Michelle Zauner, better known under her musical moniker Japanese Breakfast, has come quite a long way since I’ve last spoken with her on the heels of her 2017 Soft Sounds From Another Planet release.
This year, she released her debut New York Times best-selling memoir Crying In H Mart (based on her essay of the same name for The New Yorker in 2018) in April. Soon after, she released her third studio album Jubilee this June, embarking on a nationwide tour throughout the summer and fall, including two sold-out nights at The Regent in Los Angeles, four sold-out nights at her home base at the Brooklyn Steel in New York, to then a second mini-tour following which brought her two sold-out nights at The Glass House Concert Hall in Pomona.
On top of all that, her record Jubilee received critical acclaim from NPR, Paste and Rolling Stone magazine for one of the best albums of the year, and even a performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. She even provided her original music as the soundtrack to the video game Sable.
Finally, to cap her year off, Japanese Breakfast has gained two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album of 2021.
When I spoke with Zauner back in 2017, she had just embarked on her first headlining tour with Soft Sounds. Just a year prior, she was opening up for acclaimed indie-rock phenom Mitski during her 2016 tour, and Zauner was just building her following.
“We just played Starline in Oakland and that was the first place we played as support for Mitski and first time we’ve ever played in Oakland,” Zauner said to me. “A year and a half later to come back and sell it out as a headliner feels really amazing. We can play longer sets, the crowd is yours.”
She continued, “It’s like playing in front of your friends, because they know your story, and they know their songs and who you are.”
I then followed up with Zauner about her relationship with Mitski, to which she wrote via text: “I think Mitski is an incredibly strong and deliberate artist and I learned a lot from her. She had a lot of advice about doing interviews actually and being wary of what people want from you.”
Towards the end of the interview, Zauner told me about her post-tour plans to write a book and spend some time writing and spending time with her family in Korea.
To see Zauner now, almost four years later, with a best-selling book and two-time Grammy-nominated album, is quite a feat (i.e. I’m so so proud 🥺).
When I asked Zauner about her songwriting process in Soft Sounds and where she typically draws inspiration, she explained to me: “I think you just have to focus on creating something that you love first that feels really true to you in order for other people to feel like it’s something that’s real and that should be appreciated.”
“The sophomore [album] response is a very scary thing and a really real thing to all of a sudden go into the record knowing people listened to [the first] and have something to compare it to,” she continued. “I was really conscious about staying true to myself and make something that I felt was really good. And if I could accomplish not trying to pander to what I thought people wanted and focus on what felt real and good to me, hopefully it would translate to other people.”
Her Jubilee tour featured Zauner in her natural exuberant self and full band playing hits like “Paprika” (and its Grammy-nominated cymbal), “Be Sweet” and “Posing In Bondage.” She also played older favorites “Boyish,” “Road Head” and a cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams.”
Moreover, 2017 to 2021 Zauner is different.
Along with Jubilee thematically being a more joyous and exuberant experience of her music, as opposed to the moodier, softer and more melancholic undertones of her previous work, Jubilee sees Zauner taking full reign of her power: the awareness of the complexities of her voice and its inflections; her knack for narrative and story through her songwriting; and her signature emotive approach to her writing, this time seen with music that is produced with boundless energy and drive.
I caught Zauner’s last night on her Jubilee US tour in Pomona last Tuesday, November 16th at the Glass House. For now, feel free to peruse her jubilant wonder and expression in my videos captured below:
I am so proud of you Jbrekkie, and I am very honored to have followed, been witness to, spoken to you, and to have personally been inspired by your prolific writing, musicianship, and willingness to speak up and stand out — for us Asian Americans, speaking out on our grief, using our grief to make art, and doing it all with so much grace.
Thank you. Congrats.