INTERVIEW: Kishi Bashi Talks About Challenges, Different Approaches And Inspirations Behind New Album 'Sonderlust'
    • THURSDAY, AUGUST 18, 2016

    • Posted by: Mandi Dudek

    On paper, K. Ishibashi, better known as his pseudonym Kishi Bashi, is a orchestral pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrument who lives in Athens, Georgia. He has toured as the violinist with Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche and Of Montreal and was the founder and vocalist of the New York outfit, Jupiter One. But when K decided to go solo in 2012, he became a extraordinary cosmic conductor, a creative mastermind, and a storyteller through the sounds and lyrics of his music.

    In his debut-album, 151a, was self-produced and self-recorded in his parent's basement in the town of Norfolk, Virginia, where K grew up. 151a is full of dreamy violin melodies and layers of sounds to create a rich orchestral feel while his vocals light up each track. Each song is like a chapter from a romantic novel creating lucid imagery and feelings of both flourishing love and heartbreak that take you through the journey of a new relationship.

    K's sophomore album, Lighght, was also self-produced and brings you on an exhilarating psycho-spiritual adventure, contrary to the love story of 151a. It introduces new sounds of electro-pop with surprising tempo changes, catchy melodies and layering, looping and distorting of sounds. But for Kishi Bashi's third album, Sonderlust, he takes a new approach by working with producer, Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear), hiring outside musicians and toning down his usual layering technique - bringing his most challenging, intimate and unique album yet.

    I was able to chat with Kishi Bashi when he was home in Athens, Georgia, where he moved to a few years ago for the vibrant indie-rock scene. He had just wrapped up scoring Red Bull's follow-up film for "The Art of Flight." I wanted to dive into the creation of Sonderlust and K told me ways that he gets out of creative ruts, the blog and web series by John Koenig (that I'm currently obsessing over), and what's next for Kishi Bashi.

    Mandi: Where'd the name Sonderlust come from?

    Kishi Bashi: It's a new word that's based off of another word. "Sonder" was created by an artist named John Koenig and he has a blog called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and its really, really amazing. He will spend some time to create a new word and then he'll write a poem that describes the word. It's usually about a human condition or some unique aspect of humanity that you don't really have a word for. Its kind of provocative and really interesting. He also makes these wonderful videos to accompany them.

    M: Ah, thats amazing!

    K: Yeah, I was kind of obsessed with it. Because what is a real word? The more you use a word, the more real it becomes.

    M: I'm really into that. I'm definitely going to look into John Koenig.

    K: You should! Especially since your'e a writer. I got really obsessed with his blog and when I was looking for a name for the album, I found one word that really resonated and it was "sonder". "Sonder" is a word [Koenig] created and it's basically the realization that another individual - a stranger to you - might have just as complex and as rich of a life as yourself. It's basically an understanding of a bigger universe with interconnected things. You know? A different worldview of strangers around you how they have deep lives in the same universe around you. And "sonderlust" is just a play onto that where it's basically the desire to find that connection or realization to feel a part of this vast universe of personalities and minds.

    M: Thats incredible. Would you say each of your new album's songs follow the definition of "sonderlust"?

    K: I think some of them derive from it. There's complications that arose from connections. A lot of it has to do with the mysteries of the other person - not you. In a way, it's not that specific but it's definitely provocative enough to make that connection - if you wanted to.

    M: Did anything specific inspire the writing process? Personally or Musically?

    K: Yeah, musically - it came from a different approach than what I've previously done. I tried to write music that I was good at and what was expected of me and I wasn't really coming up with anything. I started using this software, Ableton Live, and it came up with a lot of crazy sounds for the beginning of the songs. So I just went with it.

    M: And how was it working with a producer like Chris Taylor?

    K: Really cool, he's a good cook so we had a great Thanksgiving dinner.

    [both laughs]

    K: But he's great and really chill. He kept the reins in and kept me from going really crazy because usually when I have trouble, I'll just layer and layer it. And I wanted to work with him because he has great taste and he's also an engineer so he could tell me when it was too much.

    M: Thats great. Matt Chamberlain was also on the album, right?

