Interview: Kishi Bashi on Violin Exploration
December 5, 2016
Sonic transcendence. Musical fluency. These are terms that come to mind when entering the world of multi-instrumentalist and songwriting mastermind, Kishi Bashi. Using the violin as his sword, the Seattle native pierces into musical territories yet to be conquered by his unique looping style and eclectic rhythms. Skilled is an understatement. Before he makes his way to Miami for the world premiere of his collaboration with Nu Deco Ensemble December 8th – 10th, we caught up with him about his love for the violin, snowboarding, and working with chamber orchestras. Check it out:
Prism: With a background in film scoring, do you attack an entire score holistically or in moving parts with the story? Is there a similarity between the making of a single song and that of an entire score?
Kishi Bashi: I think the first step is to compose music for some very important scenes in the movie, and then see if themes or sounds develop that the director and the composer are both excited about. Then, when you start composing other segments of the film, you keep those thematic elements in mind, and the score evolves from there. Writing a single song is pure music, so it really comes out of an abstract place for me. Sometimes it’s just magical.
P: Is there a specific sound or personality of the violin that made you gravitate toward it?
KB: It’s probably the closest to the human voice and the most expressive of any instrument. I’m sure I didn’t realize that at the time, but I started when I was very young, and there’s a lot of violin music that is fast and flashy and fun, which I enjoyed.
P: In what way do you use the violin to tell a story?
KB: The violin still is pure music and holds no narrative in my psyche. To me, words are still the most powerful storytellers. When I play emotional music on my violin, it’s completely spiritual and visceral and never has a story for me.
P: What kind of musical genres do you like to explore best with your music? The violin in particular?
KB: I love orchestral textures and I like to blend them into my song when possible. The violin is still a very soloistic instrument, so it’s taken me a while to be able to tame it so it can accompany my singing. I am dedicated to improvisation on the violin too, and I’m always encouraging young musicians to improvise, and I sneak for it into my songs and albums.
P: You’ve performed with a variety of acts–have there been any collaborations you’ve been particularly passionate about or that have left a mark on your music?
KB: I collaborated recently with the string sections of the Indianapolis Symphony with Time for Three and also the Denver Symphony at Red Rocks, and I was so impressed at how exciting their programming was to have invited somebody like me. It gives me hope for the symphonic music!
P: Is there anything we can expect from your upcoming work with Nu Deco Ensemble?
KB: Nu Deco is such a professional group, that I’ve been slaving away to make my orchestrations fun to play as well as beautiful. I CAN NOT WAIT to perform with them!
P: How do you like working with chamber orchestras and what do they make you feel about your music?
KB: I grew up playing in them, so it’s like my second home. As a songwriter, I feel like it’s too easy to just play a guitar or have drums set up the rhythm, so I like to challenge myself by taking advantage of the various rhythmic textures of the group.
P: How do your experiences from travels find their way into the music you create? Your performance style?
KB: I am always excited to run into new musical groups or hear about new music from other people. I’m well aware that people expect to be delighted at a show, so I’ve learned to give it everything I have and always be thinking of new ways to inspire the audience.
P: Can you tell us a little bit about your latest album, Sonderlust, and how it compares, or differs from your past works?
KB: It’s a departure from my composition style in the past, mainly because I found myself uninspired by the violin looping. As a full time artist, it’s my job to figure out a way to inspire myself, and I just went for it in a new direction.
P: You worked with Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear on that one, how was that?
KB: He was great to have around because I trusted in his musical taste and judgement 100%. He helped reign me in before I’d go off the deep end on some musical density that I usually involve myself with.
P: Your solo performances are loop style, how do you like playing with layers when it comes to your music? How does technology play in your writing process?
KB: My general technique is to layer as much as possible and then pick away pieces to expose new and interesting things. I am constantly on the look out for new instruments (like soft synths) that will inspire me to write a song. If I can get one new song out of an instrument, then it’s totally worth it.
P: Are there any other passions you may have in life (art, travel, writing, etc.) that show in your music?
KB: I love snowboarding, and now that I’m somewhat connected to Jackson, WY and the scene there, I’m planning on definetly going as much as my wife will let me
P: What else can we expect from you this coming year?
KB: I’m planning on expanding my orchestral repertoire, and I’m looking forward to new adventures in that genre.
Catch him play with Nu Deco Ensemble this week, it’ll definitely be a ground-breaking collision that Miami’s never experienced before. Buy those tickets here.