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The Japanese House Interview

The Japanese House, aka Amber Bain, is jostling in a crowd, fingering a cigarette when I arrive for our interview, fresh out of sound-check and buzzing about caffeine-free Diet Coke. She’s a fidget of energy, offering me a drink whilst in distracted discussion with her merch manager and bandmate.

Aged only twenty-one, she’s forged a track-record most artists would be, and no doubt are, envious of, maintaining an ethos of fine-tuned EP’s over an ill-timed album to a thirsty fan-base. The day after this interview, one of the tracks on her new EP Swim Against The Tide, Good Side In is scheduled to be played by Zane Lowe as a World Record, and she’s already acquired a collection of such promotions: Face Like Thunder was a Vevo Track of the Week, and Radio 1 plugged Still as a Hottest Record. Having toured in America with her Dirty Hit comrades, The 1975 and Wolf Alice, her trajectory is most certainly fixed skywards.


You’ve been writing music from a very young age. Was the music industry one you always wanted to go into?

I don’t think the music industry is something anyone wants to go into if they’re writing songs. I genuinely never thought about doing it as a job, I just thought I’d have the same chance of being a musician as being a dancer…and I can’t dance. I first considered the idea when I decided not to go to university and to pursue music and that’s when I thought right, I’m gonna try this.

So if you had to describe your music in two words, how would you describe it?

That’s such a hard question. Slightly electronic, harmony-based music.

Which song was the most fun to make out of all the songs on your EP’s?

I really liked doing ‘Swim Against The Tide’ because it was so quick, same with ‘Letter By The Water’. I’d write them and basically produce them in a day and then when I go into the studio I’d re-record vocals and play around with different drum sounds and stuff like that, but the basis of the song was done. I quite liked ‘Clean’.

Which ones were the most challenging?

None of them. [Laughing] Probably…I don’t know. ‘Face Like Thunder’ was probably the most challenging for me because of the classic thing where an artist hates their songs or loves their songs. I was very fickle on whether I liked it or not, and then I decided I did.

Yeah it’s very consistent, it’s one of your more pop-y ones I’d say.

Yeah definitely, it’s far more poppy than usual.

Is that what we can expect from the rest of your EP Swim Against The Tide?

I don’t know, I think it’s probably less poppy. I think there’s sort of elements of pop, but I think pop is such a broad term anyway. There’s a lot of major key, not cheesy, but easily accessible chord progressions. There’s also intricate things in there that aren’t immediately obvious, so it doesn’t come across as super weird.

One of the lyrics that I really liked is ‘I’m cooling in the clay, I’ve always been moulded this way’ from Clean. Were you referring to a specific event or was it more of a general statement about your identity?

I basically had relations with a friend’s ex-boyfriend from quite a while ago. I actually met her through him, but it still felt really wrong and I hadn’t told her – I have now – and this song was me just imagining her forgiving me, because she’s a really nice person, so it was just about revelling in someone forgiving you because you’re a good person…but then actually you’re not.

You’ve spoken before about layering your vocals in a few songs, which has the effect of blending them into the music with a beautiful dream-like effect. Do you match your song-writing to the music intentionally, or is it an organic mix-and-match process that comes from a variety of different influences?

I think the production and song-writing go hand in hand; there’s always a blurred line about what counts as production and what counts as song-writing. If you get someone like Taylor Swift who writes the lyrics and the chords and then someone takes it and adds loads of strings to it, I think that’s part of the song-writing. So when I’m writing I take both things into account. I’ll write the chords, melody and lyrics simultaneously. I do assign a certain vibe to the song as I’m writing to get that sound.

A lot of people have also commented on your androgynous nature artistically, both in your name and your voice. Is that something that you’ve intentionally articulated?

No, I’ve just got a very low singing voice, people just thought I was a boy. I had no idea they would think I was a boy. Some people still think I am. They’ll ask: was that a boy or a girl singing on stage? But I don’t really care, I think it’s cool that we live in a place where gender can be blurred. But no, it wasn’t a conscious decision, it just evolved.

Linking into this idea of androgyny, there comes with it a mystery about you. With consumerist culture, the cult of the artist becomes almost as important as the art itself. By distancing yourself from that and styling yourself The Japanese House, are you electing to make your music the focal point of your professional personality, as opposed to the hype of you as an individual?

I think the main reason was that I didn’t like my own name and also I liked the idea that it had its own title, rather than just assigning my identity, where forever my identity would just be that music that I’d made, rather than my actual self. Whereas the music I’m making is just assigned to the identity of The Japanese House, which is also me, but it’s not my person. I quite enjoyed the idea of people not knowing who was in the band, who I was or how old I was. And I think if you don’t know any of that information then you’re more likely to judge the music on what it is rather than on what colour hair I’ve got.

Some assume that members of The 1975, specifically George Daniel and Matty Healy, have a lot more influence than they actually do. What is the process that you go through?

Matty came into the studio with us for the first EP and was very much an ‘ideas’ person and involved in that kind of A and R sense. But he’s so busy now he doesn’t have time to do that sort of stuff. He’ll sit down and listen when I was on tour with him. He really likes sitting for hours and making me play songs and being like: “Play that bit again!” and then getting pissed off if I talk over it because I do that a lot. So basically I do the demos or do them to a point where I get bored, and then me and George sit down. He’s good at being the sound engineer and mixing and he has really good ideas that are similar to mine and we’ll sit together in the studio. But I mean it is definitely a co-production. Like I was saying, half of my song-writing is production and George helps me to channel that and also to improve it. I wouldn’t want do it on my own because I wouldn’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, and same with him. But usually we’re just going ‘yes, yes!”

So it’s a cohesive evolution between the two of you?

Yeah it is. It can be quite annoying when you don’t get credit for your own song, especially because I’m a young girl and it’s assumed they’ve just got me into a vocal booth and I sang this song for them. But that’s just because of the way people think, and that’s changing.

Talking about The Japanese House as an individual entity, you did the photography for your own EP’s, so is the artwork entirely your own creation?

Yeah I just go off to a different country each time and take a camera. It happened as an accident because I’m not a photographer and I’ve never done that before, but I thought it would be a cool idea to do. I suggested it and then it just sort of happened. The last EP was Morocco.

When can we expect an album?

I don’t know, I’m working on an album after another EP and I’ve basically finished that one now, so probably next year.

Do you select which songs would be better suited to an EP and which songs would be better suited to an album as you’re writing them?

Yeah, I’ve done the tracklist for the other EP, so I’m just finishing a lot of the production on some of the album songs and writing more and deciding which ones are going to go on there. So there’ll hopefully be around twenty songs finished by the end of this tour…probably not [laughing].

Swim Against The Tide is released on the 11th November.