MusicMusic Features

Kishi Bashi Hunkers Down in Athens

If ever there was an apt time to reach someone for a phone interview, Flagpole stumbled upon it when we dialed up Kishi Bashi, or Kaoru Ishibashi, the violin virtuoso and sought-after collaborator who has worked with artists like of Montreal, Regina Spektor and Sondre Lerche.

You see, Ishibashi—or K, as he’s known to his friends—was not far from Norfolk, VA, his longtime home, winding his way down the East Coast toward Athens, his new home, where he’ll cap off a tour at the 40 Watt on Oct. 4.

“I was seeking a change,” he explains. “Somewhere I could put up my studio. It’s been pretty ideal, since many of the engineers, artists and producers I work with live [in Athens].”

But no matter where home is, Ishibashi hasn’t been spending much time there over the past few years. Since releasing his debut solo album 151a last year (and performing at the Flagpole Athens Music Awards last summer), he’s spent a great deal of time on the road, promoting the record both here and in Japan.

NPR named Kishi Bashi 2012’s “Artist of the Year,” and he truly earned the title—not only through his music, but through the other forms of art he weaves into his performances. Last spring, he had local artist Dana Jo Cooley (she of the Love Shack Bus Shelter and the Flagpole Athens Music Award trophies) create a set of whimsical trees for him to play among onstage.

“I got it from of Montreal,” Ishibashi says of his interest in creating little worlds onstage. “They’re dedicated not just to a sound experience, but also a visual assault. A lot of bands think it’s all about the music, and a lot of it is, but on the other half of it, it’s also a show. I think creating a world makes a difference. It also helps me chronicle what tour it is, in a way. I like to have each tour be a little different.”

Ishibashi is also a master of the music video, from the poignant stop-motion animation he conceived with former Pixar wizard Anthony Scott for his song “I Am the Antichrist to You” to a delightfully strange collaboration with his sister-in-law and Japanese girl group Tokyo Cheer Party for “It All Began with a Burst.”

“My sister-in-law is a manager in Japan, and she works with some of those girl groups,” says Ishibashi. “I suggested, ‘What if those girls lip-sync to my video?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah!'”

His sister-in-law choreographed dance moves and transcribed the song’s English lyrics into a sort of homophonous Japanese gibberish, so Tokyo Cheer Party could memorize the song. Ever the fan of layering, Ishibashi then translated the gibberish back into English, overlaying the video with nonsensical subtitles. The resulting video sports some of the oddball innocence of Michel Gondry—a favorite artist of Ishibashi’s.

After a year of touring solo to support 151a, Ishibashi recently added a drummer to his live lineup. It’s no surprise that he’d want one; from the beginning, he has fixated on creating an incredible amount of sound—with vocals, both in Japanese and English, hand claps, beatboxing, virtuosic violin work—and using enough looping pedal layers to make your head spin.

If all the elements listed above sound a little strange to put together, consider this: fully one-third of 151a has been used in commercials, from “Bright Whites” appearing in a Windows 8 ad to “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons” showing up in a spot for Smart Cars in the U.S. And if the arbiters of corporate marketing money trust the guy to sell their products, you know the music’s got to be catchy.

“I’m so glad that people don’t care anymore!” Ishibashi says, recalling when fans of indie bands used to flame artists for “selling out” their art. “of Montreal got it bigtime with their Outback Steakhouse commercial,” he continues. “I was mad at them before I knew them. But now, record sales are so slow, and touring is the only way to go, and I think fans are more supportive. It’s a valuable resource.”

And just as touring and the occasional ad placement are valuable resources for musicians, so is Kishi Bashi a valuable addition to the local music community. Go out and support him this weekend. It is, after all, the neighborly thing to do.

WHO: Kishi Bashi, Fancy Colors, Tin Cup Prophette
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 4, 9 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $12 (adv.), $15 (door)