Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner and Crying’s Ryan Galloway have teamed up for Pop Songs 2020, a new EP made in quarantine. Released under the name Bumper, the four-track album is out Friday.
The project was born when Zauner asked Galloway to write a guitar part for a song off her upcoming Japanese Breakfast record, the follow-up to 2017’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet due next year. They clicked, and decided to work on their own EP. The duo live three blocks apart in Brooklyn, New York, but haven’t seen each other since before the pandemic occurred.
“I’ve always really liked Crying and I think Ryan as a talent is so underrated,” Zauner tells Rolling Stone. “I knew that he was such a guitar wizard and his influences are super bizarre, in my world anyway. And I really appreciate that. For this new [Japanese Breakfast] record, I just wanted to work with people that really inspired me creatively. We worked together and made something that was totally out of the realm of what I would usually make. I realized that Ryan had this wealth of material that he was just sitting on.”
With glittery hooks and buoyant melodies, Pop Songs 2020 is more sonically similar to Zauner’s recent W Hotels singles than her two studio albums. The EP kicks off with the blissed-out “You Can Get It!” and wraps with the keyboard-driven “Ballad 0.” Zauner and Galloway also attempted to cover Savage Garden’s “I Want You,” but unfortunately it didn’t happen. “I realized that song was really out of my register,” Zauner says with a laugh.
Zauner and Galloway sent each other songs remotely, contributing lyrics and toplines as they went. “Basically, her songs were made and were not obnoxious, and then I just added that element to it,” Galloway says. “I also think personality-wise, both of us are very loud. When Michelle came over and we figured out what I can add to the Japanese Breakfast song, both of us were at full volume the whole time. It also carries over throughout this project. There’s a specific part in a song where I added a timpani part, and Michelle was like, ‘Sounds like a dumpster falling over. It’s awful.’ I think it’s fun to accept that way of criticism, and bounce back and forth and be allowed to say, ‘Hey, that sucks.’ Because typically, I think that’s how more hardcore musicians tend to communicate. But for indie rock, it’s not usually like that.”
“I felt very comfortable saying things like that,” Zauner says. “Maybe because I felt like the stakes were set very low. We just wanted to make something fun. It was a space that we created that was very comfortable for us to be honest with one another without hurting each other’s feelings. We were also in a place where we wanted to make bombastic pop music.”
Crying released their debut, Beyond the Fleeting Gales, in 2016, but have yet to release another album. “I actually couldn’t decide on what it would sound like,” Galloway admits. “I really like using albums as a book of chapters rather than a bunch of short stories. I really like the album to have an idea. And I was going back and forth between all of these ideas, like, ‘What if our next album was a cartoon prog-metal opera? What if it was super pop-y?’ Working on Bumper allowed me to explore some of those options that I was paralyzed by, like slowly chipping away at all of the curiosities I’ve had. I think this is more straightforward pop than both of our projects. So this is me dipping my feet in there.”
Last December, Zauner moved back to New York from Philadelphia. “I could afford it again,” she says, laughing. She originally lived in NYC five years ago, when she was working in advertising while making her 2016 debut, Psychopomp. She’s waiting on the release of three projects: the new Japanese breakfast record, the soundtrack for a video game called Sable and her memoir Crying in H Mart, which she originally released as an essay in 2018.
“I’m this new blank slate,” she says. “I’m creatively really bloated because I haven’t released anything, and I have these three big things that are almost done or finished. So for me, Bumper was a smaller, less precious project. I could just have fun with it and not overthink it so much. So it was really gratifying for me in that way. But now I’m just looking for my next thing to do. Make LP four, I guess.”