[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you head back to the early 2000s, you’ll find Amber Bain transfixed by music. Growing up just north of London in the leafy Buckinghamshire hills, she picked up the guitar when she was just six years old and was never one to seek out a neat cover version, always striving to create her own songs, her own sounds and her own identity.
The Japanese House: "I still don't know what my album is going to sound like"
When The Japanese House dropped her first EP over a year and a half ago, mystery swelled as to who this new voice was. Yet underneath the mystery and the songs is 21 year old Amber Bain - who has her sights firmly set on releasing the defining sound of a generation.
Published: 12:07 pm, November 11, 2016
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s a chilly autumnal morning in West London. The streets are full of builders and plumbers, working away on the latest two story development, cradling polystyrene cups of tea like it’s the last fire standing at an adventure camp. On one side of the road is a large wooden cover, with the words “Coming Soon” scribbled over it in thick black paint. On the other side, is Amber Bain, the voice and soul that is The Japanese House, making herself at home in the offices of her label Dirty Hit with a smoke on the balcony outside. Having just finished moving house once again (the third time in eight months) she’s catching up with those who have been there through some of the most exciting years of her life.
“I really like it here,” explains Amber. “There’s not that many artists on the label, and I know all the people here so well - like I started working with Jamie here when I was 17 and now I’m 21. So literally from my last year at school until now. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, that kinda scares me when I think about it.”
Looking around the office you see the dazzling highs that have been reached from inside these walls. Sold out shows, awards, sales plaques and more - it’s the sort of thing that would inspire anyone, even if you couldn’t play a note.
“Yeah, it’s all The 1975 stuff at the moment, I need to get a few things up here!”
Wall space is certainly ready for The Japanese House. Over the course of the past 18 months, she’s become one of the most adored new artists in the country, bringing the harmonies of The Beach Boys and the electronic flourishes of modern indietronica into one delectable mix that’s left crowds around the world spellbound. It’s a culmination of everything Amber grew up on, that desire to be making great music and to do so with the freedom to explore new sounds and textures, something that’s lead the way in her mind since she first picked up the guitar. Whether that’s school plays, early remnants of bands or the foundations of songwriting - it’s music that courses through her veins to this very day.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content" gap="25" content_placement="middle
[vc_column][vc_single_image image="7214" img_size="full" alignment="center" el_class="100percent
“I’ve been writing songs since I was probably 11… or actually even younger than that, really. I started playing guitar because I thought it was really cool, but I never did covers or anything, just started making my own songs. They were really quite something…
“I should probably be a lot better at guitar than I really am because I’ve been playing for so long, but I never had lessons or anything. I’m left-handed but I play a right-handed guitar because it’s my Dad’s, so guitar teachers would tell me that I would have to re-string it. I just thought, ‘Well, no’.”
It was an unlikely source that gave Amber the confidence to pursue music, notably at school in Year 2 where she was cast as one of the lead roles in a play about Barney The Mouse (spoiler alert - the plot revolves around a mouse who chewed through the organ keys at Christmas, potentially ruining it before everyone comes together and realises that all they need is each other to enjoy the day). As you can imagine, it was a blockbuster success and looking back now, it’s one Amber sees as truly pivotal.
“I was talking about this the other day, I think that’s the reason. Like, I didn’t know that I was good at singing or music before. I used to sing in assemblies and play guitar sometimes but then I got chosen for that and I asked my teacher at the time why, and my teacher said ‘It’s because you’re good at singing’. I was like, ‘Am I?!’ And that’s why I carried on, that’s where I think I got the initial confidence to do music, and why I’m a musician today.”
Growing up with The Beatles ringing around the house and the early days of Avril Lavigne’s pop-riff hooks, Amber’s connection to music flourished, using any opportunity as a chance to play, whether that was in her bedroom or in the middle of the day at school. If you were looking for the kid at school who would be playing a guitar on the field at lunchtime, then you certainly would have found Amber.
“When I think of it now I just think, ‘Put it down’. But that was me,” she remembers. “I would always beg my friends to be in bands with me and they never would, or they’d never get into it, and I think that’s why I went towards electronics more because I was writing songs that I wanted to sound fuller, but I didn’t have a band so just made some instruments on Garageband.”
It’s in those bedrooms, corridors and fields where The Japanese House was well and truly born. Continuing to write and hone her craft, Amber used music as a journey away from everyday life, writing raw and honest confessions that were amplified by the delicate and measured production that would glaze over its horizons.
