The past five years of work from violinist K Ishibashi has already resulted in a varied and discerning catalogue. After spending his formative years working as a touring musician for the likes of Regina Spektor and Of Montreal, his solo efforts under the playful signature Kishi Bashi has yielded work that meshed his classical music training with his predilection for left-of-center chamber pop. For his third studio album, Ishibashi stepped back from his fastidious sound, opting for a fresh yet direct course to his audience. The result is Sonderlust, an album full of heartened synths, stylized vocals, and strings that accent rather than govern the composition. Ishibashi talked to us about the reasoning behind his new sonic direction, what artists acted as his most recent inspiration, and how personal pain brought on a joyful outlook.
According to the press materials, your initial efforts to compose the new songs for Sonderlust were not working for you like they had in the past, saying that you “came up with the musical equivalent of fumes.” For a practiced musician, that must have been a terrifying place to be! What took place to pull you out of this creative block? Was it something you needed to change in your typical process or perhaps something that you needed to address personally?
I understood the dangers making an album that was uninspiring to myself. I was starting to experiment with more electronic and sample based textures, and as soon as i abandoned the idea that I should include “all my old tricks”, then it opened up a world of excitement. It was terrifying to try something new, but I also hoped that it would delight my listeners to join me on this new journey.
Your previous work under the Kishi Bashi name had a very strong classical influence, with your violin work as the focal point of most compositions. On Sonderlust, things seem more elementary and less fastidious, more focused on the melody rather than the individual instruments. Even the song titles are straightforward in comparing to past recordings. Was this part of the new methodology?
I did try and take a simpler approach to this album, and this was partly intentional, as I hired Chris Taylor [of Grizzly Bear fame] to help me produce it. I love the simple beauty of many of the albums he makes, and I knew he would help me achieve this.
The simple song titles are due to the fact that I wasn’t skirting around any whimsical ideas anymore, at least for this album. As I opened up my heart to the music, I just went for it and found that the simpler titles were better to get the point across.
The title of the album is based on a given definition of the word “sonder” is taken from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, stating it as “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…an epic story that continues invisibly around you”. Yet, the full album has an air of positivity. Do you feel the work here is inspired by sorrow or joy? Perhaps both?
The reason that I fell in love with [the definition of] “Sonder”, is that I wanted people to understand that I feel a deep connection to my listeners that may not have been apparent until this album. As much I poured my pain into this album, my hope is that my listeners may relate to some of it and perhaps bring them respite or joy. I made this album as relief for myself, but I also made it for my fans, many of whom are strangers to me.
Each song is a snapshot of a different time in my personal relationship, and that’s why it’s all over the place, from the honeymoon phase until the ultimate collapse.
Was there a particular style of music or were there any particular artists that helped shape your songwriting on Sonderlust?
As I got into more electronics and rhythmic textures, I tried to channel a lot of jazz/funk and soul music. I’ve always loved Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, and who doesn’t? But I never felt confident enough in my vocal ability to try and go there. Because I wanted to grow as an artist, I decided to go outside my vocal box a little bit to see how it went. I think “Say Yeah” and “Flame on Flame”, and “Honeybody” are examples of this foray.
Is there a song on Sonderlust that is a personal favorite?
I like listening to “Say Yeah”, but it’s one of the most challenging to play live because it has to be so funky to pull it off.
You are starting another tour soon. What can fans expect for this live performance?
I will be playing a lot of Wurlitzer and also we are trying some new acoustic vocal techniques.
Any cities you particularly enjoy performing in or visiting?
There are some particularly large venues that I’ve never headlined before, but I honestly look forward to all of them. I like all the shows, from small sweaty rock clubs to big theaters.
Any new artists or albums you would like to recommend to people?
I’ve recently discovered this amazing band Vulfpeck. They are incredible musicians and their recordings remind me of everything that I’ve been channeling for my new album. Steely Dan is as “white” as they sound and some of their tracks sound like Sly and the Family Stone or Earth Wind & Fire.
9/27: Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
9/28: Charlotte, NC @ Visulite
9/30: Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
10/1: Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore – Silver Spring
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
Sonderlust is out now.