As part of our Austin City Limits' coverage, we're re-running this interview with Joyful Noise artist Kishi Bashi before his date at Radio Radio and the Texas fest.Our cover subject, Kishi Bashi, the slightly reorganized stage name of multi-instrumentalist K. Ishibashi, is known to most as a member of Athens, Ga. collective of Montreal and founder of NYC new wave group Jupiter One. However, it is his debut solo effort 151a that has truly distinguished this talented violist and occasional beatboxer. He spoke to me on the phone from his home in Virginia about his new album (funded through Kickstarter).
He’ll release his debut effort with yet another side project on Joyful Noise in late 2012, will continue touring both with of Montreal and as a solo artist.
NUVO: You’re currently wrapping up a tour with of Montreal, correct?
Ishibashi: It was great, very rewarding. A lot of stuff happened in the last few months. I just haven’t had time to really think about anything but getting off tour.
NUVO: Briefly sketch out your musical background.
Ishibashi: I started classical with violin (age 7) and piano, and kept up violin all through high school. At some point I got into new age music and heavy metal. I played guitar, like every other kid does. In college I studied jazz and improvisation a lot. I went to Cornell for two years and Berklee College of Music for three years. That’s where I did a lot of composition; I was a film scoring major.
NUVO: You have a young daughter. Does she play music?
Ishibashi: Yeah, she plays violin. She’s really good — she’s 6.
NUVO: This album is so beautiful. How did the creative process progess?
Ishibashi: I went for a very positive feel for this album. I like dance music, I like all this other stuff. I like progressive music. I can take things to a really dark place. But for this album, I really focused on having a generally positive experience. I do like beautiful music. A lot of it has to do with my experience with classical music. I love classical music as much as I love other things; I’m a big Tchaikovsky, Beethoven fan. I grew up with that, that’s kind of who I am. I tried to tap from that.
NUVO: Your music is often described as pop, but it’s so much more than that.
Ishibashi: I’m not afraid of the word pop. I used to think pop music was cheesy, but pop just means it’s easy to listen to. I do write pop music. A lot of it came from my involvement with of Montreal. Since I became friends with Kevin Barnes, he tells me he writes pop music himself. I’m like, “Well if you write pop music, I guess I write pop music too.” It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s not something that’s just for myself, it’s more for everybody.
NUVO: Have you had any formal vocal training?
Ishibashi: I took one lesson once. I have one rock and roll vocal book that I looked at when I started losing my voice. I used to be a singer in a rock band where you literally had to scream. I got some street training, I guess.
NUVO: You learned from the streets.
Ishibashi: Yeah, (laughs) vocal training from the streets.
NUVO: When did you start beatboxing?
Ishibashi: I always did it kind of for fun. I kind of did it out of necessity actually —
NUVO: Beatboxed out of necessity?
Ishibashi: Yeah, you know. For the streets. Life or death. No, basically, I started my solo project and decided I’m going to do everything myself. One of the things I could do was beatbox, so I did that with the loops. It actually sounds pretty cool. It’s also a performance aesthetic. I don’t do it in the studio, I just do it on stage.
NUVO: Being part of a band, you’re a component of a whole musical production. When you’re doing everything yourself with a loop machine, you’re making all of those components yourself. Which experience do you prefer?
Ishibashi: When you’re in a rock band, like of Montreal or Jupiter One, it’s a total party. It’s a fix you have, creatively, as an entertainer. My thing right now, as a solo thing without a band, it’s equally if not more satisfying because you get to connect with your audience emotionally that you can’t if you’re in a band. Or at least not if you’re in a live band — my experience has all been with very loud, aggressive bands (laughs). Eventually I’m going to be a band, though.
NUVO: How will you change your live setup?
Ishibashi: I played with a drummer in Europe and that worked out really well. I’m going to start incorporating that into my set. I’ll probably have a tour in the summer, I’ll have maybe a drummer. Basically, it allows me to bring it up to a level that I can’t as a solo artist
NUVO: When did you make the move from New York City to where you are now (in Virginia)?
Ishibashi: New York’s pretty intense. It’s pretty cutthroat, everyone works so hard and they’re kind of desperate, hungry because it’s so expensive to live there. People don’t have any time, because they have to work to [be able to] create. It was a very interesting time. And I left it for that reason. It was literally too stressful for me. I live in Virginia now.
I spent time in Athens, Ga., where of Montreal is based. It’s kind of my second home. I got a taste of that life[in Athens], which is a great, bohemian place to be. It’s so cheap and everybody’s really nice and there’s a lot of music and a lot of musicians. There’s a utopia vibe for musicians. I got a taste of that and I left New York because I realized it was not that place for musicians. And that’s how I made the album, where I got the space to make it.