As with most children growing up in Osaka, Japan, the scope of Kiyoshi’s musical world as a young girl revolved around Japanese pop music and Anime theme songs. She took piano lessons regularly from a budding age and would contently sing along with her favorite songs on the TV and radio when she wasn’t immersed in her studies. Her modest taste in music, however, took a vast turn when she turned 15 and learned about the exploding alternative rock scene of the ’90s that was going down in America. All of a sudden her taste in music shifted from regional genres to the booming music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Mudvayne, Fishbone, 311, and especially Primus. Realizing that a common theme among these bands was their prominent use of bass, Kiyoshi quickly ditched her piano studies and bought a 4-string that became her new obsession.
She submersed herself into the instrument, and by learning songs by the bands she adored, including the slapping and tapping lines of Les Claypool, she eventually became a hot commodity in the music scene around her. By also teaching herself how to sing while playing, she began writing her own songs, which led her to join Japanese rock bands Madcap Laughs and Inside Me, as well as appearing in the 2016 Japanese movie Too Young to Die. Once she felt she had found her unique musical voice, Kiyoshi wrote her own solo material, which led to her 2016 release, Kiyoshi, and her sophomore follow up, 2017’s Kiyoshi2, which both feature her covering all the musical parts minus drums.
These albums caught the attention of former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, who enlisted her as the touring bassist for his band. At this time she also caught the attention of Warwick Basses, who brought her on as an endorsee and made her own series of Streamer basses. In 2018, Kiyoshi released her third solo album, Kiyoshi3. It features her honed playing and tenacious slap chops, which kick off the album on the song “Hero,” and continue the sonic attack with her dirty tone and fast wrists on “Sign” and “Escape.” Gaining attention from reaches of the globe far from Japan, Kiyoshi’s musical journey is gaining steam more than ever before. And much like her slap riffs, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
What was the writing process like for Kiyoshi3?
Since about 2016, when I released my first album, making songs has become much faster, and I always knew that I wanted to do this two-piece band someday. I write all of the songs and arrange them and play all the sounds except drums, so it is very quick to complete them. It is not necessary to think about guitarists, keyboardists, and other instruments. Thinking only about the most important rhythms and melodies, making songs with few instruments is very free and a lot of fun, and the ideas spill out rapidly. It was smooth and easy to make three albums because of that.
How do you typically write your songs? Does it always start with a bass riff?
I often hum while playing the bass, so the song will be completed naturally because my lines and vocals come about at once. I keep a lot of stock of riffs and melodies that I’ve made in the past few years, so sometimes I connect them and complete them by piecing them together to form full songs.
How would you say Kiyoshi3is most different from Kiyoshi and Kiyoshi2?
My first album is a work with many experimental elements. Everything was my first experience; it was my first time creating an album with just drums and bass, and it was also my first time singing by myself. When I listen to it now, I feel that my voice was so weak and thin, and that the sound was crude, but I do like its passion. The sound I wanted was clarified with Kiyoshi2. I aimed for a very intense, clear, and vivid bass and drum sound. It incorporates a wide range of music genres, from my favorite ’90s alternative vibes, pop themes from the ’80s, rhythms like U.K. rock bands, and lots of other elements. In Kiyoshi3, those elements are getting stronger. I think that my performance and sound are the highest quality they’ve ever been. The biggest difference is that my singing has become a much stronger presence. I'm very glad that my voice has become so powerful.
I hear some Les Claypool influence in the riffs of “Hero” and “Escape.”
He is my superhero! He is my favorite bassist in the world. I have all of his albums, and I learned a lot of his riffs. It was a shock when I listened to Primus’ “Tommy the Cat” for the first time. “What is this sound? How does he move his hands like that?” I watched the video over and over and practiced. I learned from him how to slap, like I do in “Hero.” His songs are perfectly complete with only the bass riffs. He taught me that bass can support songs, but it can also be the song’s main element.
You play some great chordal parts in “Mirror” and “Stay.”
My band is only my drummer and me, so sometimes my bass plays the role of guitar. I can’t play the guitar, but I play like a guitarist on bass sometimes. I wrote “Stay” as if I were playing an acoustic guitar. I like the resonance of the bass chords very much, but when playing too many strings at once, sometimes the sound becomes muddy. So mostly I only strum two or three strings at a time. I like playing the root note with the 4th string and chords with 1st and 2nd strings.
Your style shifts a lot from rock to heavy to progressive to alternative. How would you describe your music in your own words?
I love the beautiful melody of the Japanese music I grew up listening to. I like to sing super-catchy melodies on funky and heavy bass riffs. It would be wonderful if I could rap like Zack de la Rocha or scream like Jonathan Davis, but I can't. But luckily I like my innate voice now.
