searchsearch
28 Essential Songs By Wilco Ahead Of Their New Album 'Cruel Country'
Wilco

Photo: Charles Harris

list

28 Essential Songs By Wilco Ahead Of Their New Album 'Cruel Country'

From "I Must Be High" to "Reservations" to "Love is Everywhere (Beware)," here's a list of 28 essential songs to help get into Wilco ahead of their upcoming double album, 'Cruel Country.'

GRAMMYs/May 20, 2022 - 03:20 pm

A critic once noted that Wilco is "always thinking they're weirder than they actually are." And if you're wondering why more than two million listeners have fallen in love with them, that's as accurate a read as any.

Their most celebrated album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, might be subsumed by static and noise, but beneath the maelstrom are relatively simple songs about communication breakdown. Beyond its schizoid motorik jam and 12-minute migraine simulation, the lion's share of A Ghost is Born is swoony and melodic.

Even at the most extreme end of their critically acclaimed deconstructionism, Wilco can't help but remain fundamentally listenable and accessible. (OK, the delightfully bizarre "Common Sense" might push that envelope.)

Part of this is due to Wilco being a band of musical wizards — guitarists Nels Cline and Pat Sansone, bassist John Stirratt, keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, and drummer Glenn Kotche can gracefully toggle from sweet and sophisticated to white-knucklingly chaotic at the drop of a hat. But the core, of course, is Jeff Tweedy's emotionally and psychologically incisive songwriting and prickly-pear voice.

Time (and sinus surgery) has imbued Tweedy's once-nasal pipes with luxurious new dimensions; his one-liners puncture deeper than ever. (Here's a good one from their next record: "Everything can shine/ Even the devil sometimes."

That line's from "Ambulance," a gem from Wilco's upcoming album, Cruel Country — out May 27. Their first double album since 1996's Being There, the 21-song collection is pitched as being a whole-chested embrace of a genre tag critics pigeonholed them with early on. (Hint: it's in the title.)

And the sound of lead single "Falling Apart (Right Now)" — as well as track names like "Country Song Upside-Down," "Sad Kind of Way" and "The Plains" might conjure this hyper-eclectic band donning Nudie Suits and committing themselves to one thing.

Spoiler alert: there's barely any country in it at all. In fact, it's often more far-out and psychedelic than its one sheet suggests. which proves this almost three-decade-old band remains agile with curveballs, fake-outs and fresh twists. Perhaps Cruel Country represents a reversal: For once, Wilco proved to be weirder than their self-projection.

To ring in the impending release of Cruel Country, here are 28 past songs to help beginners get into Wilco — one for every year they've graced the universe.

"I Must Be High" (A.M.)

Debut album, opening song, first take, first-ever performance by Wilco: what better place to start?

"Box Full of Letters" (A.M.)

Much of A.M. feels like an offshoot of their twangy mother band, Uncle Tupelo — naturally so, because all of that band, pointedly excepting co-leader Jay Farrar, made it into Wilco's first lineup. "Box Full of Letters" is a highlight for its distinctive tint of '70s power pop, like Big Star.

"Misunderstood" (Being There)

Lashings of tom-toms and feedback give way to one of the finest small-town underdog anthems of the '90s, climaxing with Tweedy's hollered "I'd like to thank you all for nothing / Nothing! / Nothing!" (The live version from Kicking Television contains 35 "nothings.")

"What's the World Got in Store" (Being There)

The band's Rubber Soul to a degree, Being There was a giant leap into sophistication and stylistic diversity — and far from their last. This is a low-key highlight among many, hung on aching banjo.

"Sunken Treasure" (Being There)

Tweedy eventually developed a straighter, Travis-picked variation of "Sunken Treasure" live. But there's something to be said about the more languid approach on Being There — this "Treasure" is a hangdog masterpiece.

"She's a Jar" (Summerteeth)

"There wasn't really a band, just two guys losing their minds in the studio," then-drummer Ken Coomer once said of Summerteeth, helmed by Tweedy and his then-foil, the late Jay Bennett. The result was sunshine-pop with fangs: in the elegant "She's a Jar," the line alluding to domestic abuse still shocks.

"A Shot in the Arm" (Summerteeth)

Wilco's been pointedly opening post-lockdown shows with this tune, but there's way more to it than that easy joke. Not only was it a quantum leap from Americana into radiant pop, but every line is perfect — from "the ashtray says you've been up all night" to the "C/sea/D/sea" rhyme to the quietly harrowing "bloodier than blood" section.

