It has only been three months since The Japanese House released her debut album, Good at Falling, but Amber Bain has already moved on. Different from other artists, who place an enormous weight on their first LP and barely seem able to move past it a year after its release, Bain is choosing to focus on what’s next.
“There’s no point dwelling on an album that’s already been released,” she says, casually explaining why she isn’t making a big deal out of finally putting an album out. Instead, Bain has already written and finished recording an EP which she described on a tweet as “your new best pop nightmare dream,” but its release details are still unclear. When asked if the experience of making an album changed her songwriting process at all, she answers securely: “For me, it’s all individual, it’s kind of like every song makes a difference. Hopefully, with every song you make, you’re growing in one way or another – or regressing, in a good way.”
She speaks with the certainty of someone who, four years into her career, has completely figured out and is comfortable with her creative process. Having been given the time to ease into herself as an artist and really tap into the process of making music, her “favorite thing to do,” Bain has earned the ability to not let things like album releases and playing increasingly longer tours at increasingly bigger venues get to her. She’s confident and in control, what matters is the music, “everything that happens with it is a bonus.”
It is this mindset that allowed Bain to produce one of the year’s most critically acclaimed albums, which was universally praised among critics and adored among fans. Looking back on the album’s release, Bain speaks with affection: “I’m just really proud of it, so I think whatever the reaction was, I would’ve been proud of it.” She’s comfortable in her own skin and comfortable with the project she created, and the public reception of the album wouldn’t have swayed her opinion either way: “Obviously I have a very specific taste and I perceive myself in a certain way and it’s not affected by how other people see it. Even if I’m not happy with a song and people like it, it doesn’t make me like it anymore.” In the age of self-validation coming via Instagram likes, number of retweets, and how many times someone can go viral, It’s refreshing to hear an artist express such security about a project of theirs. It is odd to realize that four years ago, people didn’t know who she was.
When debut single “Still” premiered as Zane Lowe’s last Hottest Record on Radio 1 in 2015, The Japanese House was nothing but a name. Photos showed no face, the modulated and layered vocals drenched the song in androgyny and mystery, and all everybody knew was that the song was good. As time went on, The Japanese House started growing. The cloudy, introverted sound of the first EP, Pools to Bathe In, slowly started to allow some sunlight in, “Clean” is a perfect example of this evolution, and pop inflections gradually made their way into The Japanese House’s music. Good at Falling, The Japanese House’s debut album and latest project, is a beautiful and diverse examination of the pop landscape through the eyes of Amber Bain.
As Bain’s songs grew brighter they also became more honest and direct, the result of a change in perspective in Bain’s personal life. “I became more open and I found things easier to talk about, and it was just reflected in the lyrics that I was writing. I kind of just lost a sense of privacy or desire to hide anything, much to the annoyance of my friends and family and ex-girlfriends” she says, chuckling, especially at the last group of people mentioned. Did anything prompt that change? “Maybe just getting older and giving less of a shit about what people think.”
This newfound openness has also allowed Bain to do things like asking her ex-girlfriend, fellow songwriter and musician Marika Hackman, to star alongside her in the music video for “Lilo,” Good at Falling’s lead single, written about their relationship. The video is a beautiful and poetic affair, depicting moments of intimacy between the two women like brushing their teeth together, falling asleep next to each other, and walking around a field; juxtaposed with metaphoric images of their relationship falling apart: a burning car and a float slowly sinking into a lake with Bain lying on top of it. Given this was the first time Bain publicly revealed anything about her personal relationships, a lot of fans perceived it as her coming out or publicly opening up about her sexuality.
Bain treats this moment – which for so many other artists could be considered crucial and scary career-wise — with a comforting indifference: “I didn’t really feel like I had opened up about my sexuality because I wouldn’t be able to tell you which songs [before “Lilo”] had female pronouns. When my ex-girlfriend was in the music video I wasn’t really thinking ‘People are going to know that I’m gay,’ ’I was thinking ‘Oh god, people are going to see that my ex-girlfriend is in the music video,’ I was worrying more about that situation than the whole gay thing.”
