishibashi. I popped that into Google Translate and it came up with “fragrant stone bridge.” Is that even close?
Yeah. Okay so, you know “Bridgestone,” the tire company?
The owner is Ishibashi. It means “stone bridge.” “Kaoru” is kind of a feminine name. It’s asexual, it can be both genders—kinda like “Jamie.” It means “fragrant.” I think my parents really wanted a girl.
Partly because of your Japanese heritage, your music reminds me of Hiroki Murakami, right down to the play on word title of work. He has “1Q84,” a play on Japanese homophone for the number nine. You released “151a,” which refers to a Japanese saying.
I’ve read most of his books. They’re great. Yeah, though I named [my album] before [his book], but. It’s the same play with words.
Beyond simple naming convention, there’s a lot of magical realism in both of your works.
That’s interesting you picked up on that. Definitely. Going off that, I’m reading Gabriel Marquez’s “One Hundred Years Of Solitude.” It’s great.
Because it was happening in the sixties, magical realism is something I grew up with. At the time, it was pretty groundbreaking. Having animals talk, people flying on a carpet.
And to not have it just be for kids.
Your songs tend to play out like scenes. Are you very visually inspired?
I’m not per se. I’m definitely influenced by a lot of visual things. When I see movies, I really appreciate the soundtrack—I studied film scoring, so I’m aware of relationship between music and visuals—but for the most part, it’s more of a surreal musical experience than it is true music for me.
I kind of create music visually. Sometimes I’ll see a movie and think of a scene I liked and try to recreate that musically.
You toured with Of Montreal, who are known for very dramatic live performances. Any shows with them stand out?
I’m always on the other side [than the audience], so it’s difficult to gauge what people are feeling. [Of Montreal] are really inspiring, because they’re so dedicated to getting a shock and visually assaulting their fans. It’s pretty amazing. They have David Barnes, who’s [Of Montreal frontman] Kevin’s brother. His job is to create the show without the music. They have a team of people doing visuals. I kind of bring that to my own performance.
As far as a show that stands out…once, Kevin said [before a show]: ‘No drinking.’ And everybody was really sad. That was actually pretty thrilling, to be playing sober. You look at pop stars and stuff — they’re not drinking. They’re drinking water. There’s so much concentration involved. They don’t have time to be drunk. I do. (Laughs)
Have the expectations of going solo lined up with its reality?
I had been in a rock band, Jupiter One, before. Everytime you do a show, you’re losing money. You’re worried about, ‘How am I gonna get to Portland? It’s a college show and we have barely enough gas to get across the country. Can’t afford to fly there.’ It was always a money-losing venture to be in a band, especially out of New York City, where the rent is really high.
If you can pull it off, doing shows solo is great. Basically, you can do any shows. You can fly and do a show and not lose money. You can do a support tour and not lose money. It worked out perfectly.
As my crowds grew and I needed to put on a bigger show, I had to start hiring musicians. Now I’m at a point where my next tour in May, I’ll have a tour bus and four musicians. It’s grown, but I’m never over-extending myself.
How does “Lighght” compare with your last album?
It’s a continuation of the way I play songs. I tried to include a lot more musicianship in it. There’s a lot of high-quality performances, but for the most part, they’re pop songs. I also tried some different songwriting techniques. It definitely sounds better—sonically. My daughter likes it better.
One song you’ll hear, “Bittersweet Genesis for HIM and HER.” I had this really cool cracked-out string texture that I had been playing with, but I couldn’t write a compelling song on it. As a musician I had never really gotten into Lou Reed, because he’s not really a musician as much as a cultural icon. [After he died], I started looking at his lyrics and his songwriting, and kind of took a Lou Reed approach to writing this song. It got pretty interesting. It’s something I’ve never really done before. Most people I’ve played it for seem to like it.
[Reed's songs], they work. You don’t know why, but they work. I didn’t realize that until recently. I took a new approach—being less of a musician and more of an artist.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.