For K. Ishibashi, known by his pseudonym Kishi Bashi, music and life can be summed up by a single Japanese phrase: “Ichi-go ichi-e.”
Ishibashi believes so strongly in the phrase (which loosely translates to “one time, one meeting”) that he titled his debut solo album 151a, a play on words with the phrase.
“When said aloud in Japanese [151a] sounds like ‘ichi-go ichi-e,’ which means the beauty of a unique performance or meeting between two people in a moment,” Ishibashi said. “It’s a really huge influence [for me].”
Ishibashi will be playing the Troubador on Thursday in support of his debut album, which has been a long time coming. Before going solo, Ishibashi studied and worked as a violinist and toured with artists such as Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche and Of Montreal. Additionally, he was a founding member of an indie-rock band, Jupiter One.
He cites his experience on tour with these artists and as a member of a band as the impetus for releasing a solo album.
“[Spektor, Lerche and Of Montreal] inspired me to break out on my own because of the freedom they enjoy and the versatility in touring and in the studio,” Ishibashi said.
As for recording on his own instead of remaining a member of his band, he said that he decided it would give him more creative freedom.
“A rock band is great because, you know, you have all these other musicians to feed off of, but sometimes it kind of drags you down too,” Ishibashi said. “If your vision of music is strong enough, why let anyone else compromise it?”
Ishibashi is under no delusions, however, that the success he has found thus far was an individual effort. He is completely honest about the fact that without the influence of the artists he worked with before, or the recognition of respected individuals in the industry, he might not be where he is today.
“I’m really indebted to [NPR’s All Songs Considered] for launching my career,” Ishibashi said. “[NPR] really hyped up my SXSW showcases last year. … That helped start the long ramp up to where I am right now.”
Host and creator of NPR’s All Songs Considered, Bob Boilen, championed Kishi Bashi as an underdog when he found the musician playing unofficial parties during the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. From there, Boilen fully supported Ishibashi’s career and named him “Favorite New Artist of 2012.”
It is really no wonder that Boilen awarded him the title, Ishibashi’s musical style is strong, unique and decidedly new. The creative process behind Ishibashi’s distinct sound relies on inspiration from many sources — Japanese culture being just one.
He chuckled when asked if Japanese culture extended from inspiration for his album name to inspiration for his music.
“I would say definitely not — Japanese [culture] is just a part of me. ‘Ichi-go ichi-e’ was actually a huge influence for me because it means, basically, one moment in time is unique so enjoy it, even with its imperfections. That kind of helped me create this album,” Ishibashi said. “So in a creative sense, Japanese culture has definitely influenced me, but musically, I would say I have a pretty broad spectrum of studies I’ve done over the years.”
Tracks such as “I Am the Antichrist to You” and “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptons,” both songs on 151a, demonstrate the variety that his studies have afforded him in his musical range. Both tracks feature his extensive studies in classical violin, but in different ways. In “I Am the Antichrist to You” the violin creates a sweeping, mournful sound, while in “Chester’s Burst Over the Hamptions” the upbeat, quick pace of the violin evokes a celebratory and triumphant feel. His studies in violin are merely one other aspect of his multi-faceted style; Ishibashi’s album clearly demonstrates the breadth of his musical interests, as well as his creativity and willingness to experiment with the layering of different sounds.
“I pile on a lot of stuff, kind of oversaturate my tracks at first, and then I peel away this and that. I go for over-intensity and then cut back,” Ishibashi said of his method for producing the multilayered, but still effervescent and harmonious, tracks on 151a.
“Bright Whites,” a track from the album, provides a great example of this airy and whimsical layering. The upbeat, cheerful song begins with jovial chanting in Japanese. Guitar, drums, tambourine, clapping, and other electronically manipulated sounds then join the voices. The chanting fades out while the rest of the instrumentation remains and his singing cuts in, swooping in and swirling about, enchanting the listener with his playful words.
This technique is carried over into his concerts, but Ishibashi’s experimentation adapts to the dynamic pressure of a live audience.
“In studio there’s an infinite amount of time to perfect things, [but] in a live performance, it’s more of a human thing,” he said. “It’s like sports, kind of. The goal of sports is really human triumph — to win — so when I perform live I have that mentality, to do the best that I can.”
Though he feels the pressure to please the audience, Ishibashi still stays true to the idea of “ichi-go ichi-e,” reveling in the opportunity to explore different musical perspectives based on the audience before him.
“I feed off of the energy of the crowd. I’ll try things out — if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, sorry, maybe next time,” Ishibashi said.
This attitude of celebrating each moment, imperfections and all, might be just what makes Ishibashi’s album and live performances so refreshing and exwhilarating.
As for Ishibashi’s future, old fans and newcomers alike can be sure to expect plenty more thoughtful moments and performances. After wrapping up his tour this spring, he will begin writing and recording his second album.
“From the summer on, I really get to concentrate on my next album, I’m actually pretty excited about it, I have a lot of new ideas,” Ishibashi said.
Kishi Bashi has had plenty of achievements to celebrate over the past year — but if his here-and-now philosophy is any indication, the future holds plenty of impressive developments in store.