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Kishi Bashi Talks of Montreal, Jupiter One [interview]

Posted on the 24 May 2012 by Thewildhoneypie @thewildhoneypie



You won’t hear any electric guitars in the music of Kishi Bishi (@kishi_bashi). Not now or ever. What you will hear are lush textures from synthesizers, stirring rhythms and layers of alluring violin and vocal melodies. What you’ll see is just one man: Kaoro Ishibashi.

“To see someone be able to do a show with just a violin and a voice is part of the performance thing I’m going for right now,” he shares over the phone from his home in Virginia during one of his few breaks from touring as the violinist for venerated rock band, Of Montreal.


Years ago, while his pop-rock band Jupiter One was opening for Regina Spektor, Ishibashi fell into solo performances out of necessity. “Jupiter One was a very heavy beast to tour around the country, so I wanted something mobile and independent,” he explains.

When Spektor’s tour went to Australia, he had to leave his band behind. “I was playing solo, basically like a stripped down version of Jupiter One, and I got this huge response — it was ridiculous. I had to bootleg my CDs because I was selling over 100 a night.” His drummer, Dave Heilman, joined at the end of the tour and suggested that Ishibashi do a solo album. “The more I thought about it, the more it made sense,” he recalls, “I had a lot of songs, and this whole other side to me that wouldn’t really work with Jupiter One.”

Soon afterwards, Ishibashi jumped on board with Of Montreal and was immediately inspired by lead singer Kevin Barnes. “There was a whole new style, a level of complexity that I’d never thought of before. I never understood just how dense his compositions were.” And, like Barnes, Ishibashi was “into the idea of self-producing, instead of being a slave to a producer or being pressured for studio time.”


In 2011, while touring with Norwegian band Sondre Lerche, he was invited to play solo as their opening act. “I’m a procrastinator unless I have a deadline,” he admits, so he frantically started putting together some songs to perform, which led to an EP and his first Kishi Bishi album, 151a.

Along with many other artists, he found a new way of song-writing afforded by looping machines. “The whole style is based on improvisation and I think that’s great. It feels really fresh to me. If I think something is cool, I’ll just hum a melody over it […] sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not good. Most of the time, it’s really not good.”

Influenced by both the complexity in Barnes’ music as well as the soulful simplicity of fellow New York band, Delicate Steve, Ishibashi would “make up a lot of ideas really quickly and record them [on the looping machine]. The next day [he’d] try to go back through them and see if anything was working.” He set restrictions for himself to keep a very violin-centric sound, particularly avoiding the use of electric guitars. “My whole thing is if you put guitars in, it just gets really loud,” he explains, “It’s gets harder to sing and harder to hear the song.”


Having moved from New Jersey to be closer to his family in Virginia, Ishibashi found a quiet place in his parent’s attic to set up a studio. “What really helped me make this album was being able to just have all of my instruments out. When I lived in New York, I had to pack up all my stuff. I couldn’t do anything at night — there were a lot of restrictions. Not very inspiring.”

In fact, he never felt very connected to the music community in New York. “New York is so cut-throat, everyone’s trying to get to the top.” Quite the opposite of Athens, Georgia, where Of Montreal is based. “The good thing about Athens and Of Montreal is that everyone’s always creating, and they’re very supportive of me. They want to see me succeed. It’s really just a bunch of friends who happen to be in a cool band on tour together. It’s way more laid-back.”

His knack for headpieces and bright fabrics for his performances was also inspired by Of Montreal. “Their whole thing is dressing up for shows — doing something crazy and wild. I’m a strong believer that if you’re gonna be performing, it helps to be a little more flashy. I’m not afraid of dressing up.”

He’s also no longer afraid of playing solo. “It’s really satisfying because you can get really intimate with your audience because it’s basically just your voice and whatever accompanying instrument. Of course, I miss the party aspect of a band,”  he says, adding that he is slowly looking to flesh out his sound in anticipation of some upcoming festivals and larger shows, “I think essentially I’ll just have a drummer (Zac Colwell, of both Jupiter One and Of Montreal). Having drums just makes it a party.”

Following one more run with Of Montreal in June, Ishibashi is taking some much deserved time off. “I don’t really have much time to create right now, which is part of the reason I’m taking a break,” he explains.  Another reason for a break is to spend more time with his wife and six-year old daughter; “saving the family” as he calls it.

His daughter plays the violin as well, and together they listen to classical music — Beethoven, Tchaikovsky — but he also does his best to make sure she knows who Led Zepplin is. “She’s actually a fan of my album,” he adds humbly, “So she likes listening to me, which is great.”

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