I ventured underground in Edinburgh’s most unusual venue, The Caves, to sit down with 23-year-old Amber Bain, more commonly known as The Japanese House.
Amber is chilling in her makeshift green room in Marlin’s Wynd, a slightly smaller but just as impressive cave, with her incredibly handsome German Shepard Calvin who, Amber reveals, has his own fan-made Instagram page.
After becoming mildly distracted by Calvin’s new insta-fame, we sit down to talk about Amber’s UK tour and brand new album Good at Falling, which came out at the start of the month.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s going really well. I’m really enjoying it. The shows have been really fun, not that they weren’t fun before, but the crowd’s been a bit more receptive. I got to bring him along [pointing at Calvin], which is always nice.
Does having new music out so recently make a difference to the shows?
I think so and I think people are just responding to the songs on the album way more. I didn’t think that’d be the case, I thought people would still be like, “Play Face Like Thunder!!!” but people don’t even care, when I play the new singles people really kick off.
This tour probably gives you an opportunity to gage people’s reaction to the album…
Yeah! It’s like a live review which it’s nice. I think the people that have heard it like it – well obviously they wouldn’t be coming to my shows if they didn’t like it!
How has Good at Falling been received in general?
From what I’ve seen, and obviously what I’m seeing is probably not a fair review, it’s been good. Actually, I did trawl through twitter the day it came out and I didn’t see that much mean stuff. I guess of the actual reviews that have been done, there were two mean ones but the rest were really nice. It’s weird because obviously all I can think about is the mean ones, which is annoying because there’s so many great reviews!
How long had you been working on the album?
I don’t know, because one of the songs I wrote when I was 16 so it depends when you count starting to work on it. Really, it’s been in the works for years, but I guess it only took a few months to actually put together properly. It’s been finished for ages, I was just doing the last little bits which took the longest because I’m a freak.
A perfectionist! Did you feel the pressure was on for it to be perfect then?
Yeah, but from myself. Not really from anyone else.
So, what does Good at Falling mean to you?
That sentence, when I first heard it, made me really sad. I guess it’s a metaphor for the album – the antithesis between positive and negative and being good at something like falling in love. Falling in love is basically a lack of control and falling out of love and experiencing heartbreak is one of the hardest things and just with failure in general, the hardest thing is, it doesn’t matter about it happening of course crap is going to go wrong in your life, but dealing with it is the hard bit.
When I was writing the album, I really went into myself and spent time alone, and at the time I was in a relationship so I was never really alone and on tour I’m never alone, so I had a lot of time to just think and sort my brain out a bit and I think I did a lot of work. Then when stuff started happening with my family and with my breakup I was like okay this is what all the work was for. You can be as zen as you want when everything is going right but this is the time when you need to keep up with that stuff – so I think being good at that is one of my goals.
Then the positive/negative contrast of the title is kind of like the music. You Seemed so Happy is this weird little metaphor for the whole album, because it sounds so happy as a song and it’s talking about seeming so happy on the outside but actually being really depressed, and that’s like the entire album.
Was that contrast a purposeful choice?
I’m not very good at doing anything with purpose, things just naturally happen. [laughs] I mean, when I say I don’t do things with purpose I just mean that in the truest way of creating something. I really like pop music and I like listening to major key chord progressions and major harmonies. I’m not really a fan of bluesy grunge chords – I’m bored of them to be honest – I really don’t like that style of music and I’m bored of that kind of vibe, and I think you can express so much emotion and darkness even without music sounding like you’re in a cave smashing an electric guitar against a wall.
I ask Amber if she’s seen the meme of the black house and pink house, and she recalls that said meme has already been used to describe a few of the tracks off the album, particularly You Seemed so Happy.
The Japanese House’s songs are incredibly layered, dense and atmospheric, so I ask Amber whether she builds music around lyrics or writes lyrics for the music she creates.
The process changes, I’ll have lyrics for sections of a song and then work around it and then later with the same song I’ll have music for it and have to write lyrics. I usually write the core of a song, so a verse and a chorus and the lyrics at the same time. Then I’ll write the rest of the music and produce it and then be like “Oh, now I have to write another verse”. That’s the hardest part for me, coming back to lyrics, I can’t force myself to write lyrics. I hate trying to make a song like “Ooh I’ll make it this kind of song”, it makes me cringe, so I have to just wait until I can do it. It’s so annoying for everyone else [laughs] I’ll be in the studio like “yeah, I’m writing” but I’m secretly watching Friends.
