When Kishi Bashi plays the House of Blues on Saturday, it will be the indie rock violin player’s fifth time in New Orleans in three years and his fifth different venue. He already has played The Howlin’ Wolf, The Circle Bar, One Eyed Jacks and an ecstatic night at Gasa Gasa last summer where he and his band of banjo and string players performed with punk rock enthusiasm.
“That was a great show,” said K. Ishibashi, who performs under the name Kishi Bashi. “It was super-packed, and I had my friend Liz, who’s a dancer. I bought a cool bear shirt across the street.”
He remembers gigs more than you might expect for someone who tours as much as he does. He liked the intimacy of The Circle Bar but was disappointed that those who weren’t in the front rows couldn’t see him. “I’m a performer. I like to be seen.”
These recollections aren’t simply a process of a good memory, though. Ishibashi takes steps to make each tour memorable, starting with naming each tour and putting that name on tour laminates — a common practice for bands doing national arena tours but less common for indie rock bands.
“At the end of the tour, we’ll review each show and what happened on each show,” he said. “It refreshes your memory.”
Kishi Bashi found a valuable fan early on in Robin Hilton of NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” who raved about his song “Bright Whites” in 2012, saying, “This whole record is so joyful. It’s so celebratory; you just want to rush out into the street and hug somebody.”
Much of America first heard Kishi Bashi and “Bright Whites” when Microsoft used it in a Windows 8 commercial, which began with his voice calling out the viewers, “You and me at the edge of the world.”
Kit Bashi also had a song in an ad for the Xperia Tablet S, and “Philosophize in It! Chemicalize with It!” from last year’s “Lighght” was the effervescent soundtrack for a Target commercial.
“Philosophize in It! Chemicals with It!” started life as a piece of music he wrote specifically for a commercial in Japan, where he has a strong following because he is a second-generation Japanese-American.
It was only after people asked where they could get it that he fleshed it out into a full song.
Like most of his tracks, it began with just him, his violin and a collection of looping and sound-manipulating pedals. New Orleans’ Theresa Andersson works the same way, building tracks from a single instrument to a full band arrangement by playing parts on his violin and looping them.
Because he has a background in classical music, his songs start with a sound or sonic texture that he found while messing around. When he tours with his band, he plays at least one song solo to show listeners the process and to let them see how it’s done.
“The musician in me feels the need to show off how it’s done and that I went to music school,” Kishi Bashi said. “It’s part pride, but I think people like to see it.”
Because he comes from a musical background that valued accomplished playing, he’s a fan of prog rock and jazz fusion. “Brand X, Mahvishnu Orchestra, Weather Report with Joe Zawinul,” he said. “I had a jazz phase and dedicated 10 to 15 years of my life to jazz. I modeled my sound after Electric Light Orchestra and Pink Floyd. They’re psychedelic but acoustic, not heavy on the guitars.”
Before he began to perform on his own, Kishi Bashi was in a band that was heavily influenced by ’80s, new wave pop including The Police, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran.
“Synth rock? I love that stuff,” he said.
All of that can be heard in Kishi Bashi’s sound, which is unabashedly uplifting and poppy. Technology offers him tools that allow him and his band to feature acoustic and electric sounds in songs that incorporate such unlikely touches as Japanese phrases in the middle of English-language lyrics.
As joyful as the music is, Kishi Bashi admits that he doesn’t write as often as he could and probably should.
“I’m a huge procrastinator,” he said. “If you left me alone, I don’t think I’d touch anything. I’d just watch TV or get lost in YouTube.”
When he plays The House of Blues, it will be part of a tour opening for Guster, and he’ll perform the entire show solo, but that doesn’t mean the experience will be lonely.
“Everybody from high school is coming out of the woodwork right now,” Kishi Bashi said with a laugh. “That’s kind of fun, but when they come every single time, it can get annoying. You were friends with them back then, but they’re different people now. It’s great to catch up, but being forced into a new friendship with an old friend could be tiresome.”