The Philly-via-Oregon musician Michelle Zauner, who goes by the name Japanese Breakfast, wrote her gorgeous debut album Psychopomp as a deeply personal meditation on grief following her mother’s death from cancer. Composed of dream-pop songs she had written over several years, the record was intended to be an experiment she’d do outside of the band she played in, Big Little League.
“My mom was sick and I just needed time for myself,” Zauner tells Jezebel. “I’ve always been a forthcoming person and I think that was surprising about my grief, I just found it to be very difficult to communicate with anyone about what I was feeling. I need to carve a space for myself to write my music.”
But the positive response to Japanese Breakfast was enormous, with Psychopomp earning rave reviews, and Zauner ended up touring with seminal shoegaze band Slowdive earlier this year. So Zauner started to write again, as she says “quickly and intuitively,” and ended up creating Soft Sounds from Another Planet, a dramatic record that takes great inspiration from her interest in sci-fi and outer space, particularly the Mars One mission.
“At the time I wrote this record there was a Time magazine article profiling the people who were going on the Mars One project with families and jobs, and I was fascinated they were willing to throw it all the way for science and progress,” she says. “It was this natural place for me to go because I was dissociating from reality a lot of the time and it seems so much nicer up there sometimes.”
Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Zauner says, came from the realization that she had so much more to say through Japanese Breakfast beyond mourning. “I think that a lot of [these] songs are mantras to myself, just how do you move forward from tragedy and how do you continue to be a good person in spite of all that?,” she says. “I think sometimes when you lose a parent or someone close to you, [you think] there’s this outside force that is purposefully fighting you. Instead of thinking that way I tried to stay positive.”