Though talking about her sexuality publicly came naturally for her, Bain has seen a shift in how fans relate to her music: “Now there’s been many more young queer people coming to my shows, they relate to stuff on that level that makes them feel better about themselves. When I was younger, I remember finding out one of my favorite artists at the time was gay and being like ‘Oh, okay, it’s absolutely fine then’ because it was cool. That’s the nicest thing for me.”
Good at Falling is a scrapbook of experiences and memories that Bain has collected throughout her 23 years of life. Pop culture references, inside jokes with friends, giving longtime friend Matty Healy a cameo on the album as the backing vocal on one song, a deep reflection about societal pressures, referring to friends and girlfriends by name, all these elements factor into telling the bigger tale of Amber Bain’s life, even if most people don’t immediately recognize what she’s referencing.
“My ex-ex-girlfriend Katie used to call me and Marika every morning and be like ‘Morning, worms!’ and it became like, we were worms. It’s really hard to explain but it’s like this personal significant thing for the cycle of love and relationships, being dirty little worms.” “Worms,” the album’s eleventh track, examines how we’re all pressured into finding a romantic partner from a very young age. The song’s chorus is a reference to a clip of Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty playing with young mice, which Bain used to be “absolutely obsessed with” when she was growing up and can quote to this day: “[Amy Winehouse, voicing the mouse] is like ‘Blake, please don’t divorce Mummy, she loves you ever so. I’m only a day old, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know what love is.'” The album is an easter egg hunt for those in Bain’s personal life as much as it is an intimate listening experience that’s close to her fans’ hearts.
On “everybody hates me” Bain navigates the feeling of deep self-hatred after a night out drinking, a situation that’s much too familiar for most people listening, with a rawness that makes it difficult for anyone not to feel completely understood and comforted by the time the song is over. It’s by letting people into the most difficult moments of her life that Bain manages to create such a special bond with her fans – with every song that is released they feel increasingly seen by, and increasingly close to, the artist.
“Because I’m banging on about being an anxious, depressed human being, I guess other people know that they’re not the only anxious, depressed human beings, that’s nice. And also then that means that I know I’m not the only one either” Bain says humorously and earnestly about the impact her music can have on her fans’ lives. She also enjoys exploring the darker sides of her life and personality in song, rather than the happy moments: “I just can’t write happy lyrics, I just can’t do it. I think because it has to be some sort of expression for me, and when I feel content, I don’t really have anything to say about that, I just want to feel rather than write it down.”
Consequently, listening to The Japanese House feels like being given Amber Bain’s heart and mind, all the most beautiful as well as the most harrowing sides of them, to peruse freely. It is a gorgeous experience, but one that’s so unusually personal and real that at times it feels wrong to have access to so much of another person’s vulnerabilities. She brings an earnestness to the table that’s basically unheard of in today’s music world.
As each release of The Japanese House’s music inches closer to her heart, Amber Bain becomes stronger and more confident. There was never any hesitation in putting out music that revealed her deepest insecurities because “That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Of writing songs and releasing your own music, it is giving away a part of yourself.” And so she’s made a career of exploring and creating heavenly, colorful, and synth-heavy soundscapes while pairing them with lyrics that tug at everyone’s heartstrings, gladly giving away a part of herself for people to listen and relate to.
Just like with most things regarding her career, she’s not worked up about baring her soul to people in song: “I’m the kind of person who secretly would enjoy someone reading my diary.” Would she like to know that someone else read her diary? She laughs and quickly responds: “Yeah.” Bain lets you in on her biggest secrets, only to have you sing them back to her when she’s onstage, pointing the mic at the audience. She’s created a community of people who, together, celebrate one another’s insecurities and vulnerabilities simply by loving one artist. And she’s absolutely fantastic at what she does. She’s got this. She’s got you.