Amber Bain’s toured and worked with The 1975, and her gender-bending musical project is destined for the mainstream
When Amber Bain was on holiday in Cornwall, aged eight, she spent a week pretending to be a boy. The act was so convincing that the girl staying next door wrote her love letters. “I do enjoy winding people up,” she says. “I’m a trickster, I guess. And at that age I just genuinely felt really boyish, and didn’t really conform to any of those classic little girl stereotypes.”
This refusal to conform to gender stereotypes has carried over into the now 21-year-old’s work as The Japanese House, starting with the name. “A lot of female musicians, if they use their own name, get described as ‘female artist blah blah blah’,” she says. “By taking away a person’s identity, all you have to focus on is the music, which is kind of cool.”
All Bain’s music to date was worked on with members of The 1975: singer Matt Healy and drummer George Daniel on last year’s ‘Pools To Bathe In’ EP; just Daniel on follow-up EP ‘Clean’. On both, she fuses the ambient sounds of The xx, the classic pop of The Beatles and the harmonies of The Beach Boys, and blends high and low vocals to create ambiguity. The first time you hear her music, you can’t tell if she’s male or female. “I like that my voice is androgynous,” she says, and explains how she got so good at hitting those low notes: “I didn’t want my mum to hear me belting out high notes from my bedroom, so I sung quietly. I had no idea I sounded like a boy until Mum told me. I was like, ‘Cool!’”
Bain’s voice adds to the sense of mystery that surrounds The Japanese House. At first, there were no pics of her “because I really hate having my photo taken – it genuinely scares me”. So does playing live. “At first I was so scared of it, having panic and anxiety attacks. My body would be shaking for hours. Then [when I was touring] in Australia it kind of just went.”
Now there’s an EP primed for autumn and a debut album in the pipeline. “I have no idea what it’s gonna sound like,” she says of the album. There’s the trickster again.