Michelle Zauner has always written about grief. The 30-year-old musician, who performs under the name Japanese Breakfast, joined Rolling Stone for “Morning Sessions” — an interview series presented by the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card — in which she discussed her writing process, her brief stint as a 9-to-5 New Yorker and the allure of Tears for Fears’ wacky Eighties synths.
Zauner — who lost her mother to cancer in 2014 — describes the pain and grief she went through while making her impressive debut Psychopomp in 2016. For her sophomore album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet a year later, she attempted to make a “spacey concept record,” citing Granddaddy’s The Sophtware Slump as an inspiration. However, she still realized she had some grief to process. “It stunted me in a very serious way,” she tells RS senior editor Brendan Klinkenberg. “My mother had still just died…it felt really unnatural to not write about it.”
Aside from songwriting, Zauner also writes non-fiction and is currently working on a memoir. She traces her love of prose back to 2016, when she left her home of Eugene, Oregon to New York City. “I quit music and decided I was going to work a 9-to-5 job in advertising…which in New York City is more like, 8-to-7,” she cracks. She had grown wary of “getting paid in cans of soup and cigarettes” and decided to throw in the towel. She wrote an essay during this time that was published by Glamour, only to have Psychopomp simultaneously take off. She’s been balancing music and writing ever since.
Elsewhere in the interview, Zauner lists her influences — Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi, the band the 1975, and Frank Ocean — and her love of video games. She also discusses her new song, titled “Essentially,” and her spooky, synth-heavy cover of Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” which were both recorded in Bali. When Klinkenberg asks about the future of Japanese Breakfast, Zauner takes a sip of water and simply answers, “Up!”