Signal Path Podcast: Japanese Breakfast
Listen to the latest SIGNAL PATH podcast with MICHELLE ZAUNER, the creative force behind indie pop band JAPANESE BREAKFAST and author of the widely acclaimed memoir, Crying In H Mart.
Hear the stories behind the sounds. Join Zakia Sewell as she meets world-renowned sonic innovators to explore those defining moments that influenced how they think about sound.
Episode 055: Japanese Breakfast
For the latest episode of Signal Path, Zakia speaks with Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner. Known for her artfully experimental, deeply intimate brand of indie pop, the vocalist and guitarist recently wrote the bestselling memoir, Crying in H Mart, a thought-proving exploration of growing up as a Korean-American and dealing with the grief of losing her mother.
Zakia Sewell: I'm always fascinated to hear about artists' early experiences of music. So I wonder if you could paint a little picture of your childhood home and the sort of sounds that you grew up with, or your early encounters with music.
Michelle Zauner: So I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest. I grew up kind of outside of town. It’s a very beautiful place to live in. There's a lot of nature and natural bodies of water and moss and ferns. And I also think it has a really rich music scene. I definitely was raised on Pacific Northwest indie rock, like Death Cab for Cutie, Built To Spill and Elliot Smith, and this kind of dynamic rock music that centered around really great lyrics and, and very emotional, somewhat confessional type of songwriting.
Getting started I was most moved by this sort of DIY scene, because I never felt very comfortable with my voice. I didn't feel like I had real talents as a singer or even as a musician, but I felt like I had a lot of ideas and I really wanted to write songs. I really wanted to be a part of that world. And I think that there was this genre where you didn't have to have those things, in order to write really compelling music. I think actually Mount Erie was like a huge influence on me, in that way. Artists like Kimya Dawson, where it was like, it felt accessible to me. And I think that was sort of like my first connection with music in that way.
And when did you first start experimenting, making your own music and what were those sort of early experiments? What did they sound like?
I wrote my first song, I think, when I was 16 years old and my best friend and I had ridden our bicycles to this cafe called Nobody’s Baby. It was this very cute cafe that was kind of charming. They hung up swinging benches and put all these like canopies with tools. And it was just a really good vibe. It was kind of like the first DIY cafe, like a house show that I had gone to as a 16 year old. And there were three upperclassmen. We happened to see kids from our high school putting on this DIY show and it was just three acoustic sets. It was this band. I forget their names up their projects now, but it was Andrew, this guy, Andrew Barton, my friend, Carrie Mann, and, Russell Melia who has a project called Pegasus Seed and they're all just like super smart, cool, upperclassmen that we were watching play acoustic songs, with, you know, funny lyrics. I think it was the first moment that I was like, I can do that. You know? I had just started taking guitar lessons and I think I knew like three chords and, and that's all it took to get the courage to write a song after that. My songs in the beginning were very embarrassing <laughs> I wrote a song called BFF about my best friend, like when I got home just about like, you know, it was like a list of things that my best friend and I did, I was like 16 years old. I'd never encountered any real sadness or love or anything. So I was just writing about my friend. They were kind of cutesy, like Kimya Dawson rip off songs.
You have sort of painted a picture of that sort of scene already, but who were the people around you? And where were you hanging out and where were you seeing these bands play? Can you paint the picture of that scene in Oregon at that time?
I mean, Oregon in general is kind of a passed over place. You know, it's not like LA or Seattle. If bands are gonna play in Oregon, they're usually gonna play in Portland, Oregon, which is about two hours north of Eugene. So you know, it was always like the bane of my existence as kind of like a small town kid that all my favorite bands would play Portland. And my parents, my Mom was pretty strict and wouldn't really let me go up there. So if a band did play Eugene and now that I'm a touring musician I realize how you're not putting it all out there for Eugene, Oregon.
<Laugh> uh, I would guess. There was a rare occasion when bands would come through and there was a venue called the WOW Hall that I would always go to. And sometimes like to sneak out of the house to see shows there. I saw Joanna Newsom and Smog play there. I saw Menomena. And… who else did I see? M. Ward. And when I started playing music, that was kind of the goal, to play the WOW Hall.
Listen to the full interview with Japanese Breakfast and subscribe to Signal Path with the podcast provider of your choice below.
Host: Zakia Sewell, Producer: Alannah Chance, Creative Producer: Joshua Thomas, Creative Lead: Ty Stanton-Jones, Music: Yip Wong, Agency: Commune