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Kishi Bashi’s Message of Empathy

The esteemed solo artist discusses his new album ‘Omoiyari’

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Kishi Bashi’s Message of Empathy

With his new album, Omoiyari, Kishi Bashi chose a title that emphasizes empathy.

“Omoiyari is a Japanese word about having compassion and empathy for another person,” says the acclaimed solo artist. “It’s a word I picked because of the biculturalness of it to me. And then, I also think having empathy and doing something for another person is still such an important thing.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Kishi Bashi will make his way to the Vogue, visiting in support of 2019’s Omoiyari. Signed to locally based label Joyful Noise Recordings, Kishi Bashi is no stranger to Indianapolis, having performed at events like Fountain Square Music Festival, INfusion Music Festival, and more over the years.

Ahead of his upcoming show, Seth Johnson caught up with Kishi Bashi over the phone, discussing his new album and much more.

SETH JOHNSON: I’ve read that you went to Berklee College of Music to study film scoring. What was it that originally sparked your interest in film scoring?

KISHI BASHI: I always liked symphonic music, and I think film scores are like a bridge between orchestral music and pop music. Like, John Williams is a pop melody writer, ya know? So there was that, and I also think I wanted a job. [laughs] I was going into jazz, which was non-lucrative. So I think I just wanted something that was slightly technical. But it also gave me the opportunity to study composition, which was something I had always been interested in.

SETH JOHNSON: Were you around classical music a lot growing up?

KISHI BASHI: Yeah because I was a violinist. I also did like film scores. I remember there was a movie called The Abyss that I had the soundtrack for, and I listened to it so much. I think that was done by Alan Silvestri, who actually went to Berklee.

SETH JOHNSON: In 2016, you performed at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in conjunction with an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra-curated festival called INfusion Music Festival. That being said, I’m curious to hear whether or not you stay up to date on the world of contemporary classical music?

KISHI BASHI: I studied minimalism, but that’s probably as far as I got in my studies. Ultimately, improvisation was my big thing on violin, so I really got into that. Like, jazz violin and all that kind of stuff.

So, no. I don’t follow the contemporary classical music world too much. I just write pop songs. [laughs]

SETH JOHNSON: How did you originally get connected with Karl Hofstetter and Joyful Noise Recordings?

KISHI BASHI: I made my debut album, and I was going to release it on my own. I did a Kickstarter video. Somebody sent it to David Woodruff [now with Joyful Noise], and he sent it to Karl. At that time, it was just Karl and this guy Shawn Woolfork, and they were working out of his house or something like that.

I remember him calling me and being like, “Hey. I like this album. I wanna put it out.” I liked his vibe, and he seemed genuinely interested in the album. So that’s how it started, and it really grew from there.

SETH JOHNSON: What has your relationship with Joyful Noise meant over the years?

KISHI BASHI: It’s been great. I love Karl, his business acumen, and how realistic he is with every release that he puts out. He likes to put out art and has a lot of artistic integrity with all the releases, and I’m all for that. He’s always supported all my ideas.

SETH JOHNSON: What originally inspired the concept behind your latest album, Omoiyari?

KISHI BASHI: Long story short, I was commissioned to do a piece about the Japanese-American internment, so I went around doing that. It took me a good year to travel and film things. I wanted to make a documentary first, so that was my artistic goal. And then, alongside the movie, I wanted to make an album. So the album really functions as the first phase of this larger artistic vision.

Movies take forever to make, so I decided just to be like, “I’m at least going to finish the album first.” So I collected all the songs I had written during the two years of filming, went into the studio, and put them out.

SETH JOHNSON: What parallels do you see between the Japanese-American internment of World War II and the current state of xenophobia in America today? Does Omoiyari reflect on that at all?

KISHI BASHI: The album is basically about reinterpreting history in an artistic way so that contemporary people and young people can learn that story again. You can’t lock up civilians without due process. That’s what happened 75 years ago, and in many ways, it’s happening today.

From a contemporary lens, you can’t really judge the kinds of injustices that happened during World War II because it was a different time. But you can learn lessons and not make the same mistakes. You can also be inspired by how resilient people were back then. And as much as people didn’t seem to care, there were a lot of people who did care and were shining examples of the best that human beings could be.

SETH JOHNSON: You mentioned the film is still in the works. Can you share any more details on what people can expect from it?

KISHI BASHI: We’re still editing. We have various versions of it and are trying to get it into film festivals for early next year. The big plan is to come around next fall to all the markets and do a little tour with the movie and have a live element to it. Basically, I’ll just want all my fans to come out, watch the movie, and catch up with everything I’ve learned in the past couple years. I’ll have a Q&A afterwards, and will connect them with local community organizations and what they can actually do in their community.

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Seth Johnson can be reached by email at, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.

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