As an Asian American, Kaoru Ishibashi never thought he would make a name for himself as an indie-rock musician. Today, Ishibashi, who performs under the name Kishi Bashi, celebrates the 10th anniversary of his debut album, “151a,” and the release of his new movie “Omoiyari,” which weaves together the experience of coming to terms with his identity using music.
Ishibashi released his debut album in 2012 and since March the Athens local has been commemorating his birthday on tour. Along with the tour, Ishibashi presents his film at festivals across the country, such as South by Southwest or SXSW in Austin, Texas.
The Red & Black spoke with Ishibashi about the anniversary of his debut album, his new movie and his experiences living as an Asian American in the music industry.
The Red & Black: Do you believe that your album “151a” continues to show the person you are now that it’s been 10 years since its release?
Kaoru Ishibashi: Yeah I think so. It was a very dynamic time for me. It was a very creative time and I had a lot of good ideas to implement. So I packed it very densely with a lot of stuff but it still holds up, in my opinion.
R&B: What did you do to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “151a”?
KI: I released a double LP. It’s a reissue of the original album with new artwork that I commissioned from two artists on the front and back, then included a vinyl of the demos. So all the demos – the stuff I was working on before I got in the studio – I put them on the other album.
R&B: Today is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. What do you think of the current visibility of Asian American musicians and artists in the music industry?
KI: I think it’s much better. When I was growing up I never really thought I could be a musician or an indie rock or a rocker or do anything in popular music but I’m really excited that there are actually a lot of artists now. It becomes normal. I see that in Hollywood too – a bit more representation for sure.
R&B: How does that make you feel?
KI: Relieved. It relieves you that the industry is changing. It also means more people are willing to be more inclusive.
R&B: Are you trying to implement who you are or your culture into your music?
KI: I used to do a little, now I do it more and more because I was a little embarrassed because when I started 10 years ago I was probably the only Japanese in indie rock to my knowledge. I haven’t really come across that many. I also didn’t want to be a novelty, so I really tiptoed. But now that I’m more comfortable with my culture and sharing it with people, I’m definitely immersing myself in it more.
R&B: What do you hope for the future of Asian American musicians?
KI: I think Asians haven’t had a lot of representation in the arts. For many immigrants, the arts are a very difficult field to integrate because financially, it is always a bit precarious. You don’t make a lot of money. You have job instabilities. But the rewards are culturally so great. And so I think when parents start to realize that their kids can have a future in the arts, I think that might encourage them to give their kids a chance to let them pursue whatever they want.
R&B: What effect do you hope your new film, “Omoiyari”, will have on audiences?
KI: Many people belonging to minorities will totally identify with this film. So if you’re a minority and you like my music, this is a great movie for you. If you like my music and you’re white, it will cultivate a lot of empathy for minority identity in America. It’s entertaining and educational. It’s a good watch.
R&B: Is your film related to your experience as a bi-cultural American musician?
KI: It really solidified my identity. It helped me understand myself, my place, and how much America is really changing – for the better, I think.