When The Japanese House
first emerged in 2015, listeners were blown away by her unique, almost androgynous vocal tone. It's been a whirlwind two years for Amber Bain, the multi-talented mastermind behind the project. At first her identity was a mystery, but more of Bain's own personality became evident with each complex layer of sound she produced.
Over the last two years, The Japanese House has opened for The 1975
on massive arena tours and released three more stunning EPs, including this June's cinematic Saw You In a Dream
. Before tackling the tenth annual Outside Lands in San Francisco this weekend, Amber shared some details about her writing process, her favorite tour memories, and her highly anticipated full-length record.
MEREDITH NARDINO: You were at Lollapalooza this weekend, how'd it go? Was it your first time there?
AMBER BAIN: Yeah, it was my first time. It was really fun. It was bigger than I thought it would be. I don't know what I thought it would be like, but it was huge. It was quite funny because you had to get golf buggies everywhere because it was just, like, a really massive festival. The show was fun, there were a lot of people there.
MN: Do you prepare any differently for festivals rather than smaller shows?
AB: I guess so, it's a little bit more exciting. When you're on tour and doing it every day, it feels more routine, whereas festivals you're kind of in this weird place you've never been to with crazy people running around everywhere. It kind of feels like an apocalypse. I think it's much more exciting. I probably prepare less for them because it's kind of all a rush to get on stage, make sure everything's working, and you're staying alive.
MN: Your sound has evolved over time. Has your writing process changed at all from your first EP to now?
AB: Yeah, definitely. I think I'm much more used to writing and producing on my laptop in a room full of lots of people because when you're on tour that's pretty much always the case. Loads of people around. I think also it's quite a separate experience, writing lyrics and melodies and doing the production and music side of things - or like soundscapes. I prefer to be alone when I'm doing lyrics and melodies and vocal stuff, whereas the other stuff, I don't really mind if I'm annoying everyone by repeating a 5 second section. Yeah, it's becoming more of a separate experience. Now I have the time off to have it gel back together again, which is what I prefer. I think I prefer doing it simultaneously.
MN: The production and lyrics simultaneously?
AB: Yeah, and writing a song in one go rather than writing some sort of musical soundbite and then trying to turn it into a song later. It's much more refreshing and kind of cathartic to do it in one, but it's much more hard to have those moments.
MN: It seems like your lyrics have kind of grown more honest with your more recent songs. Do you think that's harder or is it kind of a relief?
AB: Yeah, the last EP is really blatant and had very obvious lyrics. I'd become tired of just masking things up with weird little metaphors, instead of saying them as they are. I've just become less embarrassed with anything I do now. Before I would have been like, "Oh no, I can't talk about my feelings openly. It's embarrassing!" But after people seeing you having to tie up your shoelaces on stage, nothing's really embarrassing anymore.
MN: What do you draw most from in your life? Or do you have anyone that you look to for inspiration when you're writing?
AB: I mostly draw from personal experiences. Well, not even experiences but personal relationships. I'm not very good at writing about things that aren't about me, which actually I'm recently starting to experiment with doing other things. I was talking to my dad about writing and how I find it much easier to write about things introspectively rather than - what's the opposite of introspectively? Extrovertedly?
MN: Sure, sounds right.
AB: He made the point that if you do write something that you're experiencing rather than relationships, you're still writing about it from your own perspective. So I'm going to try and do that. Take some inspiration from things that aren't myself and then write about my thoughts on it, which will be an interesting experience. As for people that inspire me, I really like the lyrics - you know The National? I really like those lyrics.
MN: Yeah! Amazing band.
AB: I'd often like to just get drunk and listen to his lyrics, maybe it would inspire me. It'd make me feel sad, but it might make me think of another thing and that could spark something else.
MN: It seems like your label Dirty Hit supports a pretty close knit group of artists. You've collaborated with Matty and George [of The 1975] before. Do you think that's had an influence on you?
AB: Yeah, me and George, kind of on the production side of things, we work together on that. It's influenced me loads. It's probably influenced the people who've heard my music, to some degree. Me and George have such similar tastes, I don't know how to answer that question! We have such similar tastes, I haven't even thought about what it would be like if I didn't work with him. I'm not sure what's happening with the album, because we've both been busy. But I've learned loads from George, so it's influenced me in a good way.
MN: So, what can we expect from your full-length album? Do you have a rough idea of when we'll start hearing some of it?
AB: Yeah, I'm completing it now. Well, not literally this second. I'm actually walking around Whole Foods, shopping. But I'm doing the album at the moment, figuring out what it'll sound like. I think it'll sound quite strange, like a mix of - I hate the word "genre," but different genres going on. I really hope I can get lots of strings on there. I've written some strings - I wouldn't even call it arrangements, just string music pieces, or whatever - on my laptop, which is annoying because I actually really like the chords but I have to use these horrible fake strings. So I'm really excited to hear it when there's actually a human playing the violin or cello.
It's getting there now, but the amount of change in the next couple of months - it could change completely. I don't want to give too much away or lie to you. But I think I'll be finished with it by the end of the year, so that gives you a rough idea.
MN: That's good to hear! We're about halfway through the year - more than halfway, at this point. Do you have a favorite moment from tour, something that stood out to you the most?
AB: We went on some really amazing American tours, which I really enjoyed. My last headlining one was, I think, one of my favorite tours. A highlight was probably when me and my old bandmate Will one day were in - I can't even remember where we were, we were in the middle of nowhere. We had a day off and we decided to walk to the nearest shop. It turned out to be 5 miles away, which was a bad idea. Then when we got there, we forgot it was another 5 miles back and bought so much stuff for a picnic. Like three crates of La Croix, watermelon, lots of heavy stuff that we had to carry back.
And then when we got back, we got the rest of our band and crew, and we walked another probably six miles - on the motorway or the freeway, whatever - to this lake called Sunset Lake. Which is ironic because by the time we actually got there for our picnic, it was sunset. We had a great time, but it took an hour to get there because it was in the middle of nowhere. And there was this crazy Donald Trump supporter who was, like, very preachy. Being from Britain, that's not really a common thing for anyone. It was just quite hilarious, that's probably my highlight.
MN: What are you looking forward to the most for the rest of the year?
AB: I'm actually looking forward to the next couple of weeks. I'm in San Francisco because on Saturday, we'll be playing Outside Lands. We get to hang out in this incredible house, like in an Airbnb for a week, and it's so amazing. The woman who owns it is incredible. I feel about her the same way I feel about Beyonce.
MN: Wow, that's high praise!
AB: I know! And I'm excited to finish my album as well. Probably should mention that.
MN: So, you have Outside Lands. Do you have any other festivals for the end of the summer?
AB: I don't have any more in America, but I have Reading & Leeds in the U.K. I'm actually quite bad at keeping on top of my diary. I don't think I have any more, just Reading & Leeds. Then I'm just going to be in a room for the next few months, not leaving until my album's complete. Just going to stock myself up with a few Diet Cokes and stay in there until it's done.
MN: One last question: if you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
AB: Um, fuck. I don't know. Okay, Brian Wilson when he was 30. A young Brian Wilson. Or maybe not, maybe Beyonce! But I think I'd be too afraid to collaborate with them because I'd be too aware of what I'm doing. I'd like to sit there and just watch them do their thing.