Kishi Bashi Goes for a Loop of the Ephemeral

BY Frank N. Carlson and Paula Rogo  August 16, 2012 at 1:58 PM EDT

Kaoru Ishibashi is no newcomer to the music scene. A native of Norfolk, Va., in 2003 he formed New York City indie rock outfit Jupiter One, and as a violinist he’s toured the globe with alt-folk act Regina Spektor and experimental rock group of Montreal.

But despite finding plenty of steady work as a professional musician, Ishibashi felt he’d landed in an artistic rut.

“It just got to be a little too much. I wasn’t doing exactly what I wanted to do,” Ishibashi says.

So last year, at age 35, facing what he describes as a mid-life crisis, and with a young daughter to consider, he traded the New York skyline for the Norfolk harbor, moved in with his parents — who are Japanese immigrants — and set about rediscovering his artistic self.

“It was probably the best thing, the best decision I ever made,” says the soft-spoken Ishibashi — who comprises the one-man band Kishi Bashi — backstage before a recent show at U St. Music Hall in Washington, D.C.

“My debut album, ’151a,’ is basically my return to a lot of creation,” he says.

That cryptic title, “151a,” points back to Ishibashi’s cultural roots, as well as forward to a new stage in his development as an artist. “’151a’ is a trick,” Ishibashi explains. “It’s a Japanese performance aesthetic that…literally translates as ‘one time, one meeting.’ And it’s basically the beauty of a one-time meeting with all its imperfections and randomness.”

“151a” is Ishibashi’s attempt to put aside anxieties about recording the perfect album and instead embrace experimentation, improvisation and growth as a modus operandi.

To that end, Ishibashi draws on a great many styles and techniques in his repertoire. Often drawing comparisons to Andrew Bird and Animal Collective, Ishibashi is a classically trained violinist who’s studied the violin’s use in improvisational jazz, swing and Indian music. Using loop pedals — which allow him to record and repeat samples on the fly — he elicits novel sounds as he bows, plucks and strums, layering both English and Japanese vocals over synthetic drums and claps to build powerful moments that belie his solitary presence.

Perhaps as much as anyone, Kishi Bashi exemplifies his particular time and place in music history. Developments in technology — and as a result, the music industry — have allowed him to build a band by himself, for himself, in his own creative image. That’s because despite the fullness of his sound, it’s him alone on the album. For the EP that preceded it — 2011′s “Room for a Dream” — he crowd-sourced funding from the website Kickstarter to self-produce before record label Joyful Noise took notice and signed him.

“It used to be that you would need a record label to tell all the world about your music, and then pockets of the world would find you and discover you,” he says. “But now with the Internet you can put your song online and there’s going to be people who literally, all around the world, gravitate towards your music…it’s completely empowering the independent musician.”

When it came to touring, though, Ishibashi chose to enlist friend and fellow musician Mike Savino, of the Brooklyn-based folk rock band Tall Tall Trees. Aside from alleviating loneliness on the road, he says having another performer on stage provides another avenue for adding variability to his music, and in doing so, again emphasize its transitory and effervescent nature.

“Each tour I go out on, it’s going to be a little different,” he says, “so I’m going to have him with me on this tour and then another tour I might have another band…so my crowd will see a different version of me each time.”

Watch Kishi Bashi perform “Atticus in the Desert” from his new album, “151a.”:

Kishi Bashi is now on tour. Click here for a list of upcoming concert dates.