“Up here there’s a farmers’ market and this fishmonger that I really like, so I’ll just ball out on seafood and prepare fine meals,” Michelle Zauner laughs.
When I call her she is on break after weeks of touring; the writer and musician has had an incredibly busy year. Her debut novel Crying in H Mart was published in April to widespread acclaim; it debuted at number two on The New York Times’ Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers List. Her third studio album, released with her band Japanese Breakfast, followed two months later. In a career that has often dealt with despair and loss, Jubilee is a recovery; as Michelle said, “It is about joy.”
The accompanying tour began in late July 2021, with an unexpected hurdle in the form of the Delta variant that quickly picked up speed in the US. Musicians and music festivals scrambled to readjust. “There was all this nervousness of trying to figure out what the new standard should be without any real guidance and how long we’re going to be able to do that. This is still up in the air, and the consequences of what we’re doing, so it’s unsettling; it felt like we were home-free, and now we have to think about what that means.”
Before the tour resumes, though, Michelle is spending her brief break at her new place in the Adirondacks, a pandemic purchase she was putting to use as a studio and writing retreat. “I try to spend as much time here as possible,” she says, and shows me her wood-walled room adorned with her computer, synthesizers, and childhood piano, “which was kind of a saga to get [upstate]. And of course my mom’s kimchi fridge lives here; there’s definitely no room for that in my apartment [in Brooklyn] so it lives up here.”
When she’s not touring Michelle also spends time in her New York apartment with Peter Bradley, her husband and bandmate. It’s a bright, joyous space with a color scheme reminiscent of the Jubilee album art. The living room in particular is bright yellow and full of books, the walls patterned with colorful prints in black frames. And of course, it’s a space for making food.
Crying in H Mart chronicled Michelle’s grief after the passing of her mother in 2014 and how she took to Korean cooking as a method of healing and remembrance. Even now food continues to be the essence of Michelle’s self-care. When she’s home, she said, “I just cook for myself; I eat great meals when I’m participating in self-care. So when it’s the one day a week to load up at the farmers’ market, I’ll do that. Or in New York I’ll cook more, or try more restaurants I’ve been meaning to try—I just tried this Japanese place in Brooklyn called Osakana. And I really like Cho Dang Gol in K-Town.”
But cooking, or even the enjoyment of food, doesn’t often translate into tour life so well. Describing her usual routine while on tour, Michelle says, “Usually we’ll wake up in the city we’re playing in and have a couple of hours to get breakfast or lunch. Then we’ll load into the venue and do a sound check, and then we have maybe four hours to get ready for the show.” Tour buses also don’t have full kitchens, she laments.
Michelle will also be working on the screenplay for the film adaptation of Crying in H Mart while on tour and, as we speak, is finishing up the soundtrack for indie video game Sable. “The first week [of the break] I was just like, ‘I’m going to cook a lot and take it easy,’ and then this second week back, I’m like ‘OK, there are projects I have to work on while I have down time.’ I was so used to being on tour before that I was able to manage these projects and we were in the flow of things, but this last tour, it kind of scared me because I was not able to do other things at all and that’s usually been something I’m able to navigate. So that’s why I’m trying to get ahold of things while I have time off.”
The Jubilee tour is expected to continue through November. When asked about her plans for rest and relaxation, Michelle laughs. “I think the winter is usually a chiller time—I hope so.”
A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 07 with the headline “Michelle Zauner.” Subscribe today.