“The music probably just came from procrastination, I wrote a lot of songs around exam time when I was supposed to be revising, and in a way I still do that now. Because it’s now my job I feel like I write less than before - when I have something else to do, that’s when I start writing.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row[vc_column][vc_video link="" align="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]At 16, Amber was playing shows in London, with just herself and a guitar. A first show of sorts was at The World’s End in Finsbury Park - a slightly different set-up from Barney The Mouse, that’s for sure. While a continuation of a relationship with music that had stretched back for years, it was one that highlighted the differences and necessities of playing live and creating the music she wanted to. At that stage, the two didn’t seem to match. The music that was being played on stage certainly wasn’t the type she had been working on in her bedroom.
Yet life has a funny way of coming together. A chance meeting, a friendship and timing brought the world of The Japanese House into that of The 1975 and in turn, of Dirty Hit. What’s followed is a relationship that gave Amber Bain the platform and network to create music the way she wanted to, to be given the time to experiment in developing a unique sound and explore corners of the world that previously would of seemed a distant dream. It’s an amalgamation of everything she had wanted to pursue since she picked up her Dad’s guitar all those years ago.
Moving into London, and living in her own place for the first time, the bright lights and late-night world that blossoms within the city was a drastic change from the slow-paced environment of the suburbs, and one Amber could thrive in.
“I moved when I was 18 and have moved around so much since then,” remembers Amber, glancing out of the office window to see across the stacked houses of West London. “I always came up to London, like even in my last few years of school, I would stay with people and then come into school from there. It took me so long, but I’d just go out most days anyway. I’ve always been drawn to living in a city, it just feels a bit slow outside of them. I have a short attention span, so I’m not really good at doing nothing or focusing specifically on one thing at a time, so London’s great for that.
“It’s amazing, it felt kinda scary at first because like all my friends had gone to university and I was going to go to university and you think, ‘Shit, I should be doing that’. But like, nobody gets this, the chance to fuck around and write songs for two years is really cool.”
That chance has seen Amber see the world, whether it’s going out to Iceland on her own to take a range of photos that would help form the groundwork for her EP artwork and songwriting (“It was quite nuts, because I’ve been to quite a few places on my own but not places where I have to go up mountains and see glaciers! It’s quite a weird experience when you see things that are so big but then can’t chat about it’) or stopping out in Marrakech with Celia from The Big Moon - the opportunity to absorb a wide array of cultures has never been far away.
Piecing together the numerous recordings and songs that had formed her teenage years and beyond, Amber finally found herself in the studio and working alongside the 75’s very own George Daniel, dipping the soothing harmonies of raw favourites such as ‘Still’ and ‘Teeth’ into atmospheric cuts of modern pop bliss.
“I’ve worked with another couple of producers, but me and George just had really similar tastes. I wanted to play quite a big part in the production and I knew that he would want me to do that too, so we co-produced it and it works really well. The studio’s like the place we’ll record some vocals, because I’m really bad at recording vocals at home because I get bored, and then some guitars too. We’ll mix it on some speakers at the end but mainly it’s all done on mine and George’s laptops.
“When working on that first EP, I found it terrifying because no-one had heard any of my music before, but I’d already written the second one and basically recorded it so I didn’t have that kind-of awareness that people were about to listen to it.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row" gap="25" content_placement="middle[vc_column][vc_single_image image="6944" img_size="full" alignment="center" el_class="100percent[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]After two years of developing and exploring, that first EP, ‘Pools To Bathe In’ emerged into the world in a cloud of mystery. Lead single ‘Still’ was debuted as Zane Lowe’s last ever Hottest Record on BBC Radio 1, plaudits spilled out from around the globe and the EP itself boasted some of the most refreshingly honest tales of modern love seen in a generation. Its impact was deafening, a packaged snapshot of what The Japanese House is and a vital moment in time - one that Amber can look back on now with a new perspective.
“‘Still’ was written when I was 16 or 17, I know ‘Teeth’ was quite new at the time as was ‘Sister’,” remembers Amber. “Some of them I like in a nostalgic way, like ‘Still’. I wouldn’t write that song now - it’s quite childish and that’s what I really like about it.
“There’s definitely a sense of separation, like I don’t even feel like they’re my songs. I kind of feel really detached to it, but that’s why I can then listen to them because if I did feel that attachment to it, I’d be a bit embarrassed. Once they’re out, I immediately stop worrying if they’re good or not - they become songs that I can just appreciate from an outside perspective hopefully.”
Second EP ‘Clean’ certainly put pay to any worries. From the chiming kicks of ‘Cool Blue’, the EP’s soaring title track and the mountain-sized synth lines of ‘Sugar Pill’, it cemented The Japanese House as a name locked into any buzz shortlist going, and certainly into the libraries of love-lorn dreamers for years to come. When delving into The Japanese House, it’s the unavoidable realities that hit home the most, producing the sort of magical soundscapes that leave you wanting to jump back for more. It’s near-on impossible to simply just listen to one track without being glued to the entire collection, conjuring something universal in its untouchable aura.
