An Interview with The Japanese House
Cloaked in an ambiguity, The Japanese House, aka Amber Bain emerged with her combination of brooding electronica and soothing dream-pop back in ∫ on Dirty Hit Records. Four years later she is on the cusp of an atmospheric rise to the top, with the release of her debut album Good At Falling on the 1st of March, and a massive UK headline tour. Over the phone Amber discusses how personal struggles and relationships can be a driving force in creating her music, and the euphoria of performing her live shows.
Charity: Hiya Amber, how are you and how has the tour been going so far?
Amber: Yeah I’m good and the tour has been good, I guess I’m about half-way through it, but I don’t know, It’s been fun!
Charity: How do you feel like your sound has then progressed since you released ‘Pools To Bathe In’ back in 2015?
Amber: I think I’m obviously older now, I hope I’m more mature in the way that I write music. I think the main change is that I’m probably more open and honest lyrically, musically it’s hard for me to tell because obviously I’ve listened to every song about 3000 times, so I can’t really be objective about it, but I guess I’ve just got better.
Charity: So first of all I want to talk about your debut album Good At Falling You co-produced it with George of the 1975, how was working with him and why did you not decide to produce it independently?
Amber: Well I actually I produced the album with BJ Burton, and George at the end. I was going to produce the album on my own, but when you’re producing something on your own, and you don’t have a band it’s just you, it really sucks, the only really opinion in the room is your own. I still feel that way when I have people around me, like I decide everything, but I’m kind of more intense in my opinions because I know how I feel more if someone’s telling me something. I think it was a good decision to work with both of those people, I’m always going to work with George some way or another.
Charity: I had a chance to listen to the album. there’s a sort of atmosphere of swimming against the tides, or a suffocating struggle permeating through even the more breezier parts of it. What inspired this atmosphere?
Amber: I don’t think you can purposely inject an atmosphere into the album, it can happen as a by-product of creating something you wanna create. I think the truest form of creation is something that happens naturally and is pulled out of you, rather than you forcing an atmosphere into something. I think it probably just came about because that’s how I feel a lot of the time, so it naturally occurs in my music.
Charity: A lot of the more uptempo songs are still underlying with more darker and harrowing themes, do you feel like the juxtaposition is important?
Amber: Yeah, I guess it is important in the sense that it’s intrinsic in the way I write lyrics, like I don’t write lyrics that are happy to me, I write songs about sad things that happened to me and a lot of people, the way I feel. I’m obsessed with writing songs that way. But at the same time I really love pop music, so it’s a natural thing that happens, writing happy songs but having an existential crisis, and to break down to some sort of soundtrack that sounds like it could be from a Disney film.
Charity: On the track ‘We Talk All The Time’ it seems like the song on the album which anticipates a dissolution of a relationship the most, where intimacy starts to wane. Do you feel you anticipated the end of your own relationship?
Amber: Yeah, I think i definitely did, that songs about the lack of sexual relationship after a few years, and I think that’s something that happens to a lot of people, maybe less spoken about in a relationship between two girls, I don’t know. I wrote that song before the relationship ended, and then it did. But also, weirdly that’s become the song that is even more descriptive about my relationship with Marika (Hackman) now, because I speak to her all the time, like I genuinely talk to her every day. So, it’s definitely very descriptive about my relationship with her now, which is quite weird, because we don’t fuck anymore but we do talk all the time.But, I think it’s fine!
Charity: On your video for ‘Lilo’ your featured your ex in it, and you’ve dedicated a song on the album to her. I imagine this was difficult to do, but it was a really moving video. Can you tell us a bit more about the concept behind this, and the shooting of it?
Amber: Yeah, so the song is obviously about her, and it’s weird because I wrote some of that song when I first met Marika, and fell in love with her, and then I wrote some of it when I was really missing her during the album, then I wrote the last bit of it when we had broken up. So, I mean for me that song really is a sort of narrative for our relationship, so I really couldn’t see any other way to do it. I was going to get someone else for the video, but then I realised the truest form representing our relationship would be to ask her to be in it, which she kindly said yes to. That video was really hard to film in a lot of ways, it was really hard to film, as you can imagine, to film a music video with your recent ex, kissing, basically pretending you were together again for a couple of days.
