Interview: Kishi Bashi

Nashville – K Ishibashi has been playing the indie music circuit for a while now, opening for Regina Spektor and collaborating with the members in Of Montreal and Jupiter One. It wasn’t until the 2011 release of his debut album 151a that K’s creative genius was put on full display. Kishi Bashi quickly became a new favorite of Paste Magazine, NPR Music, Mother Jones and many other tastemaker websites.

When he’s not working on new music or raising his young daughter, K Ishibashi is playing energetic, beautiful, intimate live shows. Following our interview, Kishi Bashi put on the best show I’ve seen all year. Improvisation is second nature for him, he slips easily into falsetto, he jokes about tequila, he crowd surfs, and he employs the brilliant Mike Savino, a banjo player who, as CMJ put it, “violates banjo.” K is likewise a killer violinist. His creativity and sheer talent are jaw dropping.

Before thrilling the audience at Nashville’s Exit/In, he sat down to answer a few questions for He was laid back and funny, and he actually asked me the first question: “Do you like tequila?” I can’t think of a better way to say “hello.”

Caroline McDonald: I ran across the video today for “It All Began With a Burst.” It has those young Japanese girls in it. I thought it was hilarious.

K Ishibashi: You did? I’m glad. I don’t think my mom did. She thought it was kind of perverted because they look young. They’re not really that young. Some of the girls are twenty-two, twenty-three. But their outfits make them look young, like schoolgirls. It’s totally Japanese.

CM: So it was all your idea?

KI: Yeah, I have a sister-in-law who’s my manager in Japan. She works with pop groups like that. And I thought, “What if we did this video where you have a Japanese girl group that lip syncs to one of my songs?” And she said, “Okay, we can do that.” We talked about it intensely, and then I forgot about it for a while. But a few months later, she was like, “Oh, it’s done by the way.”

CM: The lyrics at the bottom are the best part.

KI: The lyrics at the bottom are actually Japanese. Those girls don’t speak English very well, so she came up with jibberish Japanese to make the lip sync look like English. So the English translation is actually the jibberish Japanese translated back to English. It’s multi-layered. (He laughs.)

CM: You directed the animated video for “I Am the Anti-Christ.” You also went to Berklee School of Music to be a film composer. Are you interested in pursuing directing or composing for films in any capacity?

KI: I love film, and I like directing. At one point in my life I was seriously considering going into it, but right now I still have a lot of musical ideas; so maybe in the future. But I am heavily involved in my videos. It’s hard to let anyone else do them. I always want to be involved.

CM: Your looping seems to be as much a part of your music as your violin and your voice. I was wondering how you discovered that looping is part of Kishi Bashi’s sound.

KI: It started as a practical thing because I didn’t want to lose money on tour. If I had to fly to a show, I wouldn’t lose money if it was just myself. Get a plane ticket, my suitcase, my pedals, my violin, and I could do an opening show that didn’t pay that much.

I also wanted to be able to control my ensemble. It was kind of in response to my band, Jupiter One. I was tired of feeling compelled to put drums and a bass on songs. A band always brings the songs to a certain level. When I opened for Regina Spektor, I realized that I had a chance to strip the songs down to their core with just the voice and the accompanying instruments. That’s kind of her approach. It’s really effective.

CM: Had you developed Kishi Bashi’s sound when you left Jupiter One? Or did you leave and then come up with your solo act?

KI: I left it to do Regina Spektor and Of Montreal. Of Montreal was a big inspiration to me—just how crazy their music is. Switching to violin was a new thing for me. I had to figure out what I was really good at to stand out in the sea of songwriters. I didn’t realize until recently that violin is something I did well. It’s always been my money gig.

CM: I know you’re classically trained. Do you still listen to classical music?

KB: Yeah, I still do. I listen to a lot of contemporary classical music. Like Dmitri Shostakovich and Toru Takemitsu. They’re great composers. Do I listen to it intensely, probably not?  I listen to a lot of pop music, whatever you probably listen to.

CM: You did a few covers on the 7” EP you recently put out. Why did you choose to cover other people?

KB: I’m not very prolific. I’m pretty lazy. I recently thought I needed to release some new material, and my label was asking about it. When you’re an artist, regardless of how well your album sells, you need to be active and recording in the studio. I got some free studio time at a great studio called Avatar in exchange for this film crew being able to film it. It’s a pretty expensive, A-list studio. I invited some string players who are my friends to play, and I know how to arrange my string quartet. So I said, “Let’s do this. Let’s take this opportunity to do something unique.” And I really love those songs that I covered. They’re songs that I love to play.

CM: You have a new album in the works, too. What’s the update on it.

KB: I hadn’t even started thinking about my new album until a few months ago, but now it’s almost done. Once I start, my ideas tend to flow. It’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty upbeat.

CM: Bob Boilen and I will be excited. He’s how I found your first album.

KB: He’s a huge supporter. He really gave me my start. I didn’t get into SXSW. But they have a lot of unofficial shows and parties, which are almost as big as the events. So I did a bunch of those. And NPR Music named me as one of the top four artists they saw at SXSW. I think they liked the story of the underdog, of how I didn’t get in. But it really got people to my shows. It got me a great management team, a booking agent. I’m really thankful to him.

Photo By Kevin Raos

Home Page Photo By Casey Roberts


Caroline McDonald

Caroline McDonald

My first memory is of singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” quietly to myself during preschool naptime. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Nashville where an instrument lives in every home, but music has gripped me for as long as I can remember.

After dabbling in many parts of the music industry—recording studios, PR, management, labels, publishing—I’m expanding into music journalism because I’m yet to find anything more rewarding that finding and sharing new music.

A longtime sucker for girls with guitars, my musical taste unabashedly follows the songwriting lineage of Dolly Parton and includes Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Neko Case. But not to pigeonhole myself, my music love is big love that stretches from R.L. Burnside to Animal Collective to Lord Huron.

I’ve recently moved home to Nashville after living in Boston and Big Sur for several years. I’d forgotten how music pours onto the streets ten hours a day, seven days a week. I’m honored to share the creative explosion happening here. If your band is in the area or of the area, please reach out!
Caroline McDonald

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