"Via Chicago" (Summerteeth)

The band's ultimate hometown ode is just three cowboy chords, a dreamt murder scene. a waterfall of exquisite verses, and a torrent of noise like two planets colliding. Arguably the most tactile yet inscrutable line: "Crawling is screw faster lash."

"My Darling" (Summerteeth)

Lest you think Summerteeth can be pigeonholed as the Beach Boys gone bloodthirsty, "My Darling," a bedtime song from parent to child, exudes tender, uncomplicated affection.

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

How does Wilco nail that nexus between outré and open-hearted? "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" is a case study: beneath the dadaist lyrics and between-nine-radio-stations production is a melody and progression that couldn't be simpler.

"Jesus, Etc." (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

Many Wilco fans consider this the time-capsule song for a reason: Pitchfork nailed it 20 years ago when they deemed it "sad, celestial and lovely." (Today, you can hear its influence in Japanese Breakfast's "Kokomo, IN" — which Tweedy covered.)

Read More: Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For Jubilee At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards

"Ashes of American Flags" (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

This windswept, devastated ballad acts as something of a centerpiece to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "I know I would die if I could come back new," Tweedy confesses in the chorus — and the instrumentation all but drops out, leaving spectral howls in its wake.

"Reservations" (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is an album of garbled and obfuscated transmissions — it doesn't contain elements of the mysterioso Conet Project for nothing. But at the end, Wilco cuts through the haze with "Reservations," an arresting song of naked vulnerability.

Listen on decent headphones in the dark, and you’ll never forget it: aside from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," it's hard to think of another song that decays like this.

"At Least That's What You Said" (A Ghost is Born)

Praise be to Tweedy, the undersung lead guitarist: before Nels Cline joined in 2004, Tweedy snarled Wilco songs with angular clusters of notes. And at the end of the raw-nerved opener to Wilco's most tormented record, Tweedy throws down with a "musical transcription" of a panic attack.

"Hummingbird" (A Ghost is Born)

The paranoid chemical fog of A Ghost is Born gives way to a sunburst: "Hummingbird" is a bouncy piano shuffle — and bittersweet story song — reminiscent of Randy Newman or '67 Beatles.

"Handshake Drugs" (A Ghost is Born)

A circuitous Möbius strip of vagueries about bad habits and burning daylight, "Handshake Drugs" is the kind of tune you grasp instinctually rather than literally — and you won’t want it to end.

"Wishful Thinking" (A Ghost is Born)

The essence of A Ghost is Born is jagged edges juxtaposed with gossamer moments — and "Wishful Thinking" is delicate, sensual and probing.

"Impossible Germany" (Sky Blue Sky)

In the 15 years after Sky Blue Sky was hit with unfair "dad-rock" characterizations, Wilco has made their critics eat crow with night after night of spectacular, inventive Nels Cline solos on "Impossible Germany." The pejorative implies clichéd blues licks with pinch harmonics; rather, this is the next evolutionary step from Television.

"Side With the Seeds" (Sky Blue Sky)

Ditto on the Tom Verlaine tip, with one of Tweedy's finest-ever vocal performances and a flabbergasting solo. Most prescient line for today: "You and I will be undefeated/ By agreeing to disagree."

"Wilco (The Song)" (Wilco [The Album])

Wilco's sorta-self-titled kicks off with this barrelling theme song, more of a cheeky commercial for the band than anything deeper. But it not only works, it endures — if you feel oppressed or repressed or downright down in the dumps, you have at least six friends in your corner.

"You Never Know" (Wilco [The Album])

"I know it sounds like someone else's song/ From a long time ago,” Tweedy sang in an old deep cut from Being There. In the best way possible, that applies to "You Never Know," a jubilant rip of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" with an irresistible, kiss-off chorus. Among other things, Wilco excel at making the old brilliantly new.

"Art of Almost" (The Whole Love)

After the somewhat divisive Sky Blue Sky and Wilco (The Album), Wilco offered some prickly, experimental moments on The Whole Love. Opener "Art of Almost" sets the bar high, offering almost everything there is to love about left-field Wilco in seven minutes — with distinct fingerprints from all six band members.

"One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" (The Whole Love)

Also bookending The Whole Love is an astonishing first for the band: a 12-minute, autumnal, cyclical meditation on the fraught relationship between a father and son.

