Q&A with Kishi Bashi
by Anu Gulati (Computer Science/Math), published September 16th 2016
Previously a keyboardist and violinist for acclaimed indie rock band of Montreal, Kishi Bashi is no stranger to pushing the limits of pop music. The multi-instrumentalist effectively united classical leanings with indie-pop eccentricity in his first two albums, receiving much acclaim for their orchestral beauty. Ditching the strings for his synths, Kishi Bashi has decided to test out the somber, more detached electronic route for his latest album, Sonderlust, out on September 16th. We were able to catch Kishi Bashi before a flight to Los Angeles for a quick interview.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): From the singles released so far, Sonderlust seems like it sounds very different from your previous works. What inspired these electronic sounds that stray from the orchestral sounds of 151a and Lighght?
Kishi Bashi (KB): I started experimenting with more electronic samples and I got really excited about it. Once I abandoned the whole, “I need to make an orchestral album” mindset, I got even more excited about this new direction.
TMM: What’d you use to make these new sounds? And how’d you learn, considering you were busy touring all last year?
KB: I started taking time off during the summer, and then after the summer I really dove into it and used most of fall to make the record. I used Ableton Live, a software I used before but got really excited about recently. I played around with the sample manipulation, and normally EDM producers used Ableton Live, but I found the experimenting to be really inspiring.
TMM: How long did it take you to write, record and produce Sonderlust?
KB: Probably about half a year. I started in September, and it was done by January, actually.
TMM: Your sampling and cutting in “Can’t Let Go, Juno” is very clean and exact. Would you say you’re a perfectionist with your music?
KB: I am kind of a perfectionist, but I also do kind of experiment to see if anything… magical happens. Y’know, music is half craft and half inspiration, and I guess it’s also partially magic. It’s like music is 120 percent insight and that 20 percent is magic, you don’t really know where it comes from.
TMM: You had Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear produce and perfect this record. How was that?
KB: He’s really cool. I wanted to work with him because he makes great albums, he’s an engineer and he’s a gauge to have. He’s someone great to collaborate with because he can tell me what I did wrong with my sounds and also be like, “Y’know, that’s too much.”
TMM: You’ve mentioned before how Sonderlust was a response to the darkness you faced in the past year, shown in lyrics like, “I’m drinking my soul away.” How did this music help you with what you were going through?
KB: (laughs) It had to do will all my problems last year, like my marriage. The music was actually a distraction, but being excited about the music really helped me get through a lot of it. I was able to really channel emotional distress, both good and bad, into these lyrics.
TMM: Does this album feel less like an art project and more, just, your life?
KB: It’s something I wanted to get out there. I wasn’t going to keep it a mystery forever, and some things are honest problems.
TMM: Speaking of dark and gorgeous — that album cover. Can you tell us about it?
KB: It’s made by a Korean artist named Ssin Kim. I discovered her because I follow a lot of Instagram artists. I was looking for something to relate to, something that’s kinda playful but also like myself. And this cover is playful but also dark, but it’s very beautiful. As a listener, I want them to look at the album cover and have it add another dimension to the experience.
TMM: Beautiful, indeed. You’ve already toured about half the songs off this new record. How does that play a role in your process? Does it help you in refining the album?
KB: It just helps me to be not stressed out to learn eight or nine songs at once. We do it to get the kinks out before the big tour.
TMM: Speaking of big tour, your October is stacked with shows, including one in Boston on October 3rd. Are you excited? Is there anything we should look out for?
KB: Yessss. And yeah, I’m playing the keyboard, so look out for me there.
TMM: Are you emotionally prepared to debut these songs, given the material? I’m reminded of when I saw Sufjan Stevens cry during his Carrie & Lowell tour.
KB: Yeah, I’m not sure. I feel like I can sing it. Honestly, the hard part is figuring out which songs to cut out from old albums. My shows are getting longer now, that’s another thing you can look forward to.
TMM: Do you prefer being in the studio or doing live performances?
KB: I treat them as two different things. I definitely like both, I make music for my fans and I love seeing them respond to my music with excitement. It inspires me.
TMM: Any songs or records influence Sonderlust? Were you listening to anything in particular that you wanted to replicate?
KB: There’s a lot of funk fusion from the 70s, and I really like a lot of soul — Stevie Wonder, George Duke, there’s a lot of Donny Hathaway soul. I really kinda went for it. It sounds like a lot of what I grew up listening to, stuff from the late 70s.
TMM: Where do you go after Sonderlust? Are you more attracted to the electronic sounds now, or maybe doing a synthesis of the electronic plus strings sounds?
KB: I don’t know. I just did a film score with orchestral sounds. Maybe since I departed from the orchestral, I’ll go back to it. I’m going to the premiere right now, it’s called The Fourth Phase and it’s directed by Travis Rice. I’m actually performing in the premiere in Los Angeles, so it’s exciting.