With the tracks out in the world, the mystery still wasn’t exactly dispelled. For one, there still hadn’t been a Japanese House live show, and that came with its own boundaries and obstacles.
“I got really bad stage fright actually at first, like I just couldn’t do it,” explains Amber. “I did two tours, and… I liked it, but I didn’t feel comfortable at all on stage. I had no idea how I was going to do it, at first I thought, ‘Oh god, how is this going to work?’
“I never sing really, aside from when I’m playing live or recording so loads of songs I hadn’t actually sung before apart from the one time in the studio or recorded at home. For me, I don’t just pick up a guitar and start singing while I do a song, it doesn’t work like that. So when it came to live I thought, ‘Oh shit, I actually have to… you know… sing’.”
Returning to the stage for the first time since those early days of pub nights in North London, The Japanese House in live form banished any notion of being unable to breathe in the same skin as the recorded entity. Learning to thrive in that realm was a continued process for Amber, one that saw her confronting her own fears with being on stage and playing the songs she’s spent so long working on.
“I think what it is, is I feel way more of a producer and a songwriter than I do a performer, like 100% more. At first if you’re not a natural performer then it feels embarrassing and awkward, and a bit stiff,” ponders Amber. “It was more a paranoia that they’d know how awkward I felt and then it would be a bad show, and people would then think I was shit.
“Now, I really enjoy performing. I did a tour in Australia with The 1975, where I just kicked out all of the nerves and now, I don’t really have any nerves. Like I don’t feel any different right now as to how I would feel on-stage.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content" gap="25" content_placement="middle[vc_column][vc_single_image image="7215" img_size="full" alignment="center" el_class="100percent[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If there’s ever a way to embrace playing live, then being whisked around the world with arguably the biggest pop band of the moment is certainly up there. From consecutive nights at Brixton Academy, to spanning shows across America - Amber’s run with The 1975 has certainly helped open her eyes to the world, and helped her to discover the sheer number of people already reached by her music. When fans at a show in the middle of America are screaming along to every word, you know there’s something special going on.
That experience has left a mark, as an almost speechless Amber recalls: ”I’m really lucky that a significant number of fans have heard my music because of the involvement of George, and their fans are so committed that they get there early already and a lot of them would sing along which was amazing to see, just people at the front singing. Once you realise seeing that makes you feel good, and people are having a good time listening to your music, than that’s what I really like about performing.
“When you go to a show and see everyone singing their songs and going mental, it’s hard to look at that and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want that’ - like obviously you’d want that. I don’t want it in the same way I don’t think, I like the way it’s going and I think that’s another reason why I’m getting less nervous. The shows reflect the progression in my music and fans too which has been amazing, and I’ve been really shocked by it. The fans I do have, how involved they are, like they know all the words!”
It’s a progression captured in the next chapter of her story, with new EP ‘Swim Against The Tide’ sounding like the most direct and cinematic collection to date. The pulsating hooks of ‘Face Like Thunder’ are an immediate call to arms, while the title track itself is another glistening ode to the fractured moment of struggling to put heartbreak into words. Full of life, vigour and looking up towards the sun instead of shying away from it, there’s level of confidence that’s ready to seize hearts and take them to another level. If there ever was a flag to wave when running into battle, ‘Swim Against The Tide’ is certainly it.
Grouped together from the vast catalogue of cuts that Amber’s been writing for years now, it’s a bigger and bolder affair.
“Songs like ‘Face Like Thunder’ I wrote a long time ago - as a joke!” she notes. “It started off as one and then I thought, ‘Actually, I think I’m going to finish this’. With the production on it, I wanted to make it sound bigger than I’d already made it and I think that shows.”
Alongside her own particular favourite (the title track which she likes because “it’s a really sad song lyrically, and the first in ages where it was written and done in like two minutes”), the EP plays host to closer ‘Leon’ - a panoramic sized nugget written about the cult hitman-flick namesake, and its tale of a hitman looking after a young orphaned girl in the city.
“That song’s changed so much and also not at all, it’s about Matilda in the film and she’s grown up - I was really interested in the idea of her being in love with him,” explains Amber. As a movie buff who used to head to the cinema around three times a week to catch films, it’s a perfect marriage of visuals, story-telling and heartache. “It’s the only song I’ve ever written in third person, about her being grown up and with someone else, finding him really boring and just fantasising about being with Leon and the sadness of settling for something when you already had something.”
It’s sure to be yet another favourite during the upcoming run of UK and European shows, rounding out the year with her biggest headline tour to date. Attention has already turned to capturing the essence of the latest EP live, Amber having spent the week rehearsing heavily in order to get it nailed on come the first night.
