You've heard Kishi Bashi whether you know it or not. Here's how he ended up with a violin and a looping pedal.

Photo of Kishi Bashi

You've heard Kishi Bashi whether you know it or not. Last year, his semi-symphonic "It All Began with a Burst" was used in an ad for Sony's Xperia Tablet S. He sang "And the source was your laughter / threw me off the wall" as ninjas and B-movie characters moved through tablet frames. He was almost inescapable when his voice singing "You and me at the edge of the world" helped launch Windows 8 as people manipulated family photos with just a fingertip to the tune of his "Bright Whites." Both songs came from his debut album, 151a, and when he plays One Eyed Jacks Saturday night, it will be his third time in New Orleans in support of it.

Kishi Bashi's real name is Kaoru "K" Ishibashi, and the Virginia-born violinist started his musical career as the singer in a rock band. By the time that band was done, he knew he needed a different way to make music. "I was burned out on music by committee," he says. "Your creativity can be compromised, so I made sure that I can play by myself." That didn't mean he was burned out on a big sound, though. He took the same route as Andrew Bird and Theresa Andersson and turned to looping his violin as a way to create a full band sound on his own, which has the added benefit of being cost-efficient in financially tough times.

Is it a coincidence that the violin is the preferred instrument of a number of loop-oriented musicians? Ishibashi doesn't think so. "It definitely lends itself to orchestral textures," he says. "The violin has a lot of sustain in it, so you can get a lot of lush textures. A guitar can't get the kind of panoramic sound that a violin can."

Like Andersson, he found the learning curve steep at first. He has been making music by looping live for a year and a half, and he admits, "I used to mess up a lot." Through practice, he became better at it, and figured out how to get the most sound as simply as possible. He has a few complicated moves that he has to make onstage, but Ishibashi relies heavily on one pedal to minimize what can go wrong. And "I don't drink as much as I'd like to," he says with a laugh.

When he plays Saturday, he'll be accompanied not by a band but by a couple of additional musicians to add a additional instruments and harmonies. He starts his shows alone onstage to show the audience how he makes his music, and to reassure them that he's not playing to tracks or triggered samples. "I think it's pretty obvious that I'm literally creating this stuff in front of their eyes," Ishibashi says. He can play his show solo, but "a couple of songs I really need help with to get them more exciting."

On this tour, Kishi Bashi is selling a limited edition box set of three singles from 151a. Each has a previously unreleased cover arranged for a string quartet on the B-side: Beirut's "A Sunday Smile" ("I love that song," he says), "Prologue/Twilight" by ELO, and Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," a song that he first arranged for strings for a friend's wedding. The limited edition concept came from Joyful Noise, his label, but Ishibashi's fine with it. "My label's really good at creating custom objects, and it adds a value to the project," he says. For Christmas, Joyful Noise released a Kishi Bashi Christmas song, "It's Christmas, But It's Not White Here," on a format so retro that it came with instructions: a white plastic flexi-disc shaped like a snowflake. 

The song itself was the byproduct of his Kickstarter campaign to help raise money to fund the album. Three backers who kicked in $250 would have a Christmas or Hannukah song written with them in mind, and one who met that threshold lives in Florida. "What's Christmas like in Florida?" Ishibashi wondered, and that question shaped the song, a miniature that evokes old holiday tchotchkes by being simultaneously ornate and worn, the latter effect achieved by slowing the track down a noticeable touch.

Other $250 donors received one to two-minute songs as thank yous for their contributions, and for a while Kishi Bashi put them on Soundcloud, where they could be heard. "I started to post them, then forgot about it," he says. "Nobody seems to be complaining about it, so I stopped doing it."

For Ishibashi, the logic behind the short songs was more practical than aesthetic. "A one-minute song is pretty easy," he says. "It's difficult writing a three-minute song. That's why the album's only a half-hour."

Kishi Bashi, Tall Tall Trees, and Native America perform Saturday night at One Eyed Jacks. Tickets are on sale now.