Interview: Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast)

Updated: May 19

Ahead of her Jakarta show in May, we spoke with Michelle about her past projects, her autobiography (which was announced right before the interview took place) among other things.

First off, congratulations on your memoir! Publishing a book. How does that feel? And on a really good publication also. Walk us through the process of writing a memoir and linking up with Knopf?

Thank you! It feels so great and surreal even though it has been on my mind and computer nonstop. Right now I'm still working on the rough draft. I try to write at least 1,000 words everyday and ideally an hour or so on editing in the evening. I was approached by a number of agents after my essay Crying in H Mart came out in 2018. Brettne Bloom at the Book Group helped me put together a proposal and pitched to a number of publishers. The book went to auction in late January and I'm so pleased we decided to go with Knopf. The brilliant Robin Desser is my editor and I feel so lucky I get to work with her.

You were once the frontwoman of the band Little Big League. What was the main reason for this shift to starting Japanese Breakfast?

It was all circumstantial. We had just finished our second album when I found out my mother had cancer, and it was released a week before she died. The band and label were all very understanding when I said I didn't want to do it anymore. I wrote Psychopomp during that time just as a therapeutic outlet and just released it without any intention of touring or any clue that anyone would care.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen a rise of representation of Asian culture in music as a whole, knowing how tight knitted sometimes the community is, How is your relationship with other Asian-American musicians that you know? What would you do to make Asian-American musicians to have a platform?

I feel so lucky to get to know quite a few Asian American musicians. It's a very supportive community, in my opinion. I feel very lucky to have this platform and I try to promote my friend's work on social media or connect them with people in the industry or bring them out on tours. I think it's also important to just serve as a friend and a sounding board, give advice or just be an ear when people want or need it. It's important also to stick up for each other.

Your last album, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” is really personal. And that’s what I get from listening to you, a personal bombardment of feelings, almost like a blunt force. Can you tell us, at large, the process of your songwriting and being under Dead Oceans?​

I think it's always been natural for me to write from a very personal place. I grew up listening to and worshipping bands that did that, so I just always felt like that's what music should be. That it was important that it come from a real place. Dead Oceans has always been supportive of that process and a great conduit of resources.

You released a project called June. Which is quite intriguing to say the least. For our readers that may don’t know this, can you explain what it is?

​In June of 2013 I wrote and recorded songs everyday for the month of June. So it's a cassette full of 30 lo-fi tracks, a lot of which kind of served as demos for a number of songs on both albums.

We played Japanese Breakquest! Can you tell us the story behind the game?

We released a cassette with midi versions of the album and the label knew I was a fan of video games and suggested I make one. They paired me with Elaine Fath who is an amazing game developer/designer. I sort of had a general idea that the plot should be

We recently had Mitski here in Jakarta and she talks about you. What’s your connection with Mitski?

Mitski brought Japanese Breakfast out on our very first 5-week US tour in 2016. I've always been a huge fan of her music and really owe her a lot. I really had no intention of touring again until she offered me that support slot, so in a lot of ways it's because of her that I decided to give my music career another shot. She's become a good friend over the years. We text each other every now and then to check in. We both talk a lot about how fun it is to tour Asia and wanting to do it more often!

I think it's always been natural for me to write from a very personal place.

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