"Taste the Ceiling" (Star Wars)

Surprise-released for free, the zippy, concise, sometimes sarcastic Star Wars was a breath of fresh air for Wilco. Gems abound, but the breezy "Taste the Ceiling" is worth highlighting for its effortlessness — you get the sense it just fell out of Tweedy's voice and hands.

"Magnetized" (Star Wars)

A less-discussed aspect of Star Wars is its occasionally morose lyrics, hinting at relationship discord. The thrumming, tick-tocking "Magnetized" provides resolution at the end: "I sleep underneath a picture that I keep of you next to me/ I realize we're magnetized."

"If I Ever Was a Child" (Schmilco)

This subtle highlight of Wilco's creepiest, most casual album shows how they don't need to erupt into guitar histrionics — or even toss out a particularly spicy line — to stun you.

"Before Us" (Ode to Joy)

Hushed and shellshocked, Ode to Joy was a deeply personal response to political hysteria, blowing on the remaining embers of brotherhood and decency. 

"Alone with the people who have come before us," Tweedy and company intone over a death-march by Kotche, sounding haunted by time and ancestry.

"Love is Everywhere (Beware)" (Ode to Joy)

"I was thinking a lot about how to maintain hope right now, how to not feel guilty for having joy in my life," Tweedy told Uncut amid the horrors of the late 2010s. "How do you deal with having personal feelings when you know something very destructive is going on and there are real people being hurt every day in awful ways?"

Tweedy explains how in "Love is Everywhere (Beware)," a song about holding onto what's important without growing complacent, insulated or blasé. "Sadness wants me/ Further away from the scene," he sings.

This line seems to sum up Tweedy's and Wilco's vital art, which was weathered addiction and loss and interband strife to create one of the most intrepid, elusive and poignant songbooks in American music. To quote a famous artist important to Tweedy and his loved ones: beware of darkness.

The Jayhawks' "New Day": How The Americana Pioneers Overcame Decades Of Turbulence And Became Full Collaborators

Wilco Announce Sky Blue Sky Fest To Take Place In Mexico
Wilco

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

news

Wilco Announce Sky Blue Sky Fest To Take Place In Mexico

"12 years ago on this very day @wilco released their sixth studio album, 'Sky Blue Sky.' Fast forward a decade and change as the band turns towards an exciting new adventure," a post on Instagram said

GRAMMYs/May 16, 2019 - 04:26 am

Alt-rock greats Wilco have announced a new destination music festival named after their sixth studio album, Sky Blue Sky.

The Sky Blue Sky fest will take place in Mexico's Hard Rock Hotel in the Riviera Maya Jan. 18–22, 2020. The lineup will include sets from Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, a solo Courtney Barnett, Sharon Van Etten, Kamasi Washington, Yo La Tengo and more.   

Wilco said they will only play three of the four nights in a post on Instagram.

"12 years ago on this very day @wilco released their sixth studio album, Sky Blue Sky. Fast forward a decade and change as the band turns towards an exciting new adventure. We proudly present Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, an intimate concert vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico!" the band said in the post. 

All-inclusive tickets will be available May 22 at 12 p.m. ET. For more information, visit the Sky Blue Sky website.  

John Prine Talks 'My Kentucky Home, Goodnight' & Why He Wants To Benefit Coal Miners

news

Jay Z Tops 56th GRAMMY Nominations With Nine

Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams earn seven nods each; other top nominees include Daft Punk, Drake, Lorde, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Nominations for the 56th GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. Once again, nominations in select categories for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.

Jay Z tops the nominations with nine; Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams each garner seven nods; Drake and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig are up for five awards.

"This year's nominations reflect the talented community of music makers who represent some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry of the year in their respective fields," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "Once again, The Academy's awards process and its voting membership have produced an impressive list of nominations across various genres promising music fans a spectacular show filled with stellar performances and unique 'GRAMMY Moments.' We are off to a great start and look forward to GRAMMY Sunday as Music's Biggest Night takes the stage."

Following are the nominations in the General Field categories: 

Album Of The Year:
The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red — Taylor Swift

Record Of The Year:
"Get Lucky" — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
"Royals" — Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams

Song Of The Year:
"Just Give Me A Reason" — Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" — Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" — Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" — Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)

Best New Artist:
James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran

Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:

For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Brave" by Sara Bareilles; "Royals" by Lorde; "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars; "Roar" by Katy Perry; and "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake.

The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams; "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink Featuring Nate Ruess; "Stay" by Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko; "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams; and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake & Jay Z.

