Hotstar: Japanese Breakfast Turns Up The Sounds & Serves Up Fierce Live Show

Tojo Andrianarivo
Japanese Breakfast plays Sasquatch! Music Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Wash., May 27.

Michelle Zauner vividly remembers receiving a Bandcamp order for her solo project Japanese Breakfast’s 2015 cassette from Ground Control Touring’s Merrick Jarmulowicz.

“I used to send out all of the tapes with handwritten notes and collage the envelopes. I saw [Merrick’s] name and like a real dork I wrote, ‘Please book me some day’ on his note,” Zauner told Pollstar.
“I knew all of the names of the booking agencies and I knew the names of particular reps and which artists they represent because I was such a fan of music and wanted so badly to have a career in music.” She added, “Ground Control – and particularly Timmy [Hefner] and Merrick – were my first picks from the beginning.”
Japanese Breakfast
Morgan Winston
– Japanese Breakfast
plays Thalia Hall in Chicago July 21, 2018.
Hefner said although he loved the indie pop/rock band’s debut album, he wanted to see the live show before committing. Come March 2016 he caught one of Japanese Breakfast’s sets at Austin’s South By Southwest.   
“As soon as the show was done I was texting Merrick and John and Eric from our office,” Hefner said. “I texted, ‘Oh my God. We have to work with her. That was so fucking good.’ Within like 15 minutes it was official.”
Ten Atoms president Ryan Matteson, who started working with Japanese Breakfast in fall 2017, was also immediately “blown away” by the live show.
“There’s audience interaction, there’s great banter. It’s one of those shows that you can get swept away in and feel that you’re really part of something that is sonically interesting and dynamic, but at the same time visually engaging.”
Zauner has ridden the slow build of her career to get to this place, having toured in a number of bands since she was 16, as well as booking her own gigs and self-managing Japanese Breakfast for a year and a half. After she moved back to her hometown of Eugene, Ore., following her mom’s cancer diagnosis she put the band Little Big League on hiatus and started Japanese Breakfast in 2013 as a lo-fi side project, writing songs as a therapeutic outlet. 
She signed with Dead Oceans at 2016’s SXSW and released Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, the next year to critical acclaim. The subject matter is raw, with Zauner wrapping tales of heartbreak, longing and love in chill-inducing synths.
“Things that make me feel so isolated and alone in my experiences, through making art I’ve found that so many people felt the same way and feel very close to the material because they feel like it comes from a very real place,” Zauner said.
That connection between Zauner and her fans extends to the singer/songwriter interacting on social media and spending up to two hours after a show signing autographs. 

Japanese Breakfast
Morgan Winston
– Japanese Breakfast
plays Islington Assembly Hall in London May 15, 2018.
Hefner calls Japanese Breakfast a dream to work with, explaining, “Michelle has been so hard working since day one. Besides making amazing music, she’s one of those people who realizes you need to do X, Y and Z – the radio sessions, interviews and sign autographs. She’s so approachable and the most sincere person I could think of.”
He noted that Zauner gives it her all, whether she’s playing Coachella or a club in Fresno, where she crowd-surfed during an especially rowdy show in February. 
“In the past two years she’s played all of these small markets,” Hefner said. “I feel like any silly band can just go to New York and L.A. and sell out some shows. It almost means nothing, whereas when you’re selling out shows in Boise or Salt Lake City that’s when I’m like, ‘Whoa. This is real.’” (laughs) 
Japanese Breakfast’s 2018 routing has ranged from the 400-cap Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, N.M., ($5,607 gross) to the 1,200-cap 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. ($21,600 gross).
Matteson adds, “We’ve really employed this tactic of going and going back. Michelle’s been to the West Coast three times. I think we’ve played Chicago four times. But it’s growth every time. I pay a lot of attention to the analytics of her social platforms and where people are coming from, [as well as] the streaming services that are out there.”
Playing between 150 to 175 shows per year has also helped Zauner and her backing band become more in sync on stage. With Zauner on vocals and guitar, she’s joined by Deven Craige on bass, Craig Hendrix on drums, and husband Peter Bradley on guitar and keys.
“There’s a tightness and a rhythm that you can’t achieve unless you’ve been with the same people for a long time,” Zauner said. “Everyone has an additional role outside of just playing their instrument. Devin also tour manages the band so we’re very much a tight-knit kind of family.”

Japanese Breakfast’s 2019 plans include two sold-out Brooklyn Steel shows, an appearance on Belle and Sebastian’s The Boaty Weekender cruise and yet-to-be announced festival gigs. Zauner is also working on new music, expanding on a recent piece in the New Yorker by writing a memoir, and soundtracking an indie game. 
After touring non-stop for more than two years, Zauner now has a chance to step back and reevaluate the live show. 
“I feel so grateful to have this platform and finally be able to pursue this as a career. And have fans that have grown with us,” Zauner said. “We’re always working and pushing ourselves to do the best that we can. So bigger space doesn’t mean more money, it means a bigger show.”