Image: Ian Cheek Press

Is it all about the music? Success, gender and the visuals with The Japanese House

Walking towards the O2 Institute in Birmingham it seems as though everyone is feeling the weight of a Monday evening, the start of the week usually has that effect on people. However, Amber Bain, better known as The Japanese House, seems to have escaped the Monday blues, appearing relaxed but also fittingly excited. Her excitement is of the covert kind, leisurely strolling she shows off her new shirt (“I just got it in the shop next door”) but it can be sensed she is eager about her performance in a couple of hours; her speech brimming with fillers and occasional pauses, possibly thinking about the set list or the audience waiting for her. There is certainly no fault in that, with three dates in of her UK tour and new material ready to be shared with the masses, Bain is appropriately focused.

“Now, when you play, your idea of your career and what you want changes”

Bain’s 2016 so far has been nothing short of impressive; January to June she toured with The 1975 with whom she is label friends, and she continues working closely with the band’s George Daniel on producing some of her songs. The singer acknowledges the importance of the tour and that relationship: “because of me and George working together the fans had heard the music so it was kind of a lucky support stop, rather than let’s say if I, I don’t know, supported Kings of Leon”. Apart from that, it surely gave Bain a certain taste of what is to come, as she herself notes that every new tour has gotten “a bit bigger”. However, the venue capacity isn’t high on her priority list as she muses ‘‘it’s probably not very healthy to have goals in terms of venues you want to play,” implying that the course of one’s career is uncertain and transitional, much like the places played at.

The critics are still enthused by her music, arguably after Zane Lowe named her debut track ‘Still’ as his last ever ‘Hottest Record’ on Radio 1. The apparent success, possibly still hard to get used to, didn’t have an impact on Bain’s modesty, or sense of humour for that matter. When asked about her career aspirations she replies she doesn’t have any and promptly makes fun of that recurrent notion in the music industry by delivering her best hoarse, rocker voice: “it’s all about the music man!” After a quick laugh she regains composure, intelligently deducing that “now, when you play, your idea of your career and what you want changes.”

“It does make a difference to the audience if you’re a girl or a boy. It shouldn’t but it does”

Although said as a joke, it is evident that the music is at the forefront for Bain, using the moniker served to avert the attention from the performer to her songs. The start of her career was marked with anonymity, very little was known about the singer, she didn’t like having her picture taken so discussions and polemics about her gender naturally occurred. “It was probably a positive thing for me that no one knew my gender at the beginning” she says, explaining that it was a way to protect herself from judgment. “It does make a difference to the audience if you’re a girl or a boy. It shouldn’t but it does,” a more serious side of Bain comes out but is swiftly withdrawn: “I don’t really want to get into the whole feminist music…” With that she sternly closes the topic leaving a sense of tension in the air of something unsaid.

Image: Matea Fadiga

The upcoming EP ‘Swim Against the Tide’ closes the triad preceding the much anticipated debut album. “It’s nice to have something to build up to” is all she shares about the album, leaving us one again wondering, much like at the start of her career. The melancholic mix of synth and layered melodies she introduced in her previous work ‘Clean’ and ‘Pools to Bathe In’ is still present but more refined and confident. She also recognises that feature in her work, the organic development from her first release is noticeable but, equally, all the songs fit making a coherent whole. Bain highlights the “natural progression” in her work but also implies EPs are about experimentation and finding one’s sound whilst encapsulating “a little snapshot of where you were, what you’ve been doing, what kind of music you’ve been making at that time”. During her performance she announces an old song but commences playing ‘Leon’, one from the upcoming EP, showing that the familiarity of the sound can even get the best of her, that’s how well the material fits together.

“It’s nice to have something to build up to”

Interestingly, “snapshots” is an apt choice of words since Bain took the responsibility of the visuals which accompany her sound, inspired by photographer Tom Kondrat. Each EP comes with a photograph she took, first done in Iceland, second in L.A. and the final one in Morocco. Getting visibly animated talking about her photographic adventures one would never guess the singer used a point and shoot camera and never took any photography courses. Remembering an anecdote, she starts laughing, and the tour manager looks at her with a faint look of panic mouthing “what are you going to say?” which only results in encouraging Bain to tell her story. She tells the anecdote of her wanting to recreate ‘A Bigger Splash’ by Hockney, consequently trying to persuade her manager to let her go to a resort with a nice swimming pool to recreate the shot. “It’s basically just a ploy to get sent on holiday, that’s why I do it, I don’t really care about the imagery!” Bain concludes through laughter.

The covert excitement present at the interview turns into a version of nervousness during her performance, possibly responsible for the lyrical mistake when preforming ‘Sister’. Despite that, the nervousness gradually disappears and the singer comfortably but concisely introduces (“I keep it short and sweet”) each song. The single ‘Face Like Thunder’ makes the crowd move – Bain suggested: “you can dance to this one,” a hit in the making with a consistent enough beat for the radio but also an arrangement that stands out for more demanding listeners.

Swim Against The Tide EP. Image: Ian Cheek Press

Similarly to the support received by The 1975, who still follow and promote her work – front man Matty Healy tweeting about the new release “The best EP I’ve heard in so long”, Bain makes sure to mention her support band Colouring and Our Girl, encouraging the audience to give them a listen. It is hard to believe the singer casually walked around the venue towards the bar to get her Diet Cherry Coke with only two people acknowledging her existence, soon enough at least one security guard will have to be present if such a venture will even cross her mind. Until then, The Japanese House can still enjoy what is left of her initial anonymity as she finishes up the UK leg of her tour.

Swim Against The Tide is available today, 11th of November.

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