For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Settle by Disclosure; 18 Months by Calvin Harris; Atmosphere by Kaskade; and A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights.

The Best Rock Performance nominees are "Always Alright" by Alabama Shakes; "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie; "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; "Kashmir (Live)" by Led Zeppelin; "My God Is The Sun" by Queens Of The Stone Age; and "I'm Shakin'" by Jack White.

For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by The National; Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails; Lonerism by Tame Impala; Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend.

The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Power Trip" by J.Cole Featuring Miguel; "Part II (On The Run)" by Jay Z Featuring Beyoncé; "Holy Grail" by Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake; "Now Or Never" by Kendrick Lamar Featuring Mary J. Blige; and "Remember You" by Wiz Khalifa Featuring The Weeknd.

For Best Rap Album, the nominees are Nothing Was The Same by Drake; Magna Carta…Holy Grail by Jay Z; Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar; The Heist by Macklemore  & Ryan Lewis; and Yeezus by Kanye West.

The Best Country Album nominees are Night Train by Jason Aldean; Two Lanes Of Freedom by Tim McGraw; Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves; Based On A True Story by Blake Shelton; and Red by Taylor Swift.

The nominees for Best Americana Album are Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell; Buddy And Jim by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale; One True Vine by Mavis Staples; and Songbook by Allen Toussaint.

This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Rob Cavallo, Dr. Luke, Ariel Rechtshaid, Jeff Tweedy, and Pharrell Williams.

This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 11 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 8, 2014, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 56th GRAMMY telecast.

The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.

For updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook

Wilco And Jeff Tweedy's Solid Sound Festival Announces June Lineup

Courtney Barnett

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/WireImage

news

Wilco And Jeff Tweedy's Solid Sound Festival Announces June Lineup

Solid Sound's Wilco-curated lineup highlights bands deserving greater exposure such as the Feelies and Tortoise

GRAMMYs/Feb 22, 2019 - 05:26 am

On Feb. 21, Wilco announced their curated lineup for this year's Solid Sound Festival on June 28–30 at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. Wilco themselves are headlining along with Courtney Barnett, and the band's own Jeff Tweedy is also on board for a separate Jeff Tweedy & Friends set.

In addition to art experiences and fun activities such as axe throwing and yoga, Solid Sound's lineup provides an opportunity to learn what all the excitement is about regarding emerging and underground artists such as Clipping, the Feelies, Cate Le Bon, Jonathan Richman and Tortoise.

Wilco won Best Alternative Music Album at the 47th GRAMMY Awards for 2004's A Ghost Is Born, and Tweedy also won independently at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards as the producer of Mavis Staples' Best Americana Album winner You Are Not Alone. Courtney Barnett was nominated for Best New Artist at the 58th GRAMMY Awards. Another previously nominated artist on Solid Sound's bill is jazz guitarist Julian Lage, who'll be appearing with his trio. The rest of the festival's lineup are distinctive and all deserving of a listen and a closer look, so here's a quick zoom in on five that are representative.

An experimental hip-hop collective signed to Sub Pop, Clipping came out with their debut album in 2009 and their third, Splendor & Misery, was released in 2016 to critical acclaim. They are considered as having emerged from being remix-centered to being leaders of the "noise-rap" genre.

Underground jangle-rockers from New Jersey, the Feelies have struggled with staying together, selling albums and affording studio time while influencing major bands such as R.E.M., from their first record, 1980's Crazy Rhythms, to their 2017 sixth album In Between. Their biggest hit singles were 1988's "Away" and 1991's "Sooner or Later."

Welsh singer/songwriter Cate Le Bon released her debut in 2009 and has come to greater attention recently for her work with Deerhunter. Darkness and fragility blend with art-pop experiments in both her solo work and collaborations.

Singer/songwriter Jonathan Richman is celebrated for both his solo work as well as playing in the Modern Lovers. His youthful and amusing zest on songs like "Ice Cream Man" can obscure his sophisticated craft, but his cult following knows to listen more deeply.

The progressive rock ensemble Tortoise released their self-titled first album in 1994 and broke into the Billboard 200 with two of their albums in the decade of the 2000s. In addition to bringing fresh attention to Chicago's music scene, Tortoise is considered to have pioneered the genre "post-rock." Jazz, electronica and dub are just a few of the eclectic influences they intregrate into their experimental collective's fresh sounds.

