The Japanese House’s ‘Still’ has the honour of being Zane Lowe’s last ever Hottest Record on Radio 1. The departing host loved it so much, he made it permanently hot; an artifice of buzz to go down in history. This was Amber Bain’s first step, too; the first time anyone outside of her circle of friends heard the eerie, ultra-experimental work she puts her name to. “I was out for a meal with my friends and my manager texted me saying, ‘turn on Radio 1 now!’” she says, remembering the Zane moment. “So I put my phone on the table, played it out loud and we were all giggling. The table next to us wasn’t very impressed.”
Since ‘Still’, there’s been more questions than answers for The Japanese House. Debut EP ‘Pools to Bathe In’ is a severe take on pop. Vocals sound like they’re coming up from underground. Fragments of synth and outside noise circuit around. But with every song, somehow Bain lands on something pure, free of distraction. Label-mates George Daniel & Matt Healy (from the 1975) have production credits, but this is ultimately the product of Bain’s strange imagination.
Those vocals that swell up and sound drenched in effects? That’s her messing around with layers, “to the point where it sounds like I’m using a vocoder.” Songs tend to be made up of “two-hundred” parts, she says. “The harmonies - there’s usually at least three going on, and then it builds up. I’m a big fan of the Beach Boys and things like that. I always prefer melodies when they’re surrounded by other ones.”
The first song she ever wrote was ‘My Little Secret’, penned at the age of twelve and about “a crush on someone I had at school”. Since then, Bain’s learnt the ropes of Garageband, Logic, and she spends most days geeking out on production tricks.
Behind the scenes she’s been readying The Japanese House’s first steps for some time. Without being defined by anonymity, she wanted to make sure the project remained identity-free at the start. “At first, I thought it was important to make it just about music. It wasn’t obvious if I was a girl or a boy, because I had an androgynous voice. I really enjoy that sometimes people think I’m a boy. It’s funny. If Victoria Legrand from Beach House can handle it, I can handle it.
And not using my own name - having a band name - that was on purpose,” she says. “But I didn’t want the mystery to become bigger than the music; I’m not wearing a balaclava. And I’m not Daft Punk - they must have really sore shoulders by now.”
Robot suits might be out, but there’s still an alien touch to Bain’s second EP. Being on Dirty Hit (the go-to label for giving acts time to make their mark), she’s not rushing towards an album. Instead, this follow-up dives into a more direct, “sunnier” route, without giving too much away. ‘Clean’ is a beat-driven force, while ‘Cool Blue’ flutters past in a roof-down, ‘80s glow. It’s still all about trying new things, and that’s what will set the agenda for years to come.
For ‘Pools to Bathe In’’s art, Bain took a trip to Iceland to take shots, despite having never taken photos before. As you do. Things took a strange turn when she got the lurgy.
“One morning, I had a really bad cough and I went out to get some medicine,” she remembers. “And I didn’t realise the cough medicine in Iceland is completely different to over here. It’s some hallucinogenic stuff. The walls were shaking. I was just tripping out. Maybe it helped with my creative eye.”
Taken from the September 2015 issue of DIY, out now.