Twelve Songs of Christmas

Kishi Bashi and The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling”

December 18, 2019

In 2012, Kishi Bashi recorded “It’s Christmas, But It’s Not White Here in Our Town.” The song was a Kickstarter premium he offered when trying to raise money for his debut album, 151a, and once it was finished, his label Joyful Noise proposed releasing it as a limited edition Flexi-disc. Recently, I talked with Kishi Bashi about the song and how he built it—like his other songs—through a series of overdubs and looped parts that he played on his violin. We also talked about his upbringing as the son of parents who came from Japan to America, and how their experiences helped shape his Christmases.

When we spoke, he was on tour in support of his most recent album, Omoiyari. Kishi Bashi is a multi-instrumentalist whose primary instrument is the violin, and he generally performs and records as a one-man act, looping parts to create a full band experience even though he’s the only one playing. His songs have often had a psychedelic pop beauty to them, but on Omoiyari, his songs have higher stakes as he addresses the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He uses his songs to try to better understand and connect with not just the situation but the people involved, and he does so without sacrificing the beauty that is present in his compositions.

During our conversation, I referred to an archive titled Attention Kmart Shoppers, where someone digitized the vinyl records and cassette tapes that stores were provided to play as background music. I played part of one of the Christmas albums, which you can hear in its entirety and download from the site.

I also talked to New Orleans’ Boyfriend about The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling.” Boyfriend also has new Christmas music that we didn’t mention since it wasn’t out when we recorded this conversation. She collaborated with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch” from How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s an exclusive to Spotify, and you can hear it there or at MySpiltMilk.com, where I wrote a round-up of New Orleans-based Christmas songs that include all four of the Preservation Hall tracks that showed up as Spotify singles this Christmas season, and two new takes on classics by Kristin Diable.