Welcome back to another She Rocks Podcast! This week WiMN founder Laura B. Whitmore talks with Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast. You can find previous episodes of the She Rocks Podcast here, as well as wherever you get podcasts. Don’t forget to rate and review!
Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast is proud of her Korean/American heritage and excited about life in 2022. Her most recent album, Jubilee, has been nominated for two GRAMMY’s and her best-selling book, Crying in H Mart, is being made into a feature film. But this success hasn’t erased her vulnerable charm and earnest vibe, which also come through in her music.
Sweet lilting vocals, Arrangements mesmerizingly beautiful and ultimately cool in their simplicity. These all punctuate the music of Japanese Breakfast. At times quirky but always undeniably real, Jubilee is at times both intimate and grand.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Zauner at an event hosted by Fender as they were launching their new Meteora guitar. A Fender guitar fan since her guitar beginnings, she had trouble getting her mom to buy into the instrument. “I started begging for a guitar probably when I was 14 or 15, but my mom didn’t get me one until I was 16,” she confides. Like most Asian kids, I was forced into playing the piano at five years old. But the guitar was so much cooler and all the guys at school that I admired played guitar. I wanted to join them. I learned my first three chord and I was really off to the races. I just loved songwriting and the guitar really became this vehicle for songwriting. It was just my instrument.”
Zauner is enthusiastic about Fender’s new guitar, and she’s jumped in with both feet as their spokesperson for the Meteora. “I had the opportunity to play the Meteora in Berkeley on an off day on tour. I usually play a jazz master. And before that I played a Tele. The Meteora kind of combines those two guitars in a really elegant way. The controls are very minimalistic and very elegant and simple, which I really like in a guitar. It has a beefy, meaty tone, and when I played the song ‘Posing for Cars,’ which has like a four-minute guitar solo, it definitely has a very full, thick tone that I really enjoy.”
Originally from the west coast of Oregon, Zauner was inspired by Indy rock bands like Modest Mouse and Deathcab for Cutie. Rooted in personal experience and expanded to appeal to a wide swath of listeners, Japanese Breakfast’s past two albums were written while Zauner’s mother was sick and ultimately died from cancer. That experience was drawn into her musical creative outlet, and also later inspired an article in the New Yorker that led to her best-selling book, Crying in H Mart. Her mom’s death struck her hard, but now, with the release of Jubilee and new successes, she feels her mother ushering her forward.
“I feel my mother in the way that I behave and react to certain things instinctively. Sometimes I can hear her coming out of me in ways that I scold my husband, or in how I react to something emotional on television. My mom never got to see me come into any sort of artistic success. And so it felt so strangely serendipitous that I became very creatively successful only after she passed away. In some ways it always felt like she was looking out for me. Since she passed, it feels like she’s almost responsible for all the success,” Zauner shares.
With Jubilee Zauner has turned the corner, celebrating life with verve. Coming now from a place of light, Japanese Breakfast’s explorations has struck a chord with listeners worldwide. “It feels very surreal. It’s really wonderful actually. It’s a lot of validation to be nominated for a GRAMMY. It’s just like one of those funny things that like I get to have now. And it like stays with you forever. It’s an undeniable accomplishment that anyone can acknowledge. So, uh, yeah, it was, it was a huge surprise and massive honor.”