Charity: Did you find it hard to watch back as well?
Amber: Yeah, I’ve only watched it like three times. It makes me really sad.
Charity: You’ve also got tracks on the album such as ‘Everybody Hates Me’ is one of the most pessimistic of the album and seems to explore feelings of self-hatred, and paranoia. Is this something you feel you have experienced on large?
Amber: Yes, it is something I’ve experienced on large. To be honest that song is really about my shit relationship with alcohol, when I wrote it I’d sort of drink everyday or not drink at all, and it’s about sort of abusing that, like I was always hungover I’d genuinely felt like I’d ruined my life everyday. I almost found it quite funny at the beginning, now when I listen to it I’m sort of like “f***ing hell that’s dark”. I’m a very insecure human being, I’m trying to get better at being more secure and being more confident in myself and a big part of that has been stopping drinking. And, I think, that song is actually probably one of the truest songs to myself, because even when I’m not hungover, there’s a depression that creeps over me, makes me feel like I’m a failure and everyone hates me as much as I hate myself, and that’s that’s part of the duality as a songwriter. There’s part of yourself that thinks you’re the best thing to happen to the world, that you’re a fucking genius, and there’s part of you that absolutely despises yourself, and that’s a constant battle that I have within myself.
Charity: The Japanese House is a sort of ambiguous persona, do you feel like the distancing of your personal identity as Amber Bain has been advantageous?
Amber: I don’t know, I guess maybe in some fucked up way! The reason I didn’t choose my own name is mostly because I didn’t want to use my own name, cause I don’t think it’s that cool. But, now I don’t think I am hiding my identity, I’m so honest and open within the album, and really letting people, in comparison to the last EP, so now I’m kind of like whatever, this is my identity, I think my identity as a person is more and more me, rather than The Japanese House, because it’s becoming more and more engulfed in what I care about. I hope it’s not been advantageous, but it sort of has in some fucked up way, cause nobody could tell if I was a girl or a boy.
Charity: Yeah, I feel like gender can play a big part in the way you are perceived, like I read somewhere you’d been asked who’d produced your songs and things like that?
Amber: Honestly, the amount of men who have come up to me and asked me who produced my music, is just obscene. For some reason, working on a computer and writing songs is something men think women can’t do, which is obviously so stupid. Like, I’ve had a huge manager in the UK, who I’m not going to name, so when I was really young I had a meeting with him and he was like, “It’s really cool that you do your own production, and you’re a girl! Like that’s kind of your USP!” and at the time I was like “Yeah, great!”, but looking back I was like “What the f***! Why is that my unique selling point that I have a vagina and I can use a computer?”, like what?
Charity: Exactly, you would not hear of it if you’re a guy!
Amber: I know, it’s ridiculous! To be honest, I’ve got a lot of female friends who are musicians, and I don’t think I’ve experienced nowhere near what they’ve experience. And I think that’s partly because I’ve been quite lucky in that respect. I think I’m also on my label, and my career by a lot of men, a lot of women too, but also the men I’m surrounded with are the opposite of misogynistic. Like my manager for example, I don’t think it would even come into his head, that I’m a woman and can produce, like I’m surrounded by men that are supportive of women in music, and that’s probably why I haven’t experienced that much sexism in music, because the people I work with are supportive, but obviously it creeps in.
Charity: So finally, you tour the UK in March, what can fans expect from a live show and have you got anything special lined up?
Amber: Yeah, well I’ve been thinking about the UK shows a lot, I wanna play a lot of new music, and I wanna play a lot of old music off the old EP’s as I haven’t played it for a while. But the shows now are so together and the harmonies are my favourite bit about it. I’ve been wanting to have live harmonies for so long, because the harmonies are so weird. It’s very weird to play those intricate parts at the same time, and I’ve finally found those people! It’s like my dream come true that I’ve got my own harmonies. Honestly, it makes me high during the show, we play ‘Falling In A Dream’, and I honestly nearly cry every time because it’s like my own little choir!
Charity: Thanks for talking to us Amber, have a lovely day!
Amber: No worries, thank you!
Catch The Japanese House on their UK tour throughout March, and pre-order the album Good At Falling here.