Kaoru Ishibashi ditched his violin for samplers, sequencers and electronics on Sonderlust, the third album released under his pseudo name Kishi Bashi. The composer—largely known for his mastery of the violin, which led him to accompanying Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche and Of Montreal on tours—just couldn’t muster the inspiration to pick up the stringed instrument.
“I kind of put it [the violin] aside as I was working on the album and I ended up getting into a lot of sampling and resampling,” says Ishibashi. “I was creating new sounds through software called Ableton Live and I got really excited about the sounds I was making.”
At that point, Ishibashi found his instrumental direction for the album. He plays more keyboards on the record than he does violin—although he does conduct other musicians, some of whom play violin on several of the album’s symphonic jams.
But there was more to Ishibashi’s dramatic shift. As he prepared to make Sonderlust, released in 2016, his personal life hit a wall—he and his wife separated.
“The music itself was almost like an outlet for me because it was a pretty dark time for me,” says Ishibashi. “Lyrically, I just kind of poured my heart into the songs. Things are a lot better now, but it was a difficult time.”
Despite the marital woes, Sonderlust features upbeat electro-pop melodies that come alive through synths, acoustics and orchestral layering. Lyrics address heartbreak and hardship, making Sonderlust an emotional roller coaster through the ups and downs of love.
“I tried to stay positive. I’m a very optimistic person,” says Ishibashi.
Still, he finds certain songs from that period of his life hard to emotionally digest. One of those is “Can’t Let Go, Juno.” Lyrics from the song lament: “It’s a new day / Another full of heartbreak / And every time I’m checking in with myself / I’m drinking my soul away.”
“That one is a very difficult one for me, even to perform,” says Ishibashi. “I do it, but I’m very emotionally connected to that one.”
Other tracks like “m’lover,” “Honeybody” and “Say Yeah” are more upbeat crowd favorites. On the start of “Say Yeah,” Ishibashi experiments with a pocket piano.
“I surround myself with a lot of instruments and if I hear a cool sound, I’ll just mess around with it,” says Ishibashi, who drifts between ’80s and ’70s territory throughout the 10-track album.
“This album in particular has a lot of throwback sounds in it,” he says.
He cites jazz funk fusion musicians Herbie Hancock, Bob James, George Duke and Herbie Mann as some of his influences.
“My past albums [including 2012’s 151a and 2014’s Lighght] were more orchestral. There was a lot of strings and it was more avant garde and experimental. I didn’t go crazy on this new one,” Ishibashi says. “I would say this album is not that adventurous compared to my other ones, but it’s definitely a different direction. I wanted to keep it simpler.”
The album was also a learning experience for Ishibashi.
“The one thing I learned is that with time you heal,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ve learned that much about love. It’s still pretty crazy, but it’s a wonderful, beautiful and, at times, a painful phenomenon,” he says.
Ishibashi, who is a 41-year-old Japanese-American, plans to follow his current tour with songwriting inspired by a new muse. He’ll be working on writing music that raises awareness of the Japanese-American internment. February marked the 75-year anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which led to the incarceration of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps in the United States.
“I’ve been commissioned to write a symphonic piece, so that’s going to be my focus for the rest of the year.”