“‘Swim Against The Tide’ is going to be a sad one to play live,” she notes. “Oh and ’Good Side In’ is so hard to play, when I went to rehearse it I just went, ‘Oh my god’. I have to do tapping and shit, like I don’t want to be that guy who does tapping - but I have to do it as there’s no other way to play it!
“It’s nice that you can focus on the music and the lyrics without me dancing around though. I used to be absolutely still but apparently now I do this weird hip-thrusting thing, like wiggling that I have no idea I’m doing…”
So weird hip-thrusting is certainly on the table, but more than anything they’ll be a celebration. In the space of 18 months, The Japanese House has become something greater than another new band, another new face to talk about. She’s an act born into mystery, yet refreshingly down to earth and real - creating the soundtrack to the highs and lows of modern life in a style and manner that only she can pull off. It’s warm and chilling in equal measure, and makes its way into your soul quicker than a wide-eyed puppy.
When thinking ahead, there’s only one goal in mind - and that in itself is to not have any goals.
“It’s really weird because I have no goals, because I think having goals in this industry is kinda redundant,” explains Amber. “Like, if I was asked five years ago what do you want to do, I’d be saying if i was playing the Barfly I’d be like, ‘What the fuck I’ve made it!’ With Heaven, I remember seeing The 1975 play there and thinking ‘They’ve made it’, but now I’m playing Heaven!’
“It’s not like a goal, because then what’s the point - I’m happy just rolling along. I think my main goal is to not write shit music.
“It can sound like I’m being quite unambitious or blasé about a career - it’s cool to play these big shows and do that kind of stuff, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if I never got to play them. I get much more of a kick out of recording music, like I’m sure I’ll get a big kick out of doing my album and being okay with it. Like when I say ‘I’m happy with the album’, that’ll be a good moment.
“I still don’t know what my album is going to sound like, I have a collection of songs that’ll probably be on it but then they may not be. I may write ten masterpieces between now and then! It could completely change and sound different, I think I’ll probably just record loads and loads of songs, which I already have - I have so many songs which I haven’t used, I’m really bad at finishing them because I just get distracted.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row[vc_column][vc_raw_html]JTNDaWZyYW1lJTIwc3JjJTNEJTIyaHR0cHMlM0ElMkYlMkZlbWJlZC5zcG90aWZ5LmNvbSUyRiUzRnVyaSUzRHNwb3RpZnklMjUzQWFsYnVtJTI1M0ExMHVRRGQxWmhZemdUMnltVGt0endZJTIyJTIwd2lkdGglM0QlMjIxMDAlMjUlMjIlMjBoZWlnaHQlM0QlMjIzODAlMjIlMjBmcmFtZWJvcmRlciUzRCUyMjAlMjIlMjBhbGxvd3RyYW5zcGFyZW5jeSUzRCUyMnRydWUlMjIlM0UlM0MlMkZpZnJhbWUlM0U=[/vc_raw_html][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As conversation shifts to shit TV (or fucking great TV in the case of The Apprentice), stories of being ill in Morocco, meeting Blondie and what Amber would want to do if she wasn’t a musician (appearing on the TV show Hunted is high on the list) what’s clear is one thing. Amber Bain is a 21-year-old thriving in life, making the music she’s always wanted to and connecting with an ever-growing congregation of fans, drawn in by not only the mesmeric sounds she’s creating but the person behind it all. There’s no pretence, no bullshit and no posing - and what’s left is one of the most exciting musicians of recent times, taking flight with the confidence to match. Whatever comes next, it’s sure to be stunning - and that’s the exciting part. For Amber Bain, the possibilities are endless. Striding out of the Dirty Hit offices, Amber heads back to rehearsals - ready to nail down the glitches and flows she’s formed in her own textured world. You’re once again greeted by the thick black scrawl of “Coming Soon” in the building work opposite. The “Soon” part appears to be fading, as if it’s been promised for so long that any sense of anticipation has now began to wander. For The Japanese House there’s no chance in that, the development is ready for expansion - get in while you can.
The Japanese House’s new EP “Swim Against The Tide” is out 11th November. Taken from the November issue of Dork - order a copy now.
Give all this a try
We've also got Circa Waves, Conan Gray, The Orielles, The Magic Gang and loads more.
After a barnstorming debut album - and a Mercury nomination to boot - The Big Moon have returned with their second album. They’re better than ever before.
Having marked the end of their five-year hiatus with an anniversary trip down memory lane, Bombay Bicycle Club are learning to look forward. Reintroducing Jack, Jamie, Ed and Suren.
Here's what went down on the first of two nights at the London enorm-o-dome.
Like this? Subscribe to Dork
and get every issue delivered direct to your door anywhere on the planet.
© 2018 The Bunker Publishing