Photo Credit: Kaden Shallat
Athens-based violinist and songwriter Kaoru Ishibashi is no stranger to pushing the limits of pop music. Over the past few years, Ishibashi has augmented the touring bands of Norwegian artist Sondre Lerche and New York-based singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, as well as Athens’ own of Montreal. But he’s most known for his stunning work as Kishi Bashi; the project’s orchestral pop teeters between classical sophistication and Classic City revelry.
Ishibashi’s 2012 solo debut, 151a, reached a huge audience after its songs were heard in commercials for Microsoft, Sony and others. His most recent album, 2014’s Lighght (pronounced “light”), charted at No. 52 on the Billboard 200.
While Ishibashi has established himself as a bold, boundary-testing musician—his ability to loop intricate vocal melodies with equally complex instrumental counterparts live puts many like-minded performers to shame—he’ll experiment with convention in a different manner at the Georgia Theatre on Apr. 28, where a 21-piece string orchestra will accompany him onstage.
“I love the Athens audience,” Ishibashi says from the road, where he is currently on tour with college-rock mainstays Guster. “They are very much like me. They're not pretentious, but they do have high standards.”
Indeed, after joining up with of Montreal, Ishibashi chose to carve out a home in Athens. Last year, Jittery Joe’s even released a special Kishi Bashi blend, Royal Daark, which paid homage to the Seattle-born, Virginia-bred transplant. Ishibashi says Athens’ tight-knit musical community and openness to creative experimentation provide an ideal testing ground for a foray like the Georgia Theatre performance.
I love the Athens audience. They're not pretentious, but they do have high standards.
The one-off show, scheduled in between days supporting Guster, will feature advanced members of UGA’s orchestral program, as well as opener Chamber Chanchers, a local Middle Eastern music group led by Ishibashi’s touring drummer, Phillip Mayer. While the seated concert will place Ishibashi in a different setting than he’s grown accustomed to of late, he hopes the performance will bring a greater appreciation for a sound he has long enjoyed and employed.
“Although Athens is a great indie rock town, I'm hoping that this concert will inspire people to appreciate the rich, orchestral textures that this type of ensemble provides,” he says.
As Ishibashi’s live show continues to grow in scope, at times rivaling the theatrical exploits of Kevin Barnes’ troupe, one wonders what the stringed performance might mean for the virtuosic violinist’s next solo outing. He says he plans to set some time aside post-tour to start working on a new album, but he’s mum on specific details.
While Lighght found Ishibashi dabbling with electronic, funk and disco elements—as witnessed on the peppy four-on-the-floor of “The Ballad of Mr. Steak”—that album’s closer, “In Fantasia,” featured an intricate string arrangement; was it perhaps a sign of things to come?
Of course, deviating from people’s expectations has become Ishibashi’s calling card. The upcoming orchestral show continues this trend and ups the ante even further.
“This will be the next step,” he says. “I wanted to do it in Athens, because I have such strong support here from the community.”
WHO: Kishi Bashi with Strings, Chamber Chanchers
WHERE: Georgia Theatre
WHEN: Tuesday, Apr. 28, 7 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $25