As an Asian American, Kaoru Ishibashi never thought he would be making a name for himself as an indie-rock musician. Now Ishibashi, who performs under the name Kishi Bashi, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his debut album, “151a,” and the release of his new film “Omoiyari,” which weaves 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 its anniversary by touring. In tandem with the tour, Ishibashi is showing his film at festivals around 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 film and his experiences in living as an Asian American in the music industry.
The Red & Black: Do you believe your “151a” album continues to showcase the person you are now that it’s been 10 years since its release?
Kaoru Ishibashi: Yeah, I think so. It was a very vibrant time for me. It was a very creative time and I had a lot of good ideas to put in. So I really densely packed it with a lot of stuff but it still holds up, in my opinion.
R&B: What did you do to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of “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 and then I included a vinyl of the demos. So all the demos — the stuff that I was working on before I went into the studio — I put those on the other album.
R&B: It is currently Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. What do you think about 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 indie rock, or a rock person or doing something in popular music, but I'm really excited that there are actually a lot of artists now. It's becoming normal. I see this also in Hollywood — a little bit more representation for sure.
R&B: How does that make you feel?
KI: Relieved. It makes you feel relieved that the industry is changing. It also means that more people are willing to be more inclusive.
R&B: Do you try to implement who you are or your culture into your music at all?
KI: I used to do a little bit, now I do it more and more because I used to be kind of embarrassed about it because when I started 10 years ago, I was probably the only Japanese guy in indie rock as far as I knew. I didn't really run across that many. I also didn't want to be a novelty, so I really tiptoed around it. But now that I'm more comfortable about my culture and sharing it with people, I'm definitely diving into it more.
R&B: What do you hope for the future of Asian American musicians?
KI: I think Asians haven't had much representation in the arts. For a lot of immigrants, the arts is a very difficult field to get into because monetarily it's always kind of shaky. You don't make that much money. You have job instabilities. But the rewards culturally are so great. And so I think as parents start to realize that their kids can have a future in the arts — I think it could encourage them to give their kids a chance to let them pursue what they want.
R&B: What effect do you hope your new movie, “Omoiyari,” has on audiences?
KI: A lot of minority people will totally relate to this movie. So if you're a minority and then you like my music, this is a great movie for you. If you like my music and you're white, it'll cultivate a lot of empathy for the minority identity in America. It's entertaining and educational. It's a good watch.
R&B: Does your movie tie into your experience as a bi-cultural American musician?
KI: It has really kind of solidified my identity. It helped me understand myself, my place and how America is really changing — for the better, I think.