welcome to the japanese house
Amber Bain tells i-D about the personal moments that float across her first full length album and being 'Good At Falling.'
Photo by Aysia Marotta.
“My Dad always said that I was like a hare and not a tortoise,” Amber Bain of The Japanese House said, just before her last New York show. “But he thinks that sometimes hares do win.” And he’s not wrong. Amber’s romanced us with the release of four EPs over the last three years, and shows no sign of slowing down. At only 23-years old, the London-based musician will finally release her first full length album, Good At Falling on March 1, and it contains some of her most musically intelligent and honest work yet. Whatever the hare may lack in depth and integrity, Amber has in illimitable supply. She doesn’t hold back, whether in singing about the death of her first love or in sharing that she sometimes consumes too much diet coke to the point where she physically can’t stop shaking. It’s nothing compared to the nerves she used to feel before shows. But when Amber took the stage last December at Music Hall of Williamsburg, she came across as confident and unbelievably smooth in her two-piece suit.
Amber tried out a number of different names for her moody dream pop project before settling on The Japanese House in 2015 — in homage to a trip that she took to Devon with her parents when she was six or seven. "I pretended to be a boy for a week. I wore dungarees and my hair up under my backwards cap,” she once told i-D. “There was this girl next door... and she told me that she had a crush on me and at the end of the week she wrote me a love letter... I told her that I was actually a girl called Amber and she didn't believe me." The cottage where they stayed was called The Japanese House and Amber’s experience there inspired the intentionally androgynous presentation of her first few releases.
This also sparked rumors that The Japanese House was a side project of Dirty Hit labelmates The 1975. “That was a fun way of doing it and I really liked experimenting,” she says, on releasing only EP’s up until this point. “I think the idea of an EP is a really romantic thing — just a little four track snippet or snapshot of someone’s life at that point is a cute and romantic thing. Not cute, but like…” Like a perfectly wrapped package, tied with a bow.
However, a full length is more freeing, allowing the “opportunity to expose things previously unturned,” and with Good At Falling, Amber has invited us into the heart of The Japanese House. “It’s just a bigger more widespread depiction of your life, basically,” she says. “Or your thoughts. And that’s kind of exciting to release.” In making the record, the songwriter holed up in Bon Iver’s cabin in Wisconsin, for freewheeling songwriting sessions with producer BJ Burton, before recording in Oxford and then finishing things up in Brussels last April, with George Daniel. Only one previously released song made the album, “Saw You In A Dream,” though it’s a totally stripped away, raw reincarnation. Playing it live nearly moves Amber to tears.
“I’m such a perfectionist and stuff that the mix takes quite long because I’m literally so annoying. I can’t leave anything,” Amber explains. “Until it’s released or sent off, I’m changing stuff. Then I can let go of it.” While Good At Falling boasts 13 tracks and some of the most intricate production work, the record didn’t feel any more demanding to make. “There’s nothing about writing music or making music that I find challenging,” she says. “If anything, it’s really cathartic and a necessity for my mental health to stay intact — to actually be able to express some of the shit that I do on the album.”
Amber’s new tracks are super emotional and sometimes painful in a way that’s deeply moving. “When you listen to a song and you hear who a person is through that song, you understand their life a bit more,” Amber explains. “That’s what makes me sort of collapse with sadness and want to die.” She laughs, but only a little. Amber lets us in on her indecisive nature in “Marika Is Sleeping.” She sings about watching her then girlfriend, musician Marika Hackman sleep, and contemplating whether or not she was still in love with her. And on “Follow My Girl,” she confronts her tendency to “pick holes in everything,” when there’s an overwhelming sense of stability or calm — particularly in her romantic life.
Amber’s relationship with Marika appears in a number of places, but perhaps most emotively on the lead single “Lilo.” She began writing it just before her and Marika’s relationship came to an end and finished it after it had. “[Marika] was everything I needed at that time and how, to me, her every movement — paired with her approach to life — seemed as serene as the image of a lilo floating across a swimming pool…” Amber said. “Now, it is a reminder to me that I am good at falling in love and I can survive falling out of it. I’m good at falling.” In order to make the song’s masterpiece of a music video, Amber and Marika teamed up once more, and though it was difficult to film they remain incredibly close friends. “Kissing someone that you haven’t kissed since you broke up, is really emotional. It sort of threw me into this weird space because you wonder why the fuck if you get on with someone that well… When you’re a team again, you wonder why the hell you broke up with them in the first place,” Amber says.
She doesn’t really see the point in being cloudy about her anxiety, her fears, or the deeply personal moments that float across the record, in interviews or otherwise, when she’s so obviously singing about them. Instead Amber hopes to paint a fresh picture in a way that no one else has thought of, but has probably felt. “With producing and expressing myself in that way, that’s what I’m good at,” she says. “I basically just want to be good at the things that effortlessly pour out of me.”
And in some cases, what effortlessly pours out of Amber happens to be prophetic in nature. While writing “Maybe You’re The Reason,” she was constantly wondering what the point is in living — searching for a reason to exist apart from the relationship that she was in at the time. But in explaining this, she arrives at the answer she’s long been searching for: “I think when you’re performing shows, when you sing to a crowd of people and they’re all singing back at you, that instantly gives you purpose. That song was originally about being in love with someone, but now I guess it’s about being in love with this whole thing.” It has been said that The Japanese House has no right to make an album like this at such a young age — it’s unheard of. But then again, Amber is strides ahead of her peers. “Hares are alright,” Amber says. “We’re good.”