This year, the bands Porches and Japanese Breakfast, two of the most promising pop acts today, released records that evoked moments of significant change in the artists' lives. The bands are currently on tour together in the U.S., which gives audiences a chance to hear excellent material while it's still fresh in the artists' minds. Westword spoke with Aaron Maine of Porches and Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast about the making of their albums.
Aaron Maine moved from Pleasantville, New York, to New York City, and he found that the drastic change in environment opened up something in him and forced him to create in new ways. “I got to see a lot more of the world,” says Maine. “You're just exposed to so much fashion and music and culture in general. The music has more to draw from with a better perspective on what you like. You've got to check yourself, because in a small town, you think you're the shit, and then you're in this massive city, and I felt like I wanted to do my best to reflect my experience in the city and be noticed in that new context.”
The Porches album Pool has a sophistication you might not expect from an artist's early album recorded in his apartment. Maine chose to incorporate the ambient sounds of his neighborhood into the recording, including a fire siren in the song "Shapes" that might have otherwise ruined the recording. “I clipped it from the vocal take that it made its way into and looped it and threw some reverb on it. I think it's charming if you can hear it. Sometimes the squeaking or the phone going off is annoying, but it's sometimes fun to work with.”
Tourmate Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast faced her own overwhelming and potentially crushing experience. She was in a Philadelphia-based indie-rock band on the rise with Little Big League until she moved back to her home town of Eugene, Oregon, to be with her mother before she passed away from cancer, and also to be there for her grieving father. During a period of self-imposed isolation, Zauner returned to an earlier mode of writing pop music. “I tucked into myself and was unable to talk to anyone,” says Zauner. “In a lot of ways, I think that's what created the record, this conversation I was having with myself. I needed a private outlet, and that helped me at the time.”
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The resulting album, Psychopomp, is brimming with upbeat music and some of the most shockingly insightful lyrics of recent years. The recently released video for the song “Everybody Wants to Love You” uses dissonance and humor to confront preconceived notions of Zauner's identity. “Part of it came out of interviews asking how my heritage influenced my music, which I think is a hilarious question,” says Zauner. “How many white bros get asked if their heritage affects their music? It's not like there's any Korean classical instruments on this album. I kind of wanted to poke fun at that in the video. It's sort of like that scene in Annie Hall and Woody Allen is having dinner with Diane Keaton's family and they see him as a Hasidic Jew. I wanted to do that in Korean garb and juxtapose it with things that I would do in Philly.”
Both albums by these young bands seem to deal with adversity and change in personal lives, and both are solid proof that pop music can communicate complicated emotions without sacrificing accessibility.
Porches and Japanese Breakfast with Rivergazer, Monday, September 26, 7 p.m., Larimer Lounge, 720-456-7041, 16+.