Michelle Zauner has a distinct vision and Japanese Breakfast is the vessel. The indie hero got her start in the band Post Post before fronting Philadelphia's much-loved Little Big League. But when a difficult time hit, Japanese Breakfast became Zauner's solo outlet, bringing together both melancholy and upbeat pop elements.
Japanese Breakfast's first album, "Psychopomp" -- which Zauner wrote in the wake of the untimely death of her mother in 2015 -- made waves as a beautiful work of art from start to finish. The lyrics are extremely personal and relatable, given with a raw vocal delivery, and the album is rich with dreamlike, shoegaze melodies.
On the band's second album, 2017's "Soft Sounds from Another Planet," there is a clear departure from what came before, but the full-length album was met with critical acclaim as a collection of wonderfully diverse, multi-dimensional songs. And following the release of "Soft Songs from Another Planet," Japanese Breakfast has been busy touring, both nationally and internationally.
Japanese Breakfast plays the Bug Jar on Monday, July 16, so CITY shot some questions to Zauner to ask about touring, writing music for a video game, and what's in the future for her band. An edited transcript follows.
CITY: Japanese Breakfast has been busy touring and played the Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, and Coachella festivals this year. How does it feel coming back to Rochester and playing to a small club?
Michelle Zauner: I think this is my third time at the Bug Jar. Tim Avery is a good friend of mine and I have such fond memories of that venue. It's nice to do it all. Intimate club shows are a part of it.
Does your stage show change at all when it's not a big festival stage or music hall?
Our sets are shorter at big festivals, so we don't get to play as much of our catalogue. The sets are more geared toward the more upbeat songs to keep people engaged. Headlining shows we get to play for longer, stretch out, and take our time, play the slower songs.
You've been touring a ton. How do you and the band handle being constantly on the road? I imagine you have some tricks by now on taking care of yourselves despite long spurts away from home.
I think you have to learn just to give each other space and to pace yourself. I've been trying to stretch and exercise a bit more to avoid injuring my back. Try not to drink as much alcohol, sleep well, hydrate more. All the boring stuff you don't want to hear about.
What have you and the band been listening to while on the road?
We've loved the new Natalie Prass and Hop Along. That Phoebe Bridgers record is a van favorite. I listen to a lot of Japanese ambient music in headphones. I need soothing music like Brian Eno and Cornelius to keep me in kind of a Zen place where I can read and write and do other things.
I hear you are working on composing the music for a video game called "Sable." How does working on a video game compare to writing for a band? Do you have plans to play any of the songs live with your band?
Oh, it's totally different. I really doubt I will play any of the songs live with the band. Mostly everything so far has been electronic and done with MIDI, so there's not much of a place for it in a set, I don't think. Aside from the trailer, most of it is ambient music, so unlike the pop songs I write for the band, there aren't any repeating parts or vocal melodies. It's been really fun and different.
I'm wondering if this video game project has made you approach songwriting any differently. Do you have a specific process that you like to use when songwriting?
I generally write songs pretty quickly, and it will stem from some lyrics I feel connected to and then weave itself around a melody and a guitar or key line. On "Soft Sounds" my process changed a bit as I was writing quite a bit in the studio and letting specific tones and instruments inform the direction of a song. I haven't written anything new since working on this game soundtrack, so I'm not sure how it will inform it. I have gotten a lot more comfortable making electronic beats, so I imagine that might work itself in there.
From knowing you in Little Big League, and now with the most recent Japanese Breakfast album, it seems like your music has evolved a lot. What do you attribute that to?
I think that's just what time does to you when you've had the same job for quite some time. The hope is that you just get better and gain more skills that help you progress. I also think that your perspective changes a lot from your early-20's into your late-20's. I went through a huge life change after my mom passed away, so that definitely changed me in a huge way as an artist and a person.
What are you looking forward to in the near future with Japanese Breakfast? Any new projects or plans in the works that you are excited for?
Hopefully some video projects and non-fiction works will come out by the end of the year. Working on the "Sable" soundtrack. And then slowly but surely working on LP3.