The MASS MoCA venue provides an art experience all its own and will be hosting exhibits by Laurie Anderson and Annie Lennox. Anderson recently received her first win at the 61st GRAMMY Awards and her virtual reality installation "Chalkroom" has been at the venue since 2017. Lennox's show "Now I Let You Go ..." opens there on May 25. 

Single-day tickets for Solid Sound will become available at the festival's website on Feb. 28.

Mavis Staples To Celebrate 80th Birthday With Three Concert Parties In May

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For 'Jubilee' At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards
Japanese Breakfast

Photo: Peter Ash Lee

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For 'Jubilee' At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards

Japanese Breakfast is nominated for two GRAMMYs at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Their leader, Michelle Zauner, opened up to GRAMMY.com about how the nominations feel, and why personal and global crises just made her more motivated.

GRAMMYs/Mar 9, 2022 - 03:42 pm

When the pandemic first descended on humanity, countless millennials moved home, donned pajama pants and brooded at their parents' kitchen islands. In this sea of dejected Instagram posts, though, a few public figures stood out — those who decided to thrive during the age of demoralization. One conspicuous example was the singer, songwriter and debut author Michelle Zauner. 

Zauner hit two professional home runs during the pajama-pants era. In April 2020, she released her affecting memoir Crying in H Mart, and that June, her band Japanese Breakfast released a critically acclaimed album, Jubilee. Granted, the lion's share of both projects was completed before we started wiping down bags of Doritos — and Zauner wasn't immune to "being depressed and eating a lot." Still, the timing of her breakthroughs speaks to her character.

Read More: How Japanese Breakfast Found Joy On Her New Album Jubilee

"I've discovered through the past few years that I'm a surprisingly optimistic person — I'm a secret hopeful person!" she quips. "Because in any narrative or story I've told, it's been important for me to find some type of hope to cling to. I certainly am not one to dwell on the negative. It doesn't help me to have that be my end goal."

As such, accentuating the positive was something of an animating force while making Jubilee — and the result was a critically-acclaimed album on top of a New York Times bestseller.

Japanese Breakfast is nominated for two GRAMMYs at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards: one for Best New Artist, another for Best Alternative Music Album for Jubilee. In the above video, watch Zauner's recollection of drearily watching the nominations roll in, expecting nothing — and her very loud reaction at the results. 

That's her magic in microcosm, alchemizing the depressing into the sublime. And her mother (whose loss looms large in both Crying in H Mart and previous Japanese Breakfast music) would undoubtedly be proud. 

With the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on the immediate horizon (April 3), GRAMMY.com sat down with Zauner to discuss what motivates her during hard times, the palette of influences reflected on Jubilee, and the life-changing moments it produced— like watching Jeff Tweedy cover her Wilco-influenced song.

This interview has been edited for clarity

During the early pandemic, I felt drawn to people who rose above their circumstances and thrived, rather than sinking into a mire. Where did your motivation come from during a very demotivated time?

I will say that a majority of both Jubilee and Crying in H Mart were done prior to the pandemic, so I was kind of one of those people being depressed and eating a lot.

But I was able to work on the final, final draft of Crying in H Mart during a time I was supposed to be on tour. I do think that having the perspective of going into the final stages of this book, when I had a ton of time off for the first time, was actually kind of helpful for me to get some of the really good, final touches on this book.

Honestly, I feel like I became very motivated in general after a very dark time in my life. I became grounded by my work ethic and my ambition and sticking very close to routine after my mom passed away. So, after this dark limbo period, I recalled being a caretaker for six months and being stuck in the house in Eugene, Oregon. 

In a way, I feel like I've gone through this part of life before, and I felt prepared. I know what it feels like to be out of control of my life and watch a lot of darkness descend around me. I found that sticking close to a regimen or staying grounded through work is what helped me through that time. So, I think that's something I'm unfortunately used to at this point in my life. 

Some people view grievous loss as a moment where their life stops, and they just wander through the past after that. But it seems like you're more interested in moving forward and honoring your mom that way.

Yeah, I think I got there through working through it creatively, in a way. But it is really interesting; I think that happens really often. 

My father and I navigated our grief in totally different ways. I think that happens in families a lot — where one person goes on one path and another experiences it through another path. They can be at odds with one another.

But for me, personally, I was so worried about allowing myself to fall into a deep pit of depression about something very real for the first time — that I would struggle to ever pull out of it. I know my mom would want me to navigate my grief in this way, and that's what really helped me through that.

