Michelle Zauner comes from the D.I.Y. indie rock scene, and her work fronting the band Japanese Breakfast stays rooted in lo-fi, punk-inspired sounds that might seem a world away from Kacey Musgraves. But maybe they aren’t really all that different–Pitchfork calls Zauner, “a rare combination of funny, meditative, and blunt as hell,” which sounds a lot like our favorite country-pop diva. Here, Zauner explores the other unexpected similarities they share.
(As told to Intersect Magazine)
Pre-major Grammy win, I had heard of Kacey Musgraves from my booking agent, Timmy Hefner, who’s a really eclectic man with really great tastes. He used to throw this big hardcore/punk festival called Chaos in Tejas, and he’s a big fan of Japanese hardcore. He was telling me about this girl Kacey Musgraves who was this country singer and it was really hard for me to wrap my head around him being such a huge fan. But because I really respect his music taste I was really curious. I thought it was really goofy that this big hardcore guy would be into a singer-songwriter.
So I checked her out when Golden Hour came out and I just really liked the record. It’s really great to see this kind of liberal, new country star come out and have it be this largely universal, enjoyable, pop sensation. I feel like it really brought together a lot of people who have really different tastes in different genres. She was polarizing. People either really liked her or really didn’t, and it was really fun to see people who normally didn’t like that type of music be huge fans of hers. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a contemporary country album, but I was really into it. “High Horse” is such a bop.
I’m really inspired by people who work on music at a super high level. There are so many different things that go into creating an album and being a machine that’s creating art in the public eye. Beyond composition there’s arrangements and production and mixing and making music videos and creating a live show. I think it’s always really inspiring to look to those who have more resources, because when you’re starting out or working at a lower level it’s really motivating to see how close you can get to creating something as universally enjoyable as a good, enjoyable thing and to figure out how to do that in your own work.
Someone like Kacey Musgraves, they’re writing with more people, working with more producers, working with some of the most talented Nashville musicians. It’s really cool to see how that elevates a record and to look at your own work and think, maybe I don’t have all the same resources as this person, but how can I pool my community to try and make something as close to as grand as this?
Also the live performance. That’s another reason why I’m really excited to see Kacey Musgraves, is that she comes from this scene where you have to be exceptionally good LIVE. She definitely doesn’t skimp out on playing to a backing track. She has a huge band full of really talented people and she’s also a really extraordinary performer. I’m excited to see that and think about my own ambition and wanting to bring in more musicians for future live shows, and what kind of spectacle you can create within varying budgets.
I really find that as we grow to be a bigger band, I never want to become complacent. I feel very grateful that we’ve grown as a band and have gotten opportunities to play festivals in front of more people, but I don’t just want to pocket that money. I want to push ourselves as a band. The people who are really successful are people who never rest, who as soon as they get to another place in their career are like, “Okay, what’s next?”
We started as a three-piece band touring in a minivan and as soon as we started making more money headlining shows we got a fourth member. We started incorporating string players at some shows, or horn players at some shows. Just as soon as you’re able to afford the next thing, how can I push us further so people don’t feel like they’re watching the same show. Not only are we getting to be a tighter band as a family and becoming a breathing machine together from playing these songs so many times, but how can we also incorporate other talent to make a bigger, better show.
It’s exhausting, but I think all the artists I admire are trying to do that with their shows, so I never want to stop.