“Everyone I knew who played an instrument was recorded”: Japanese Breakfast on the community spirit behind his new album | Guitar.com
It is no longer enough for Michelle Zauner to simply draw a line under a project. “This is a devastating new development,” she laughs, leaning against a Zoom window by a spray of framed images against the yellow walls of her Brooklyn apartment. “The novelty of finishing something has faded, so when I do an album now, I’m very unsure about that.”
But Jubilee, the third disc that Zauner released under the name Japanese Breakfast, is not an uncertain work. It’s expressive, adventurous, and littered with bright indie-pop hooks. He’s been by her side since 2019 when he was packed before being pushed back as things shifted a few degrees in our current near-existence. “Maybe it sounds awful, but I lost the prospect of enjoying my work until later,” she observes.
“I was listening to the record on an airplane almost a year after it ended, and I had a really moving experience where I was able to appreciate it a lot more. My co-producer, Craig Hendrix, felt the same. We were thrilled when we finished Sweet sounds from another planet. With this record, there was this sad feeling. I think it’s just delayed now. I know I can finish a record. I won’t know if it’s good until I have that perspective. Time has given me the impression that it’s good, that it’s timeless.
Take a turn
The four years since Sounds sweet … spread out like an ocean behind Jubilee. The records are both unmistakably Zauner’s – sprinkled with wireframe lyrics and a tactile production that’s part of the sound barrier, of the indie-rock wig – but they approach things from spaces of totally different head. The first couple of Japanese breakfast records, starting with the 2016 hit Psychopomp, examined Zauner’s grief over losing his mother to cancer, a process that continued throughout the writing of his recent New York Times bestselling memoir Crying in H Mart.
Jubilee, quite deliberately, gives the impression of arriving around the corner to find something that you did not know how to look for: it is about joy, euphoria, feeling. This is reflected in songs that pop and roar thanks to the brass, strings and, on the superb lead single. be nice, funk guitar hits a la Nile Rodgers.
“We were looking for an ambitious, confident and vibrant palette,” Zauner admits. “I felt more comfortable arranging the strings and the horns. Work with these instruments on a smaller capacity on Sounds sweet … made us feel more confident to use them more. I think the compositions were naturally a bit more fun and joyful. I had the impression that it was planned like that. “
Bring your friends
Jubilee is linked by rich synthetic textures, resulting from Zauner’s desire to press reset while writing more on the piano. “I feel like I have capped a bit musically,” she said. “It’s easy to get lazy. You start to rely on the same tips, the same chord shapes, the same structures, even the keys.
As a result, the record makes more use of the guitars as a series of accents, be it the textured acoustic classicism of Kokomo, IN or the clean lines underlying the heartbreaking In hell, a missive from the recent past that deals a hard blow. Zauner allows the closest, Posing for cars, to span six minutes as a gnarled solo sets in like Dave Gilmour turning on the taps during a house show.
The bench is also deeper here. With Hendrix, Zauner has given the floor to more employees than she would have tolerated in the past. be nice was co-written with Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum, for example, while Philly indie rock weirdo Alex G co-produced the tear-down / smirk capitalist character study. good wild boy. “I wanted to create more situations where I felt uncomfortable, where I could steal knowledge from other people,” Zauner explains. “Let’s see what gear and plugins Jack Tatum from Wild Nothing uses, or Ryan Galloway from Crying.
“Psychopomp was about the absolute necessity – literally everyone I knew who played an instrument was recorded. Sounds sweet …I was so scared of the second year seizure that I wanted it to be the most insular process. It was just me and Craig in his studio. For Jubilee it would have been so easy to just go back. I wanted to push myself to do more before we got together and explore working with other people. I also felt I had less to prove. Before, I would have been scared to have a co-writer on a record because, especially as a woman in music, it was really important to me that everyone knew that I was producing, arranging and writing all the songs. . Now I don’t have to prove it to anyone.
These days, Zauner is at home with a Jazzmaster in hand and a JC-120 behind her, having swapped out the Telecasters she turned to earlier in her career. “Going on tour with Slowdive really made me love the JC-120,” she observes. “It’s solid, it sounds good. I love the look of Telecasters, but I find the kind of stuff I’ve always played is higher up the neck and it gets a bit too high end for me. The Jazzmaster feels like a more down to earth sound. I was a little intimidated for a while because they’re bigger, but I also feel cooler being a petite woman playing one.
Born in Seoul to a Korean mother and a white American father, Zauner grew up in the hippie confines of Eugene, Oregon. His first guitar came into his life as indie rock in the Pacific Northwest was going through a hectic period of creativity and weight. “I was 14 or 15 years old and I have the impression that around that age, I had started to understand what interested me musically,” she recalls.
“I didn’t have any siblings, my parents didn’t really listen to music, so I definitely turned to music depending on my surroundings. I listened to bands like Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith, Death Cab for Cutie, those kind of dynamic indie-rock bands. I went to these shows and wanted to be as close to them as possible. I wanted to play the guitar. My mom had been paying for piano lessons since I was five, and I never got very good at it. She said, ‘Why am I going to waste thousands of dollars for you to ignore something else?’ But eventually she gave in and bought me a Yamaha acoustic from Costco. It came in a box. The action was so high. It was impossible to play for a long time.
Theory of chords
However, things quickly fell into place. As soon as she had a few chords in the bank, the songs started coming in. Zauner went from wanting to do it to doing it, going from open mics to playing around Eugene as Little Girl, Big Spoon. “I learned G, C and D, and that’s it,” she says. “I was gone. I wrote about 10 songs on G, C, and D. I think I always saw the guitar as a vehicle for songwriting. For a long time I didn’t even care. ‘being a great guitarist, I just wanted to write songs.
Zauner’s next stop was Philadelphia, where she followed up a stint at college at Bryn Mawr with a stint in scrappy indie-punk band Little Big League. Their two LPs came out at a time when the city’s rock scene could have lasted until the end of a contest with almost any other place on Earth. “My two favorite bands from Philly are Alex G and Spirit of the Beehive,” she says.
“I really think that being surrounded by extremely creative people, who just make really weird music, made me find that in myself. I think I’m trying to do something a little more hi-fi at this point, but I’m really inspired by these bands and the way they fuck with their music. I think there is a real DIY spirit that came to me. I understand the power of not recording in a really big budget studio because it gets you experimenting. I think Philadelphia gave me the courage to experiment more.
This impulse to push the limits of his sound is over Jubilee, especially after Zauner began to view the studio as a creative space as well as a practical space. She says to reinvent the rough punk of Boy, a holdover from his Little Big League days, like a great ballad on Sounds sweet … like a light bulb moment. “When I was in Little Big League, I never thought of the studio that way,” she says. “We were so focused on getting live sound. We did these songs together as a band and we were trying to perform them in a live environment. Boy is a perfect example. I realized that if you get it in composition you might lose it in arrangement and you might lose it in production.
“I think with the Little Big League version we lost it in the arrangement and we lost it even more in the production. I feel like I did my share of songwriting on this song, and then it never got its due. Finding it and seeing the power of arranging and producing is what I discovered with this band and because of that I’m quite valuable to this process. One great thing about Craig and I is that we approach each song in a different way. Everything serves the song. I think our albums have a scrapbook quality.
Japanese breakfast Jubilee is now available through Dead Oceans.