Many know Norfolk multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi (or K Ishibashi) through his relationships with other artists. He’s a founding member of Jupiter One, who toured with the likes of Regina Spektor and Sondre Lerche before settling into his current position as a touring member of beloved Athens, GA, freak-funk band Of Montreal.
But with the release of his first solo effort, 151a, Ishibashi is preparing to step into the spotlight himself. While crafting the complex string arrangements on Of Montreal’s latest record, Paralytic Stalks, Ishibashi simultaneously accomplished the hefty task of crafting a debut LP completely from scratch, writing, producing and performing all of the instruments himself. Recently, CMJ got the chance to sit down with Ishibashi before an Of Montreal gig at Webster Hall—in which he performed as an opening act, as well as with the band—and chat about the new album, his stellar fans and what it’s like in the “mind-fuck” world of Kevin Barnes.
How’s the tour been going so far?
It’s great. It’s almost wrapping. I think we’re mostly through it.
You do your solo set, and then you come back out with Of Montreal. How are the two sets different?
They’re completely different. Basically, when I do my set, it’s basically by myself. It’s softer, since there are no drums, but I beatbox.
151a has a lot of sounds, and it’s really lush. Do you think the album translates well to a live setting?
I mean, I treat it as two different things. I really win over the crowd with my live show, so that people are like, “This is cool,” and check the album out. I have a pretty aggressive show.
This album was funded through Kickstarter, and you passed the limit; you asked for $12,000, and you got $20,000. How did that come about?
I think Kickstarter is great. It’s this independent way to fund things. Traditionally, there’d be a label, and if you don’t have a label, you’re kind of screwed. You need a lot of money to promote your album and a publicist, and you have to hire a radio promotion campaign, and there’s all this cost. So traditionally, it’s a pretty uphill battle if you don’t have a label. So this was a great thing because it was a way for your fans to help. People want to see you succeed, and fans want to see their favorite artists succeed, so they’re really generous. And like, Kickstarter, in their info thing, they mention that the average pledge will be $25. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but a lot of people have that money and they want to help you, so I found people to be really generous.
It sounds like this project was done almost as a partnership with your fans.
It’s a really new way to do things. CD sales are going down, and digital sales are too. This way, it’s kind of like a pre-sale, and the fans feel like they’re a part of this recording process, whereas usually they just get the album and let that be it. This way, they’re actually supporting it directly.
How did you come about crafting the sort of playful sound on the record?
It was really organic. I kind of limited myself in really starting with violin as the creation point of these songs. So it’s not like we have songs that are verse-chorus-verse-chorus. I took the approach of saying, “Man, I’m going to have to do this by myself with the looping thing, so let me do something where I can make a convincing song that’s loop-based.”
I noticed that a lot of the songs sort of morph, like “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons.” How did you work with the flow of the songs? Did you go in with a set concept in mind, or did the songs create themselves?
Well, you want to know a secret about that song?
The violin part in the beginning of the song is the same one as “Manchester,” only sped up. I was playing around with it. I do a lot of processing, so I was thinking about what would sound interesting, and that was really cool sounding, so I got inspired by that sound. So that’s how that came about.
What were you listening to when you made this album?
Someone asked me that the other day! I actually don’t listen to music. I mean, I listen to a lot of music, but for some reason, I haven’t heard any new music recently. A lot of my music comes from being a career musician, so I play the music of Regina Spektor and Sondre Lerche. Of Montreal is a huge inspiration too. I was a huge fan before I joined, and I worked on this album. That’s how I got to be friends with Kevin Barnes.
Kevin Barnes played some roles in this album too, right?
On the [Room For Dream] EP, he played some stuff. I kept him in mind. I wanted his blessing, so I tried to push the envelope with my own creation. I’m a very traditional, simple-song type person, but when I started working with Kevin and doing a lot of production for Paralytic Stalks, I saw how he’s all about multi-layered and mind-fuck type of stuff. It’s pretty incredible how much of a creative force he is, and working with that band inspired me to just, on top of a beautiful song, have multiple layers so it’s interesting for multiple listens.
Did any of that carry over to your album?
Yeah. A lot of vocal layering, that’s inspired by his work. And the violin—I’m kind of lazy, so violin was always, like, my for-hire thing, since I’m good at it. It takes a long time to do that stuff, and I like to get paid, so it never occurred to me to do it for myself.
Are you going to be putting out more solo material soon?
Yeah, once I get a chance. I’m doing double duty right now, and I’m going to Europe in two weeks, so I’m in Of Montreal, but I’m also playing a lot of shows as Kishi Bashi.
Your daughter is featured in the album art. Does she inspire you musically?
She’s the focus of my life. She’s heard the album. She loves it. She heard it and said, “Daddy, your album’s awesome!” I tour a lot, and I have to explain to her that people want to hear my music and that I’m traveling, and she’s always like, “It’s OK! I want other people to hear it too!” It just melts my heart.
Photo by Adela Loconte
What’s her favorite song on the album?
Oh, I don’t know. She likes “Bright Whites.” She’s actually on there. In a few places you can hear her laughing. I think I was tickling her to get her to giggle. I was totally using my daughter. [laughs] I’m in my studio, and she likes to visit, and sometimes it’s annoying, but she also gets to be a part of it too.
What were some of your other sources of inspiration on these songs?
My inspiration is usually musical first. I think there are two types of songwriters. There are those like me, who form musical ideas and then turn them into stories. If I could get away with instrumentals, I’d probably do that, but I’m conscious of the power of words. I like the sound of words, and I try and do my best to turn it into something. For example, with Of Montreal, Kevin Barnes is a poet. I’m always in awe with how engaging his lyrics are. Which is why his fans are absolutely in love with him; it’s heartfelt, intelligent prose, which is something I’m working on. So most of my inspiration is musical, with efforts to turn it into a story.
How would you say that your solo work differs from your work with Regina Spektor, Of Montreal and other artists you’ve worked with?
Well, with Regina, I was just in her band, a hired gun. Of Montreal, I’m still one of this huge machine. Of Montreal is kind of unique in that it’s really Kevin’s music split up and dictated amongst the members of a rock band. So basically, it’s his vision turned into an actual musical form. Which is pretty incredible; I’ve never been part of something like that before. I also love performing violin and guitar, so it’s fun for me. But my solo stuff is my passion.