Words by Connor Gruver. Photos by Connelly Crowe.
AthFest 2016: Interview with headlining musician Kishi Bashi.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the wickedly engaging Jill Helme, AthFest Executive Director and administrative champion, so that we could get a solid picture of the three-day music festival’s beneficent spirit. But logistics is only half the story, so Jill immediately connected us with someone who knows a thing or two about the music itself.
“Well, that’s what attracted people like Kevin. People just move here. Because they hear it’s a cool town; I think it’s a cool town. It’s cheap, and it’s pretty pleasant.”
K Ishibashi has been a fixture in Athens since he moved here in 2012 to play violin with psychedelic pop act Of Montreal during their tour that year. That was a little bit of a conversation that took place in K’s personal studio, which sits just behind the house where he lives with his wife and daughter.
K was telling me that bands such as R.E.M. and the B-52’s inspired many rising musicians, such as Of Montreal frontman Kevin Barnes, to take up residence here. He said that his tenure with Of Montreal had a heavy influence on his writing as he made the jump into recording as solo act Kishi Bashi.
“Kevin was really trying to get me to do newer sounds… And I started realizing that the one thing I’m really decent at is the violin.”
However, the result of this partnership had an effect that — for both K and the Athens community — went beyond sound. After the dissolution of his indie pop project ‘Jupiter One,’ K made the move from New York City to Athens, where he began recording and touring.
“I mean, the musicianship and artistry level in New York City is incredible. It’s probably the best conditions in the world. But there’s so little time to just be creative because you’re so dedicated to playing in other projects and making rent. Every time I go back there, I see people and they’re so stressed out.”
Once he was settled in Athens, it didn’t take K long to gain recognition, and in 2014 he was invited to headline AthFest alongside acts like Reptar and Drivin’ N Cryin’. This year, Kishi Bashi will join Family and Friends as well as Mothers in leading the festival. K’s involvement with AthFest doesn’t end there, though.
“I love playing with kids. They’re like drunk adults.”
K was talking about his experiences playing for hundreds of students in what AthFest calls ‘classroom concerts’ at elementary and middle schools across Athens. He says he loves playing the violin for children in that age group and introducing them to what is, for many of them, a new form of creative expression.
“Music is so important on so many levels for kids, or even playing an instrument – socially, academically; there’s just so many benefits to it.”
K is able, perhaps, to put more emphasis on childhood music education than most because his daughter is a student in the Athens public school system. When I asked him which aspect of the Athens community was most valuable to his family, he told me that an attitude of support has been refreshingly noticeable here.
“It’s really safe. Everyone is friendly and supportive. There’s always the mindset of just being creative and supporting local artists. I think that’s really important, and it’s kind of kept Athens the way it is. A lot of cities don’t necessarily have that as part of their way of thinking.”
He said that, for as hard working as people are in New York City, the support system left much to be desired “It’s a cutthroat community. I felt like it was a chore to go see somebody’s show. It was expensive. New York is crazy expensive.”
Fortunately, since relocating, K was able to visit New York, as well as Chicago and Atlanta, when he organized a national orchestral competition, sponsored by D’Addario Strings. Four high schools from these cities were chosen from a number of video submissions, and allowed K to provide workshops that were aimed at teaching and encouraging the young musicians who played there.
“The kids were awesome, and they were really excited.” K has undoubtedly fostered a passion doing something much bigger than himself. “It’s the kind of thing I want to do. I think there are two levels: I want kids who are thinking about playing music to start, and I want people who already play music to continue to be inspired.”