Kishi Bashi today announced his new EP Emigrant, a companion release to his critically acclaimed 2019 album Omoiyari, will be released on April 2nd, 2021, via Joyful Noise Recordings. The EP’s wistful, seasonably-named first single “Wait For Springtime” is out now. “This is a song about the anticipation and hope of the equinox that is to come after the pandemic,” explains Kaoru Ishibashi, who records as Kishi Bashi. “Even though the longing to hug and cry in each other’s arms may be a faint memory right now, in our core we know that we will bounce back in a lush way in our proverbial springtime.” The timely, new six-song collection contains four original compositions and two covers—of Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With” and Dolly Parton’s “Early Morning Breeze,” both released earlier this year. Arranged and recorded over the last year, the Emigrant EP serves as a time capsule of 2020 as it meditates on the anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the comforts of nature, the pains of resource-fueled conflicts, and the resiliency that emerges from struggle.
Over the last several years, the critically-acclaimed composer and adventurous multi-instrumentalist Ishibashi has traveled frequently to Montana and Wyoming to work on Omoiyari, an upcoming “song film” about Japanese internment during WWII that shares the name and conceptual focus of his previous record. It has been an emotional and creatively potent experience for Ishibashi to spend time in the American West—a place known for its at times brutal history and harsh climate—speaking with internment camp incarcerees and descendents. Considering his own bicultural identity as the child of Japanese immigrants has come to influence Kishi Bashi’s approach to songwriting.
The lush, bluegrass-inspired songs on Emigrant emerged out of a socially-distanced 2020 road trip to this now-familiar region. Tours cancelled, Kishi Bashi found himself with an abundance of free time, and mapped out a route for himself and his daughter that would take them from their home in Athens, Georgia, all the way to the west coast. In Montana, they stayed in a cabin in the EP’s namesake town: Emigrant; there, 30 minutes from Yellowstone National Park and close to a historic goldmine, Ishibashi was privy to a near-perfect summer. But he also considered the long, cold winters that had tested many eras of inhabitants of the region, sensing a deep fragility of human life. The Emigrant EP reflects on issues including historical tragedies (“Town Of Pray”) and current day climate change impacts (“Cascades”), and also see Ishibashi newly embracing the playing of his trademark violin in a fiddle style, empowered by his knowledge of the blisteringly skilled Japanese bluegrass scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s—which he learned of while studying at the Berklee College of Music. The songs were tracked in Athens, GA live to 2-track tape and recorded with various local friends: frequent collaborators banjoist Mike Savino (aka Tall Tall Trees) and cellist Emily Hope Price, as well as upright bassist Andrea DeMarcus and guitarist Dave Kirslis (of the Athens duo Cicada Rhythm).
Traveling the western states and conceptualizing Emigrant, Ishibashi was awash in the lonely vastness of the landscapes and the histories of colonial oppression and frontier struggle. But he also sensed a hope and potential, even in the midst of a raging pandemic. In looking back to the past, he saw strains of humanity, compassion, and resilience. In Emigrant, Kishi Bashi celebrates these qualities. “I want to understand the history, but also dive in and really try to humanize it,” he says. “I’m trying to show how we’re all the same type of human being. We have the same desires and needs, to protect our loved ones and also to celebrate the everyday.”