Japanese Breakfast Bringing Concerts to Cleveland Agora: Q&A with Michelle Zauner

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Agora is set to mark its return to live music after being closed for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The show, scheduled for Thursday August 5, will feature indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, led by singer-guitarist Michelle Zauner.

The show won’t quite look like Agora’s in early 2020 before the pandemic. Fans will be faced with new COVID-19 protocols to even enter the hall on concert day.

The protocols were announced Monday on Japanese Breakfast’s social media accounts:

“Given the spread of the Delta variant and the recent changes the CDC has made to the masking guidelines, we kindly request that the following COVID protocol be adhered to at all future Japanese breakfast shows.

-All participants will either be fully vaccinated or have received a negative PCR test within 48 hours of the show.

-Mouth and nose covers will be worn by all participants at all times, except when eating or drinking.

-All staff dealing with members of the group or the public will be fully immunized.

Zauner and other members of the Japanese Breakfast group declined to comment further on the newly imposed restrictions, instead referring to their social media post. This message applies to all remaining dates of the tour, which runs through mid-November. The Agora will follow requests for the Japanese breakfast, according to a spokesperson for the place.

The tour celebrates Japanese Breakfast’s latest independent album, “Jubilee”, as well as Zauner’s debut book: A Memoir on Her Mother’s Death, titled “Crying in H Mart”. The book arrived a few years after a 2018 essay Zauner wrote for the New Yorker of the same name.

We caught up with Zauner to talk about his music, his book, and his pandemic life. The interview took place on Wednesday, July 28, before the group’s COVID-19 policies were announced. Check out our conversation with Zauner below:

(Photo by Peter Ash Lee)

How’s your tour going for you?

It’s going great. You know, it’s good to be back, there’s still apprehension, but I’m really glad we can do this. It was really fun.

Your show in Cleveland at the Agora; this is the first show in the venue, I think, since it closed last year. How does it feel to do that big show back there?

It’s very surreal. I think the last time we played in Cleveland was at Mahall’s, so it’s a huge leap forward and it’s kind of a sensory richness that it’s hard to know how to feel. It’s been a year and a half since we even played a show and a lot of those shows are the biggest we’ve ever played. So it’s hard to know exactly what to get excited about at this point.

Playing Mahall’s and other past shows in Cleveland – memories you’d like to share? I also know that Little Big League, when you were in that band, played Brite Winter in 2014.

Oh my god that’s right, I remember this show very well because it was so cold. It was the dead of winter and I’m pretty sure I fell on my butt on a patch of snow while loading the car. Sometimes I miss those days a bit – it was so gritty and real and I remember seeing my friends playing a joke outside without their shirts on. It was a really fun show. I can’t remember which band was headlining, but they had been playing for a really long time and it was really cool to see a band like that, still doing the DIY.

But, yeah, I had a lot of great times at Mahall. We have good friends in Cleveland so we always have a great time there. Mahall’s is one of my favorite places. I remember eating a chicken wing on stage while Alex G was playing it.

To talk about “Jubilee” – I love that this is a celebration themed album, especially after last year. I feel like the timing worked with the release.

Me too. I am really happy. it was supposed to come out a year ago, but I think it feels a lot more timely right now that a lot of people can really, unfortunately, get that kind of a feeling of being released into the world after a really tense and traumatic time and embrace all the joys of being human.

Japanese breakfast in multicolored dress.

(Photo by Tonje Thilesen)

I was wondering if you could tell me more about some of the themes on the album, where do they come from?

I think after writing two records on grief and loss and an entire book about that experience, I just felt it was time to tackle something on the other end of the human experience and I felt like the most amazing thing I could do was be an artist whose story was truly painted as a “sorrow girl”, that I could write an album about joy.

I think, especially for the kind of genre that I operate in, it’s also kind of a rarity and in a lot of ways it was an album about how to relearn how to experience those types of emotions and how to feel. give permission to move on and explore other parts of your life. Especially after writing this book, I felt really ready to move on from exploring this part of my life.

I am currently reading your book. It is adorable. And I remember reading the New Yorker essay, I was just really excited for it to come out. How did the release of this book go? And how does it feel to promote that and the album? They are very different.

It wasn’t meant to be on each other’s heels, but the way the pandemic impacted the album, it almost feels like a double release in a way. But I think the narrative really works because, like I said, it’s like all of these feelings that I felt this real need to understand and explore and investigate.

I’ve been told some really moving things about how grieving people are motivated by this album knowing that they might not be here in their grieving phase yet, but there is joy. at the end of the tunnel. I feel like that’s what both this album and this book are coming out around the same time. These were my darkest days and joy is still possible after going through it all.

In the last year or so I know you mentioned that it affects versions, but how did you spend the time? how was it for you?

Honestly, I’m a very grounded person in my job and so it was very difficult, to have completed these two major projects and not really know what to do with myself or not have that feeling of liberation. which generally accompanies artistic creation.

I just tried to find ways to occupy myself. I worked a lot on this soundtrack for a video game called “Sable” that I’m recording. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to exercise and finding different ways to fit the routine into my life so that I don’t fall into great depression. I practiced the piano a lot and tried to clean the house a lot. These little things, I think, to stay put.

Now that we’re back to the shows, as a spectator he definitely has a different energy. I was wondering if this is something that you experience as a performer – if it is different from before?

There is so much unknown – wish it didn’t look like this. I think we all anticipated this major feeling of liberation with the shows. I think it’s unfortunately still linked to that major feeling of the unknown, which kind of keeps us from feeling that fully.

I think we are also relearning to be social creatures again. And for me, personally, I always feel comfortable speaking to a large group of people. It’s just about relearning how to do things and I think it touched us the same way we are, maybe we’re just starting to take it into account now.

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