“Let’s record this GameBoy,” jokes Amber Bain. “I mean, we didn’t do that – I was just trying to think of something weird!”
That sort of exploration and freedom has rung through The Japanese House over the past year – a feeling that if you want to try something, then why not muck about and see what happens? It’s how the very best of albums are made and with 2019 now careering into view, now is the time The Japanese House steps up to the plate with something special. More so, with something that sounds unlike anything you will have heard from her before.
“It’s hard for me to listen to,” Amber admits candidly. “I know how I was feeling when I wrote certain songs and I know how I feel now, and it’s usually quite a lot different. It’s nice to have that comparison. This documentary of my brain from the last two or three years.”
Flash back, and the journey remains quite stunning. One that started with mysterious tracks and questions about who on earth The Japanese House is blossomed into an artist full of exciting development, where each EP was different to the last, and those larger rooms became home. There were arenas, headline tours around the globe and that feeling that anything could be possible. Now feels different, though.
“I’ve never felt so healthy about releasing music and touring. The past year, my life has changed, and I’ve changed more than I’ve ever done before. I’ve broken myself down and then built myself up, and now I’m excited about sharing music and excited to go on tour, and I’m not anxious about anything. That’s greatly helped by making an album that I’m proud of and I have no doubts within myself,” Amber explains. “At the moment, anyway,” she cracks.
Taking that change in her own life, she made a conscious decision that to make the album she wanted she needed to step away.
“We were maybe going to do this big American tour, and then I said no – I can’t push this out on tour,” Amber details. “I can’t make this album half-heartedly on tour. I need to sit and well, that’s what I did.”
Moving to Wisconsin and teaming up with producer BJ Burton, Amber found herself in the same cabin and rural hideout that Bon Iver first crafted the start of his raw-ripped era, and there’s something about that place that left its mark on Amber.
Free of any distractions (“I have probably the worst attention span in the entire world,” she laughs) it was all about Amber and BJ working away and opening up to what she wanted to say and do. With similarities and differences abound, it was exactly what Amber needed.
“It was so immersive, very intense but also very chilled there. It wasn’t like having a studio for a week and having to record everything very quickly. It was more like, ‘Well, what do you want to do today, shall we just fuck around with these synths for three hours?’ It was very creative and relaxed, which I think it a cool way to do a record.”
The result is stunning, with the tracks heard so far signalling a bolder and more ambitious Japanese House that isn’t just set on serenading, but owning the moment. They’re songs “probably inspired by playing live a lot”, coupled with the unique surroundings where the foundations of the record joined into place.
“That was where I started changing my brain a bit because before I’d always associated making music with staying up ridiculously late and smoking loads and drinking loads,” notes Amber. “We had a little health kick there!”
Taking time to meditate in the middle of Wisconsin woods, “it helped me open up a bit,” she confesses. “It’s a self-reflective environment, being in this dark cube in the middle of nowhere. Literally, all you could do is think about stuff. There’s no internet, no signal; it’s just you and your thoughts, which is quite intense.”
It’s an openness you can hear radiating from the resultant tracks, all of these elements morphing into the perfect moment for Amber to lay out the thoughts and feelings flowing through her own life.
“The lyrics are far more blatant and blunt, and I hope not in an aggressive or ugly way but in a sort of honest way. Less brutal and more just like… open, and that’s how I’m feeling in general, in my actual self. I’ve become a lot more open and honest, and I think that’s just part of growing up and getting older. I feel comfortable talking about what’s going on in my life in quite a lot of detail, and I think that reflects in the songs. They talk about really personal things in quite an open way, and I’m down with that.”
“Also, a lot of the songs feel quite prophetic,” points out Amber. “Things have happened that I wrote songs about, but after I wrote the songs. It always happens, which is annoying.”
Coupled with recording time in Brussels and Oxford (and teaming up with longtime collaborator George Daniel of The 1975 fame), those tracks thrive off a freshness that develops on the magically raw sound that captivated from the very first moment The Japanese House stepped into the world. Yet now, there’s no holding back. Bouncing from synth-pop bops to deep glitchy grooves, almost War On Drugs-esque warmth and blending electronica, this could very well be one of the best albums of 2019 in waiting – not that we’d want to lay all our cards on the table at this stage, right?!
“Obviously it’s really important to me, I mean of course it is, that people like the album and like the songs and connect to them in some way,” admits Amber. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have made it. I’d be lying to myself and everyone around me if I said I didn’t care. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want it. That’s not necessarily connecting to how many copies it sells or whatever or streams; it’s just the people that do hear it – I want them to like it and to connect to it because it gives you a purpose.”
As the countdown clock ticks down, know one thing. 2019 is the year The Japanese House calls the shots.
Taken from the December 2018 / January 2019 issue of Dork. The Japanese House’s debut album ‘Good at Falling’ is out 1st March.
Words: Jamie Muir