The Japanese House, a moniker for musician Amber Bain, has some serious bragging rights for only being 21 years old. From opening up for Dirty Hit labelmates, The 1975, and three EPs under her belt, Bain is evolving into her own persona.
Well-known for her crisp, androgynous vocals and indie synth-pop, Bain is an invigorative new force to pop music. Preparing to embark on a U.S. tour in February and March, The Indie Sound had the opportunity to talk with Bain and discuss performing live, her recently released EP Swim Against the Tide, and some of her modern day inspirations.
Amber Bain: I did my own live show before I did support, but then again it’s so different now because of the shock of having to play to The 1975’s crowd … they’re obviously much bigger than what I’m used to. Just getting rid of all the nerves, which I’m so grateful for because I was a nervous wreck when I first started playing live. I was so nervous, like my knees would shake on stage and everyone could see. But yeah, I guess nerves have changed and it’s more of like since they’re gone, I can actually focus on performing and it’s nice to connect to people more than just worrying about my knees shaking.
TIS: Yeah, I’ve been in those 1975 crowds before and they can be pretty intimidating.
AB: Yeah, they’re really nice. I think I was really lucky because they’re the kind of crowd that will research the support acts and learn every word so there’s quite a lot of people singing along which is nice. Where it’s like if I was supporting someone else, I can’t think of any other band in the world right now that has a bit more chilled out fans.
TIS: You’ve released three EPs so far. Are you wanting to have people familiarize themselves with your material before your album drops or do you just like releasing a couple songs at a time?
AB: I think it’s nice to release EPs before an album because I think if I released a whole album when I was first starting out, I’d be like “oh god, what am I going to put on it?” It has also given me an opportunity to get better at production and writing and kind of evolve with it. I really like listening to EPs myself. I really like that as an idea ‘cause it’s quite cool to have like a little snapshot of work. It’s kind of a statement in a way.
TIS: Do you have certain songwriters or writers that you’re inspired from?
AB: At the moment, I’m really inspired by Burt Bacharach. He has written so many amazing songs, so I literally spend most days at the moment just listening to a playlist of all the songs he has written. Production wise, I’m a big fan of Bon Iver, Fleetwood Mac, and The Beach Boys. I love them. (laughs). Yeah, I’m inspired by quite a bit of people.
TIS: My favorite song from your recent EP is “Good Side In.” Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind it?
AB: I was in the studio recording the second EP and I had written this guitar part and kind of played it around about for a year. It was really weird because half of the song was written at a time when I was seeing this person and I just didn’t think that they were into it at all and it was very sad. I actually finished writing the lyrics whilst I was in the studio recording the third EP. It’s quite funny because the ending [of the third EP] is about how it actually did work out, so there’s like two stories playing off of that.
“I guess it’s also about that dreaded, horrible feeling that even if it is exciting when you’re falling in love with someone how like horrible and harrowing it is because it’s like ‘ugh, it’s started I can’t get out of it now.'”
TIS: A lot of people comment on the way you layer your voice in your songs. Did you always have that in mind or did it just come from experimenting?
“I didn’t even know it was a thing until I released the first EP. People were commenting online like ‘is this a man?'”
AB: I just find it the most fun thing to do, layering harmonies. It’s really embarrassing but I really like acapella. (laughs). I actually fucking love it. What was that film? The really funny one with Rebel Wilson?
TIS: Pitch Perfect? Is that the one you’re talking about?
AB: Pitch Perfect! Loved it. I don’t mean it in a moronic way when they’re actually singing I was like “I love this.” Yeah, I think that’s the most fun bit [layering harmonies] but the album I’m writing, there’s a lot more space vocally like there’s a lot more just me singing on my own. I’m not sure if I’ll change that or not, but sometimes it’s nice to have a solo vocal.
TIS: If you could pick an EP that you think best represents what The Japanese House is, which one would you pick and why?
AB: I think probably the second one because … I don’t know, it’s just my favorite one. “Clean” is one of my favorites, but I really like “Letter By the Water.” I like how I wrote them so quickly and they seemed really natural.
When I recorded that EP, I still hadn’t released anything so it still had that feeling of like not knowing if anyone was actually going to hear it, I was just recording some songs. Whereas with the third one I guess, not that I’m like Madonna or something and I have a million listeners, but they are a few people who were going to hear the songs so there was that weird thing of “oh someone’s going to hear this, should I put this lyric in there,” do you know what I mean? So I guess that improves it in some ways and in other ways it wasn’t as natural, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I guess that happens to every single artist.
TIS: What do you want a listener to take away from your music?
AB: I have the kind of mindset that once something has been made or released into the world then it’s the viewer or the listener, it’s their prerogative to decide what they want to take from it, you know?
I think a lot of my lyrics can get misconstrued and people don’t quite get what it’s about, but really that’s my own fault cause I’m quite vague sometimes, but that doesn’t really bother me because it’s quite nice that people connect to it. But it doesn’t really matter what it’s about for them because that’s why they connect to it.
Musically, I’m quite poppy in a sense but I also like making songs that are pleasant to listen to and sound nice, because I like a lot of music that sounds weird and is hard to get your head around. So I like making music that is easily accessible but interesting.
The Japanese House’s newest EP Swim Against the Tide is available for streaming on Spotify.
She will also be playing a show in Columbus at A&R Music Bar with support from Blaise Moore on 2/21. Tickets are $15 (plus Ticketmaster fees), you can find them here.