Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner talks sonic joy and turning tough songs into favorites


Michelle Zauner is having a great year. The singer of indie rock band Japanese Breakfast has released her third studio album (Jubilee), publishes his first book (Crying in H Mart: A Memoir) and composed an original soundtrack for the video game Sable– all in a few months. Now she’s leading Japanese Breakfast’s first tour since the pandemic.

We caught up with the singer before the October 5 show at the Brooklyn Bowl.

So many of your projects have landed in the past five months. Have you ever had the opportunity to soak up everything? I am in this space right now where I feel like an empty nest. It’s an exciting feeling to let go of your little babies – you know they’re doing the job in the world you raised them to be. There is also a certain loneliness and fear of, like, what am I doing with my life now? What’s the next step for me? But there’s also the excitement of a new chapter, just a blank slate to figure out what’s to come. I have to find a new hobby or go on vacation.

You could always play Sable. How did you come to compose the soundtrack for a video game? I was also approached in 2017 by Daniel Feinberg, one of the developers. Back then, they only had a few gifs, and the art was so striking. They were looking for a composer who was outside of the gaming world and could bring a different sound. But they also wanted someone who loves the game and respects and respects it, I think.

It’s a great fit, and I was really lucky to have been fortunate enough to be involved early on. I have spent the past four years adding more and more music as the world comes together.

I read that you were playing Final fantasy like a kid. Yes i was a big Final fantasy nerd.

This game is also known to have beautiful soundtracks. Could this be your new vocation: composer of soundtracks? I would like to do it again. I had so much fun doing it, and I think I had a very charmed first experience. I don’t know if this is still the case, but I really hope I can start over if the right project presents itself. Let’s put that in the world.

You stated that one of your goals with the June album Jubilee was to explore more joy. On this record, there are brass, brass, strings… Did you consciously start looking for musical means to convey this emotion? Absoutely. For the second album, there was so much pressure to keep the second from falling. It was a very insular project to try to keep in step with the same sort of thing. I felt like a third album should be really big and full of confidence.

I learned so much from my co-producer, Craig Hendrix, who is also our live drummer. … He has a real talent for arrangements. I think he gave me the courage and the confidence to bring these new instruments that we had kind of dipped our toes in the water to use before. I knew I wanted to have this all over the record, that the sky was the limit, and we had the ability to add these things.

A jubilee is a victory trumpet blow. I wanted it to be a major part of this record.

It really looks like a party. Thank you. My artistic narrative is so rooted in songs about grief and loss. And after writing [the book] Crying in H Mart, I really felt it was time to move on and explore something else in a creative way. I had said everything I wanted to say about this experience. And it’s like a celebration to get to a place in your life where, of course, you keep the grief with you, but it’s also possible to move on with your life and not have that consuming weight. on you all the time. time.

In Crying in H Mart, you detail some of your mom’s last moments and explore how Korean cuisine reconnected you to her. So many people who have read it seem to have connected with this. Did you anticipate this impact on readers? I was hoping it would happen [but] I hadn’t anticipated this reaction (laughs). I was like, maybe I can be # 15 New York Times‘Best seller for the first week if we work really, really hard. And the book has been on the list for 19 weeks, with reviews almost entirely positive.

I am very, very confused (laughs). I felt like it was pretty good, but honestly, it’s such a personal story. I was writing something that I really needed to work on. I tried not to really think about other people … [but] it was a real joy to see the answer to the book. It went way beyond what I thought it was.

The book was incredibly touching, but also made the readers very hungry. Has it ever occurred to you to open a restaurant or even sell food at your shows like a dinner club? (Laughs) I had such a fun event in New York with tables of contents [reading series], an incredible reading event at a Brooklyn restaurant called Insa. These amazing Korean chefs made a little Korean lunch box, inspired by the book, and people came to dinner and listened to me read. I would love to do more stuff like this.

I’m at that place in my life where I just planted a lot of seeds, I don’t expect them all to have grown to the level they have, and I’m just trying to maintain them. But I think in another life, or maybe when I’m older and have more time, I’d like to do a Korean pop-up or something. I think the amount of work and grit really agrees with me.

I’m about to announce an ice cream collaboration. There’s this Korean woman who owns an ice cream company called Noona’s Ice Cream, and we’re both coming out of a collaboration on a khaki flavor. … You’re the first person I say this to!

Are there any comfort foods that you particularly like? It’s mostly Korean food. I like kimchi-jjigae, that’s it Kimchi Stew. My favorite thing that I love to eat is egg over rice, just a poached, super runny egg over white rice.

What was your favorite song to write, and which one do you enjoy playing live the most? It’s funny, because my least favorite song to write is “Slide Tackle”. She was a little song bitch. Usually my favorite songs come very quickly. They know exactly what they want to be and things are falling into place. “Slide Tackle” was that really difficult baby, where I wanted to abandon him several times. I thought it was too simple. So I was adding and adding and adding and adding, and nothing ever felt like enough to me. And finally I just gave up, and that was what it was. But it’s my favorite song to play live. It has become such a special live number that I really love this song now. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record.

In terms of writing, I think “Kokomo, IN” has a really special place in my heart because it was a really easy song. I was writing it while we were recording in the studio, and it all fell into place very quickly. It’s a very sweet song, a whole new direction for me.

What can we expect from your show this time around? We’re a much bigger band and a very different band now, a six-piece. We added Molly Germer on keyboards and violin and Adam Schatz on saxophone and keyboards. We have a lighting designer, so we have this amazing light show, and the production of this New York-based company called Smooth Technology that does a lot of really cool things. They made these LED circles that hang down the back and are meant to remind you of the khakis hanging on the album cover. We’re just a bigger and better bunch. And I’m really excited to bring this to Las Vegas.


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