What is your ideal bass tone, and how do you achieve it?
I like both super-distorted and clear sounds. In recording, I make both a very clear sound and a very distorted sound, and I mix them together at different parts. The allocation of clean and distortion is changed by what the song calls for exactly.
You get a great slapping sound. Describe your technique.
I actually slap the strings pretty softly. I’ve learned that you don’t need to bang on the strings to get a big sound. Sometimes it feels like I’m simply placing my finger on the string when I slap. Sometimes I swing my arm a lot and do big arm actions, but the moment I touch the strings I’m gentle. That part is just for show and being in the moment of the performance.
Why do you prefer 5-string basses?
I like playing heavy rock, so I need the low Bor low A. The possibility of my bass lines expand with that extra string. The 5-string has narrower string spacing than a 4-string, so it’s also easy for me to strum chords on them.
What do you love about Warwick basses?
Most of my favorite bassists are playing Warwicks — P-Nut, Norwood Fisher, Ryan Martinie, Robert Trujillo, and so many others. The Warwick bass sound is very clear without being buried, even in intense music. Becoming a part of the Warwick family was my dream. Two years ago the dream came true! Now Warwick makes basses for me. I still can’t believe it.
You started playing bass at age 15. What led you to choose bass?
I wanted to listen to more music and began to explore music from all over the world. My preference for music changed more and more to heavy things. Rap-rock and funk-metal was music I had never heard before, and there were incredibly cool bands that changed my life. The thing that always stood out for me was the bass player. I was amazed that various sounds were coming from the bass, and I felt that the bass, universally, was the source of the groove of music. That’s when I decided to pick up the bass.
Was it natural for you to play bass in the beginning?
It came very naturally to me. I could not think of anything I wanted to do other than play bass. But in fact, my first dream about the bass was not to become a bass player, but to become a bass builder. My interest in the bass became very deep, and I wanted to make this instrument with my own hands. I wanted to be a craftsman like Carl Thompson. I went to a school where I learned how to make musical instruments, and I made a lot of basses. It was a very fun time, but I quickly learned that it is more fun to play the bass than it is to make them.
What was the first bass you owned?
It was an ESP Guitars 4-string, “Forest.” I bought the same one as the bass player of my favorite Japanese rock band, L’Arc-en-Ciel. I learned all of their music by playing with a pick, but now I don't use picks anymore.
Has it always been easy for you to play bass and sing at the same time?
Not at all. At first it was very difficult, but I got used to it after practicing it a lot. Before standing on the stage, I know the bass lines in and out and don’t have to think about them so that I can concentrate on singing.
Your live shows are very energetic and powerful. What’s going on in your mind when you play?
I don't think much about what I’m doing. I throw myself into the music, and the music will guide me. I’m not thinking, “Let’s shake my head here, let’s jump here,” and so on. If I play like my bass is coming from my body, not from the speaker, it will be a great show. I sometimes get nervous or lose confidence before a concert, but the moment I stand on the stage, the audience turns on my switch. They make me a superhero. When I play onstage, I believe that I’m a great bass player. I think that is common courtesy to the audience.
What’s it like playing with Marty Friedman?
He somehow plays the guitar as if he is singing through his instrument, so I feel like I’m playing with a singer when we’re onstage together. What he does on guitar is so amazing, I can just sit back and play eight root notes and it still sounds good. He is a perfectionist — he has mastered so many difficult techniques — but onstage he emphasizes the band's groove and passion more than technique, unlike a lot of players.
What do you like most about his music?
I like his super-heavy riffs, and also his beautiful ballads. He has an open mind to music and incorporates music from various countries into what he writes. He keeps making great music, and I am amazed by his willingness to create. He is not only a great guitarist but also a great songwriter.
You play very physically. What’s your pre-show routine?
I do yoga and light exercise such as push-ups to warm my body. Then I play the bass and move my fingers with simple basic practice. That usually loosens me up and makes me feel ready.
Why the bass? What do you love so much about the instrument?
Well, simply put, the bass is extremely cool [laughs]. I don’t know how else to say it. The sound of the bass has made my musical world vaster and my life better. I would like to say “good job” to me at age 15 for choosing this instrument.
Kiyoshi, Kiyoshi2, Kiyoshi3
Basses Warwick Streamer Stage II 5-string, Streamer Stage I 5-string, Thumb Bass 5-string
Rig Gallien-Krueger 1001RB II, SWR Goliath III, SWR Big Ben 2x15
Effects Fulltone Bassdrive, MXR M-80 Bass D.I.+, SansAmp Bass Driver DI, EBS MultiComp, Electro-Harmonix Micro POG, Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork, Boss Harmonist
Strings D’Addario Medium 5-string