Another destabilizing factor for people in our age range can be a sense of futurelessness. Perhaps we share a drive to work around global traumas.

Yeah, I've discovered through the past few years that I'm a surprisingly optimistic person — I'm a secret hopeful person! Because in any narrative or story I've told, it's been important for me to find some type of hope to cling to. I certainly am not one to dwell on the negative. It doesn't help me to have that be my end goal.

Is it irritating to have to dredge up your personal adversities over and over and over in interviews?

Sometimes. Sometimes, it's honestly kind of therapeutic, which is, like, gross and weird. But there's this other stage of art making that I'm less prickly to than other artists. I learn a lot about what I've made through the press process. A lot of the themes and questions I navigate in the work get solidified with different perspectives through the press process. 

So, sometimes I don't mind it as much, because it can be kind of enlightening. But certainly, like everything, it can become exhausting.

What's your relationship with pop music, like making something that appeals to as many people as humanly possible? Do you feel like an odd duck on the GRAMMY nominees list?

Yes and no. I'm kind of a poptimist and I really admire great pop music. One of my favorite artists is, honestly, Ariana Grande. In some cases, there are top-tier composers, producers, arrangers, and mixing engineers working to create something with mass appeal, which is widely enjoyable.

Even in K-pop, it's like that. You have the greatest music video directors, the greatest production designers! The highest-paid costume [designers] and stylists and makeup artists! Watching a city come together to create a piece of art that can reach a lot of people is very inspiring to me.

As an indie artist, trying to reach beyond my means in a similar way, on a smaller scale, has always been something very fun for me. I don't like to make purposefully complicated music. I enjoy making what I think to be listenable, enjoyable music that a lot of people can get into.

So, I'm happy to be in this realm, and I think it's really exciting. It's an honor.

When making a record, I think of the canon almost as a buffet to pick from — a little Richard and Linda Thompson here, a little R.E.M. there. Who did you pick from the proverbial buffet for Jubilee?

I've never thought of it quite as a buffet, but I do really like that idea. One thing about Japanese Breakfast that I enjoy is that we have a pretty broad range of influences on all our records. There's a lot of range and diversity.

There was certainly a lot of Kate Bush in this buffet. A lot of Björk and Wilco. There was some Bill Withers and Randy Newman. Certainly, Fleetwood Mac. Alex G. Those were, I think, the main buffet trays.

I'm a Randy Newman fanatic — I love the Pixar soundtracks, the dark-humored stuff, the love songs. What's your Randy era or album?

It's either called Something New Under the Sun or it's self-titled.

Yeah, the debut.

It's the one with "Living Without You" on it. That was my introduction to Randy Newman. An ex-boyfriend had shown me that song and it just haunted me for years and years. He's just the master of a sweeping love song — a ballad. That was the inspiration for the piano and string arrangement on "Tactics." 

I was always trying to channel my inner Randy. I think he's timelessness incarnate.

Classic rockers are always thrown into court over "stealing," but I think that's part of the musical process. Do you ever hear a great lick and say "I'm going to place that right here"? 

I've never done that purposefully. But it's funny: When [Japanese Breakfast drummer and producer] Craig [Hendrix] and I were working on "Kokomo, IN" — I almost said "Kokomo, Etc." — we were definitely very inspired by the string arrangement on [Wilco's] "Jesus, Etc." The classic nature of that Beatles math that goes into a great pop song.

It was very funny, because Jeff Tweedy actually covered that song in one of his livestreams. I was super-inspired by "Jesus, Etc." for "Kokomo, IN," and I was also inspired by "At Least That's What You Said" — the solo — in the quiet acoustic section that leads to a big solo in "Posing for Cars."

It was amazing. I got to meet Wilco this year and see Jeff Tweedy cover my song! He's such a songwriting hero of mine.

I've never purposefully plopped a direct lick from anything. But there was a moment when we were doing "Kokomo" where we were like, "Are we biting 'Jesus, Etc.' a little too hard with the pizzacato strings?" But it's Jeff Tweedy-approved, so I don't think they'll be suing us anytime soon.

How do you see the musical landscape before you? What do you want your next few years to look like?

God, I have no idea. I feel like I'm just trying to roll with the punches here [with Omicron]. But I hope we just ride the wave of this record and get to play big festivals and travel again. I'm just going to try to do my best, as I always do.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Arooj Aftab On Her Latest Album Vulture Prince, The Multiplicity Of Pakistani Musics And Why We Should Listen With Nuance & Care