    K: Matt Chamberlain is a super famous studio drummer. He's on a bunch of Of Montreal, of course, and Fiona Apple and he has a crazy history so he's one of the most sought after studio drummers right now. He's a buddy of mine but his involvement was being a complete profession [laughs]. He has really amazing precision lines and it was a complete breeze to work with him. It was amazing.

    M: That's awesome! So besides Matt Chamberlain on the drums, do you play the rest of the instruments that I can hear on the album?

    K: I had a great bass player in LA playing with Matt Chamberlain. I play the keyboard parts and all the vocals, too. [both laughs] And I did all the weird sound effects but yeah, I played pretty much everything else. But the core bass and drums were hired guys who are incredible musicians.

    M: Ok, awesome! Where was the album recorded?

    K: I had a period last fall where I pushed it all out in about two months. I demoed in my house - I have a studio in my house - and then brought the demos to Chris Taylor in LA because he lives over there. And I finished the rest of it in LA - the strings and such. I have these great Hollywood strings and that's also where I recorded the drums and bass but a lot of the guitars I recorded back home [in Athens]. It all happened really quickly over the fall. And I had to mix and master it in New York.

    M: Wow, how long did the album take altogether?

    K: Four or five months? It was pretty quick. I have a lot of friends who were jealous saying, "I can't believe you finished it that fast!"

    M: Yeah, thats incredible! I can't believe that either. [laughs] And when did the lyrics come into play? Were you writing the whole time?

    K: Yeah, I'm usually really lazy with the lyrics. It's usually the last thing that I do. I was writing in LA, sometimes, while recording at the same time. A lot of times, I'll do a verse then a chorus and Ill realize at the last minute that I need to write another verse. A lot of second verse writing happens later in the game.

    M: So the lyrics must come to you pretty easily?

    K: Yes and no. The lyrics come to me in sound form first. I'd put some stuff together and depending on what I think would be appropriate for the song then I would weave them into a story.

    M: Do the sounds mainly help you get out creative roadblocks or how do you handle any ruts when writing?

    K: I'll try to play with different instruments. I have a lot of synthesizers and keyboards and weird guitars so basically any instrument that'll pull a song out of me is totally worth it. Whether it's to buy or borrow. I started playing with Guster - they write really great songs - but I opened up for them. One of their main songwriters was like, "Yeah, the best thing you can do is learn your instrument and it'll inspire you. If you can write one song from that instrument then its totally worth it." But also keep in mind - songs can't be forced out of you, so you have to be kind of idle. In my case, and I've heard its the case for others too, you have to make your mind bored so that your mind entertains itself. And that's where I feel like a lot of the juice is.

    M: That's so true! I try to do that whenever I want to come up with new ideas as well. Are you working on any new projects?

    K: Yeah, Im working on not being burnt out!

    [both laughs]

    M: So you're taking a little break for a while? That's good. You definitely deserve it.

    Sonderlust will be released September 15th via Joyful Noise Records (which you can pre-order HERE) and Kishi Bashi will be on the road this fall to perform the songs from Sonderlust live. Make sure you listen to "Say Yeah" from Sonderlust, which can be found at the top of the page and the tour dates and locations and the second single, "Hey Big Star" can be found below:

    9/27: Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
    9/28: Charlotte, NC @ Visulite
    9/30: Carrboro, NC @ Cats Cradle
    10/1: Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore
    10/2: New York, NY @ Webster Hall
    10/3: Boston, MA @ Royale
    10/4: Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
    10/6: Toronto, ON @ MOD Club
    10/8: Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom & Tavern
    10/9: Pontiac, MI @ Crofoot Ballroom
    10/10: Chicago, IL @ Vic Theatre
    10/11: St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
    10/12: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue Mainroom
    10/14: Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
    10/15: Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
    10/16: Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
    10/18: Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
    10/19: Vancouver, BC @ The Fox Cabaret
    10/20: Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
    10/21: San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic
    10/22: Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst Atrium
    10/23: San Diego, CA @ Irenic
    10/24: Los Angeles, CA @ The Belasco Theater
    10/26: Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
    10/28: San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
    10/29: Austin, TX @ Mohawk
    10/30: Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
    11/1: New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
    11/2: Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse

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