Interview: The Japanese House

Written by Zoya Raza-Sheikh

29 Jan 2019

“If anyone says that I'm fucking mysterious after this album I'm gonna fucking lose my shit.”

Amber Bain is the thoughtful creative behind The Japanese House. Blending mellow electronica and dreamy soft pop, Amber has crafted a solo-project that delivers emotionally raw music alongside beautifully cinematic artwork. Ahead of her debut album, Good At Falling, we had a chat about the upcoming release, industry sexism, and more.

Writing since a young age, The Japanese House is the gender-neutral moniker Amber decided to lead with. Talking about how she got into making music, it’s clear TJH is just a title to her craft. ‘It wasn't like "oh suddenly I decided to make a project". I had loads of music, and then I gave it a name. It didn't feel like a decision,’ she tells me. When it comes to music, it's interesting to learn what makes a musician do what they do. I ask Amber if there’s any particular motive behind her work. ‘There's obviously a certain degree of intent but most times I don't start writing with intent,’ she explains. ‘I think the reason I started music was like, it's one of the only things that makes me feel complete or doesn't leave me searching for something more. It feels like a healthy drug in a way.’

Amber Bain: The Japanese House (Ian Cheek Press)

Scheduled for early March, Good At Falling will be Amber’s debut album. I ask about the meaning behind such a unique title. ‘I was here with Matty and George, and Matty showed me this video game called Thomas Was Alone. It's basically about this little square having an existential crisis,’ she explains. In the game, Thomas is ‘really good at falling’, a line which seemed to resonate with her. ‘I thought it was such a nice... oxymoron, in a way. And then I wrote a song called ‘Good at Falling’ which is actually on the next...thing. I don't wanna say album because I don't know what it's gonna be yet. I decided to call the album Good at Falling because it just really summed me up at that time.’ As we continued talking about the album, Amber picks up on the title once more. ‘It's about falling in love with people, falling out of love with people, falling metaphorically on your face, failing, like, just everything that's associated with falling,’ she explains. ‘Part of being good at falling is standing up again.’

'The reason I started music was like, it's one of the only things that makes me feel complete.'

Although I’ve had the privilege of hearing Good At Falling before public release, a favourite track of mine still has to be ‘Lilo’, thanks in part to the powerful music video that accompanies it. Amber outlines how the video wasn’t originally going to feature her ex-girlfriend, Marika Hackman. ‘Originally it was gonna be someone else—also an ex-lover of mine, but not in the same degree as Marika, who was my life for three years.’ The video, which features wide minimalist frames, captures the brutal parallels of falling in and out of love. ‘I wanted it to be a really truthful representation of the song, which was basically written when I first fell in love with Marika. Another bit of it was written as I felt we were falling apart, and then the last bit was written after we broke up. So, it's sort of the story of our relationship in a way, and I wanted to tell that through beautiful imagery, in the most honest way possible. And that's why I got Marika to be in it, we didn't really have to act. That's why it's so sad, it's genuinely so real, and it was very hard to film, kind of fucked me up a bit.’

As an artist and performer, Amber’s presence has always been described as “mysterious”, a painfully inaccurate adjective. Her music may offer a quality of moodiness and introspective thought, but that doesn’t quite cut it. Talking to Amber over the phone, there’s always an obvious thoughtful pause before each response, an element of careful consideration followed by outright transparency and honesty. So, naturally, I ask her how she feels being pegged as mysterious. ‘That's something I obsess over a lot, what kind of person I am — whether I'm an introverted, quiet genius or if I'm an extroverted performer who wants to be adored. I think I have both of those within me.’

‘I find it very hard to know what I actually want, and I change my mind all the time. I do wanna be adored, I guess,’ Amber muses. ‘I've been blocking it down for so long, trying to be this, like, cool, understated, shy person… mysterious.’ There it is—that word again. It seems it’s not just me that’s fed up with the term. ‘That's the opposite of what the album is. If anyone says that I'm fucking mysterious after this album I'm gonna fucking lose my shit. That was said in every interview after the EP. It was like "is it a conscious decision to be so mysterious?" and I'd be like "why am I mysterious? What, because my voice is low, and I don't wear dresses?". People would be like "well, obviously you're an androgynous person" and I'd be like "am I? Or do I just not wear high heels?’. Listening to Amber’s calculated response shift into a rant about gendered identity was another reminder of how much I respected her frankness.

'There's a constant battle with myself whether I'm an introverted, quiet genius or if I'm an extroverted performer who wants to be adored.'

As an openly queer figure, you’d think the conversation around Amber’s music and identity would be correctly approached, but it seems we have a long way to go. ‘The thing is, I sing songs about girls, why don't they fucking say, "oh you're writing gay songs" why do they have to say "ooh, it's mysterious". No, it's not mysterious, I'm writing songs about my lovers who are women. Like, it's very blatant. If a man had done that, it would not be the same.’ If there was ever a reason to call out media, then this would be it. ‘Maybe I am androgynous...I don't know what I am. I haven't even stopped to think if I'm even fully gay,’ Amber admits. It seems her frustration with the industry isn’t limited to herself, but a wider issue. ‘If someone was to say this album was mysterious, I would almost be offended, because it's so honest, so blatant what I'm talking about.’

Good At Falling is out March 1st, and tour dates are available here.

Edited by George Jones |


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