Although somewhat of an unconventional songwriter, Kaoru Ishibashi – better known as Kishi Bashi – found himself in a funk of sorts when he began working on the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed second album, 2014’s Lighght (pronounced ‘light’). By relying on old techniques, Ishibashi tried to capture the magic that had inspired his material up to that point. It was only when he decided to shake up his own set of rules that album number three was able to come to life.
“With my previous endeavours, my songs always started with a violin loop,” he says. “From there, I would improvise and see what would come out of that. When I came off touring for Lighght, I began doing the same thing – but something was different this time. I found it to be completely uninspiring. I turned to Ableton Live, which is software that’s normally used in stuff like EDM. I’d been playing around with it for awhile, and soon enough I had created some samples that I was really excited about using. By doing that, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to make an album that was violin-based first and foremost. I had the freedom to do something different, and getting into that mindset really helped with my creativity.”
Entitled Sonderlust, Ishibashi created his most ambitious, intriguing collection of songs to date. Inspired by love, loss and an identity crisis of sorts; the album was released just two months before Ishibashi’s 41st birthday. While many may consider that a relatively late period of life to seek any form of reinvention, Ishibashi says that making Sonderlust allowed him to regain confidence in his own abilities as a performer, writer and multi-instrumentalist.
Kishi Bashi – Can’t Let Go, Juno
“I suppose I had this overbearing idea of what people expected of me,” he says. “When it came to the songs from my last two albums that were the most popular and the songs that people responded to the best were the really orchestral ones. Of course, that’s not all that I do – there’s also a lot of poppy, band-driven stuff on my albums as well. People might just think that I’m a violin player, but before anything else, I’m a musician. It made sense to try and make an album that was reflective of that. I was compelled to just go with my gut on this record. It’s definitely made me more confident in my abilities going forward – I mean, I could reinvent myself at the drop of a hat. I could make a country record next; who knows?”
Although Ishibashi produced a lot of Sonderlust himself, he felt an outside influence would allow the songs on the album to develop their full potential. It was at this point that Ishibashi enlisted the help of Chris Taylor – not to be confused with the Australian Chaser comedian of the same name. Taylor is best known as the bassist of American indie darlings Grizzly Bear, but has also forged into solo work under the moniker CANT; as well as producing albums for bands such as Department of Eagles and the Dirty Projectors. “I wanted a producer that was able to give my recordings a real high-fidelity sort of sound,” says Ishibashi. “I wanted to get out of that indie sound realm, if that makes any sense; and I think that everything Chris has recorded sounds amazing. I came prepared when I approached him – I had full-written and produced demos to show him – and he was able to offer a lot of guidance and help with adding and replacing different parts of each song. He’s such a great producer and a tasteful engineer, which can be really hard to find.”
Although a lot of key moments in Ishibashi’s life following the release of Lighght were influential in Sonderlust‘s lyric writing, the primary one was the breakdown and eventual dissolution of Ishibashi’s marriage. It’s worth noting that the general public was only made aware of this fact because of Ishibashi’s own admission – were it originally up to him, it would have been left a mystery. A chance encounter, however, made him change his mind on the matter.
“I wasn’t going to talk about it originally – I just wanted to leave it as it was and not really comment on it,” he says. “That changed when I was having a conversation with the president of the label I’m signed to, who’s actually become a pretty close friend. He sat me down and said ‘I’ve been listening to the lyrics of this record – they’re pretty dark, man. I know you’ve been going through a lot of shit, but I feel like you need to say something about it so that listeners have an idea of the context and can connect with what you’re going through.’ I was a little apprehensive about it – I’d never really done anything like it before; and I don’t really like to complain about my life. Still, I took that leap of faith and I feel like it really helped people to understand this album.”
Kishi Bashi – Say Yeah
Among the positive reception to Sonderlust since its release last year, Ishibashi’s Australian fans were quick to pick up a local reference of sorts in the song ‘Ode to My Next Life’. The opening lyric to the song sees Ishibashi sing: “Hail from the end of Adelaide/Many have failed, but I said I would be with you/Wherever you are/No matter how far.”
“I picked it because it’s a very far away place,” says Ishibashi on the South Australian reference. “I’ve only been there once, and there was nothing about my experience there that sparked the inspiration for this song. I honestly just chose it because it was the most distant place from my home that I could think of, and I really like the name of the city.”
Although a return to Adelaide is not on the cards, Ishibashi just finished up a run of Australian shows in support of Sonderlust. “It’s my third time in Australia overall,” he says.
“The last two times that I visited were really different – I came out and played with Regina Spektor and we got to play in all these luxurious theatres with all these days off that we spent in the beautiful summer. The next time, I came out and played solo in some really lovely clubs – although it was kinda cold when I came through. This time will be different again – I’m bringing along my band for the very first time, which is exciting. I’ll be playing with a banjo player and a drummer. My banjo player, Mike, is actually going to be opening the shows as well with his project Tall Tall Trees. As for me, I’ll be playing a lot more keyboards; and I’ll still be singing, playing violin and looping. It sounds really great with the three of us, so we’re excited to share that with you.”