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Japanese Breakfast’s ‘Psychopomp’ Reflects On Dreams And Death

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Photo: Japanese Breakfast publicity photo
Japanese Breakfast

When singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner learned her mother had been diagnosed with cancer in 2014, it turned her world upside down.

She soon moved back to Oregon to be with her family.

"I left my partner, I left my job, I left my band, I left my house and I just up and moved to Eugene -- because that was just what I had to do. My worst nightmare was to lose my mother," she said.

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Her mother passed away a few months later. Zauner was devastated.

"In my generation, my close friends kind of worship science and technology and progress as their religion," she said. "And when something really mysterious and dark happens, those can feel like really cold outlets to turn to."

Talking with her family wasn’t much better.

"On the flip side, people in my father’s generation would reach out to me in a very simplistic way: She's in a better place, she’s in heaven," Zauner said. "And that was also something I didn't really believe in. So I felt caught between these two generations of belief."

So Zauner turned back to music -- but not with her old band Little Big League. Instead, she recorded as Japanese Breakfast, a solo project.

That music became the debut album “Psychopomp.”

Zauner took the album’s name from psychologist Carl Jung, whose study of dreams helped her cope with losing her mom.

"I was having a lot of dreams about my mother after she passed away," she said. "And I think in a lot of ways it really helped me to just believe in that moment that it was her way of visiting me."

She even started seeing a Jungian dream analyst.

"She kind of allowed me to start thinking about allowing for some mystery in my life."

“Psychopomp” doesn’t sound dreary. Music writers have even described it as dream-pop, for its catchy melodies and hazy synthesizers.

Zauner thought it might be the last thing she’d record. She’d get it out of her system and go find a more typical career. But when she released it this year, it reached new audiences and earned good reviews.

An album about the end of her mother’s life marked the start of a new stage for Zauner as an artist.

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