In Conversation with The Japanese House
Amber Bain’s debut under her The Japanese House moniker, the upcoming Good At Falling, has been a long time coming. A pop devotee with a die-hard individualist streak, Bain’s career has been on a slow burn since 2015, steadily releasing four EPs to ever greater acclaim. The first, Pools to Bathe In, featured her debut single ‘Still’, which immediately garnered Zane Lowe’s coveted “Hottest Record in the World” title. The second, Clean, led to a month-and-a-half US tour alongside Dirty Hit label-mates The 1975 and Wolf Alice. The third, Swim Against the Tide, led to another tour with The 1975, this time around the UK’s biggest arenas. The latest, Saw You in a Dream, led to a headline show at London’s KOKO and a run of summer festival dates. Where this project Good at Falling will lead to is your imagination’s guess.
Attempts to box her sound into discrete genres fall short: a cross between indie, pop, electronica and sheer experimentation, that “cross” isn’t really a thing, it’s just The Japanese House. Regardless, Good at Falling is a deeply affecting, ephemeral soundtrack to melancholic love. Bain dizzies with her distortions but remains grounded with catchy pop beats. Surely, nothing grows in isolation – there are influences to be discerned here. The listener might be reminded of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million when hearing the vocal manipulations, particularly on ‘went to meet her (intro)’ and ‘Wild’, and even more so given the knowledge that much of the project was recorded in Justin Vernon’s Wisconsin cabin studio. The 1975’s George Daniel contributes to production too, but Good At Falling is emphatically Bain’s own sound, a stunning crystallisation of her influences and idiosyncrasies – and her best incarnation of it yet.
Ahead of Good At Falling‘s release on March 1st, and The Japanese House’s UK tour which concludes with a night at the Electric Ballroom on March 19th, we spoke to Bain about her career so far, and her approach to making music.
JL: Did you approach working on this debut album any differently to your previous EPs?
AB: Yeah, it was more of an immersive experience because I went to Wisconsin for a couple of months and it was definitely treated as more of a block project rather than just four songs floating around. It’s not like I put on my album cap. I’m just working on music. I’m just working song-by-song.
Was it start-to-end in Wisconsin or were there a lot of ideas in continuation?
A lot of the songs were already written or like half-written. I spent some time in Wisconsin, Brussels, and Oxford.
Your music has been described as alternative and experimental. Is going against what mainstream pop is like important to you or is it incidental?
I love pop music. I think there is a lot of pop in my songs. I don’t really intend to make any specific kind of music. I’m just making an honest representation of what I’m thinking or feeling at that time. My taste is changing all the time so that’s why there’s such a weird, eclectic mix of genres on my album.
What are the heaviest influences on this album?
I don’t really want to be influenced. If I said ‘Oh, my biggest influence is, like, Fleetwood Mac’, and my entire album sounded like Fleetwood Mac, what would be the point of making an album? Just listen to a Fleetwood Mac album. So, I don’t really know. It’s always a subconscious thing as to what’s influencing me at a certain time. It’s more like…. I guess relationships are what influence me – more than artists. I don’t really want to sound like any other artist. Otherwise I don’t really understand what the point of making music would be. It’s more emotional things that are happening in my life that inspire my music.
Is how the album will sound at gigs important to you?
I don’t think about how I’ll play it live until the very last minute. I don’t want to restrict myself by how I play something live. I think that’s why it’s quite weird. I have a band live, but I don’t have a band writing with me. So, I’m not thinking about how on earth my drummer’s going to play this beat or, like…. that’s why it’s quite original music, I guess. Then we have to think about how we’ll play it live and it’s always hard, but we always do it.
When you’re making music, who do you imagine your listener to be?
I write my best music when I’m not thinking about who the listener is. All these things, like that I have listeners, listeners who come to my shows, are amazing things. And I love that part of it so much. But it’s not something I’m considering when I’m writing music because that ruins the music and makes it immediately dishonest. And you’re thinking ‘Oh, what should I do to this song to make *this* kind of person like it more’ … I don’t want to purposefully manipulate songs. So, I kind of just write the song and then see how people react to it afterwards. ‘Cos that’s the truest form of creation, I think
This album is about change. Apart from the routine of making EPs and touring, what has stayed constant in your life?
Absolutely nothing. The only constant is my ability to make music. That’s probably why I keep doing it. Nothing else has stayed the same. Which is quite sad. But true.
Aside from the upcoming album and tour, what are your plans for the future? Any other artistic pursuits?
I don’t really see myself doing anything else than making records and touring them then making records and touring them. I don’t really know how to do anything else.
When you’re making music: is there a certain message you’re trying to get out there or are you just trying to express yourself in as honest a way as possible?
There is no intention. There is no intent behind what I’m creating. I’m just writing songs about myself, then releasing them. Everything else is a by-product of that. It’s not calculated in any way. It’s just very honest stuff and I think people can relate to that. If I was thinking about the reaction to it, I probably wouldn’t be so honest.
Since this is London Student, do you have a message to students trying to make it as musicians?
Don’t listen to your favourite band and then try and sound exactly like them. I think everyone goes through that phase of doing that and I could probably be accused of doing that. I don’t know who you may pick, but I probably do sound like some band more than I think I do. I think: try and sound different and new. One of the things I really look for when I listen to new music is something that doesn’t sound like everything else because there’s so much stuff that just sounds like the fucking same shit. It’s so boring. I’m so bored of it. That would be my main advice. And I guess, just…be lucky.