Music & Nightlife

Japanese Breakfast tackles grief and evens the indie playing field with dream pop

Japanese Breakfast performs at Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday night.
Japanese Breakfast performs at Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday night.

Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner didn’t go to her senior prom, but in the video for the song “Boyish,” she and her band play out what she calls her “prom fantasy.”

“I hated high school,” says Zaunder, who brings her current tour to Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday night. “I went to my junior prom with my boyfriend at the time. I wore a tuxedo and he wore a dress. We went for 10 minutes and realized, ‘Why would we want to spend time with people that we hate?’ 

With “Boyish,” she reclaimed her prom experience. “In a lot of movies, I like that the underdog characters have that resolve to take this thing that is really heteronormative and a big popularity contest and find a way to have fun with it,” she explains.

The main character in the video — like a teen Zauner — is Asian, wears a tuxedo along with her friends, and dreams of shredding on stage. “I really wanted to play with the spectators’ expectations,” she says. “You think the main character is pining over this guy, but instead she sees someone she looks up to, which is kind of how I felt when I saw a female bass player or an Asian American girl playing music (when I was growing up). That would move me more.”

As a Korean-American who grew up with few role models that looked like her in the entertainment business, Zauner was conscious of casting the video with a diverse group of actors culled mostly from Instagram, where she held an open casting call for 18- to 23-year-olds that looked like they were in high school.

“A lot of my fans are young Asian girls, and I wanted to have that represented,” explains Zauner, who mentions Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as someone she looked up to as a teen. “A lot of Asian American girls looked up to her in my generation. I saw a half Korean/half Caucasian girl spitting water all over herself and deep throating a microphone and thought, ‘I want to do that.’ 

While Japanese Breakfast’s music is much more dreamy and subdued than O’s, there’s a heaviness to her debut “Psychopomp,” which followed the death of her mother, and her more-recent sophomore album, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet,” which deals with the ensuing grief and recovery.

Although she tried to distance herself from the grief by making a futuristic concept record, she ultimately found that approach didn’t work for her.

“I realized I’m not that kind of writer,” she says, although she retained the spacey feel.

“A lot of the record feels like you’re drifting through space. And grief feels unattached and not connected to your body,” she explains. “There’s a loneliness to it.”

Japanese Breakfast

When: 9 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.

Tickets: $13-$15.

Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.

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