How would you describe your music?
I don’t really know, I’m so rubbish at answering this question because I just don’t know. I always say alternative-pop because it’s so broad and to be honest I want the genre of music I play to be broad, I wouldn’t really want to just be in one genre – I’d probably just quit!
I know you probably get asked about The 1975 all the time, but what kind of an impact have they had on your sound and you career, especially with George co-producing the album with you?
We have very similar taste and we’ve known each other for so long – since I was 17 – so they must’ve influenced me in some way. I think it’s a two way street though, I can hear things on their album that sound a bit like something off my album, and I can hear stuff on my album that I’m like “ah yeah that sounds like something they do”. For the amount that we get compared, I would say we are very different. I don’t think we sound that similar, but I think maybe someone who likes their music would like my music.
George [Daniel] is amazing, he’s an amazing producer. I love producing, that’s why I do it, it’s probably my favourite part but sometimes I do just want to run around and be the ideas person rather than the technical person, which I am all the time, so when I do work with him it’s so freeing and he’s just so competent. Working with BJ [Burton] was amazing too, it was nice to have these two different styles of working. I worked with BJ for a bit and then George for a bit and then kinda mashed it all together. I literally sat in a room with two projects and put them together which was super fun. I love those boys [The 1975], I don’t know what my career would be like without them – it’s so hard to tell. Would it be better because I wouldn’t have had a lid on me or would no one know who I am? Who knows!
At this point we are distracted by Calvin who wants to be chased, Amber’s tour manager gladly entertains him so that Amber can answer one last question.
At the beginning of your career there was a lot of mystery surrounding who you were, did you want to be anonymous? And if so, now you’re openly performing your music on stage as you, do you feel any differently about that side of the industry?
I didn’t really ever want to be anonymous, I just didn’t want a press photo taken at the beginning, genuinely because I just hate having photos taken! I think people just latched on to that like, “Who is The Japanese House?!” but it literally said Amber Bain on my Twitter and Instagram and everything else, and it was only like that for the first EP. It was quite remarkable, maybe it’s because I’m using a moniker? I feel like if a guy did that it’s not the same? Obviously now I don’t care, I have no desire for privacy and it’s really freeing. I never really did actually, I just hated photos! I was terrified of cameras. As soon as I went on stage, started going on tour and being asked for selfies actually, as soon as there’s over 100 disgusting photos of you online you really stop giving a shit. The amount of photos I see of myself that make me want to cry – there are some really nice ones too so its fine! As long as there are some good ones I’m okay – when they start all being shit that’s when I’ll quit.
It is interesting that people care so much about putting a face to a name when it comes to music…
It’s weird because it’s one of the only art forms, other than acting, where it matters what you look like. If you’re a writer or a painter no one cares what you look like. It must be something to do with if you’re telling a story then people want to know what you look like, so I do get it.
Before I leave Amber to sign some posters and get ready for the show, I want to ask her about her moniker, as I read somewhere that Kate Winslet had something to do with it…
Yeah, there was just a random story about me when I was a kid and I was recalling it, and then my mum was like, “Oh that was Kate Winslet’s house that we stayed in” and I was like “What?” and she said “Yeah, it’s called The Japanese House” and then I was kind of drunk at the time, as was everyone else, and they said I should call myself that, and I did.
I don’t like the name really, I literally don’t hear the name though, and there’s definitely worse names… like Arctic Monkeys… that’s rubbish. You can literally be called anything, you could be called ‘asswipe’ and it wouldn’t matter…
I’m not so sure, I think that one might have some sort of impact on you career…
Yeah, actually maybe not that… but I’ve got loads of good band names now. I’m kind of pissed off. I’ve got such a good band name but I’m not even going to say it incase someone steals it. It’s so good. Maybe I’ll just change mine…
Amber then really must go and sign her posters as the doors have already opened. She has a US tour coming up at the end of April and a whole heap of festivals booked across the UK for the summer, though she’s not sure which ones she’s allowed to confirm yet. She’s also excited for some tours abroad in the near future to places she’s never been to before, that she’s also not sure she’s allowed to confirm.
You can find The Japanese House’s debut album Good at Falling on Spotify and Apple Music. Follow The Japanese House on Twitter to keep up to date with where you can catch Amber next.
By Luka Kenyon