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Feature: Kishi Bashi embraces his vision as solo artist

10 years ago, K Ishibashi was founding a band with Zac Colwell called Jupiter One. But after years of recording and touring, K decided it was time for a break from the band to gain full control of his vision. “I wrote a lot of the songs but it’s still…music by committee, which was kind of frustrating at times,” Ishibashi explains over the phone as we discuss his debut album as Kishi Bashi, 151a.

With his synth-pop band on an indefinite hiatus, Ishibashi moved his wife and 6-year old daughter from New York City to Virginia. “Living in New York with a family as a musician was just terrible.” The move liberated the musician from the financial pressures of one of the world’s most expensive cities. “It gave me time to just experiment in the studio and create my own music.” That experimentation is clear throughout, and essential to, 151a. Where Jupiter One made fairly straightforward indie rock music, Kishi Bashi’s music is layered, intricate and wondrously uplifting.

Born in Seattle and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, K has embraced his Japanese lineage by utilizing the language (which he speaks fluently) as a way to make his music “as layered as possible.” He also uses loop pedals to add to the album’s intricacies. These pedals have “double-speed and half-time recording capabilities, so I can instantly make these crazy, wild, freaky explosions.” The beauty of the Japanese language and K’s looping combine to create an undeniably joyful energy throughout 151—perhaps best exemplified by standout track “Bright Whites.”

We also must not ignore what K is capable of with a violin in his hands. After two years at Cornell for engineering, K dropped out and found himself at the renowned Berkelee College of Music studying film composition and jazz violin. Having played in orchestras and string quartets in high school, he was now learning more about improvisation. That experience would end up coming in handy when he began working with Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, who inspired him to experiment with his instrument and with vocal layering. All of this—expert violin playing, looping, and vocal layering—comes together to make 151a one of the more uniquely beautiful albums in recent memory.

The nature of his recorded music has made performing live a bigger challenge for K than it might be for other artists, but that challenge helps inspire a more rewarding live experience. In the past, Kishi Bashi’s live show has been a solo affair, but K is getting some help for his current North American tour. Mike Savino from Tall Tall Trees and Elizabeth Ziman from Elizabeth and the Catapult will join him, and the three of them will be in Philadelphia next Wednesday (February 6th) to play at the First Unitarian Church. Stream 151a here and pick up a ticket for the show here.

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