When Amber Bain, the 27-year-old musician best known as The Japanese House, walks into the living room of her music publicist’s New York apartment, she announces that she’s a bit jittery. It’s half-apology, half-wonderment. “You know when you have an iced coffee and it hits a certain way that you feel like you’re in outer space?” she says, clutching a plastic cup, still full with ice. “That’s how I feel right now.”
There was a time not so long ago when Bain would enter an interview with the same feeling, though not from a caffeine high. “I didn’t mind the interviews,” she recalls. “But I f*cking hated photos. When I first started I was just like, ‘I physically cannot do this.’ Which is why I didn’t have any photos [of myself].”
When The Japanese House dropped its first single in 2015, little was known about the band. “Still” was released with no single art; the ambiguous band name and heavily reverberated vocals left listeners guessing about who was behind the act, with many even speculating that it was a secret side project of Matty Healy. (The Japanese House is signed to The 1975’s label, Dirty Hit.)
Now, four years after her critically acclaimed debut album, Good at Falling, and on the precipice of her new record, In the End It Always Does, out June 30, Bain is in a place to fully and publicly promote the music as her own. “I think mainly the thing that’s changed,” she says, “is that I feel really confident.”
When I first met Bain for a feature in another publication, it was 2019, and she was deathly hungover. “My memory’s vague [on that] because I thought I was dying,” she laughs now. “I was like, ‘I think this is the most hungover I’ve been around other people, ever before in my life.’” I remember the meeting clearly; within a few minutes of being introduced, Bain divulged that she had very recently joined an existing relationship with two members of her current tour. She presented the information unprompted, still in disbelief and figuring it out. As an interviewer, it was a rare occasion of a songwriter being as vulnerable and forthcoming in person as they are in their lyrics.
In the End It Always Does is the last chapter of the story Bain told me then. “Yeah, no, that [situation] ended,” she says. “That lasted six months or something. One of them left, and then I stayed with the other one for three years.” While the record makes reference to the brief time as a throuple (the ’80s-influenced “Over There” details the time of the first person’s departure), it’s largely an album about the final breakup and the disillusions of a relationship falling apart.
Bain now recalls the relationship, which took place largely in isolation during the pandemic, living together in Margate, a small town outside of London. “I was just in my lesbian DIY phase, which I think is a rite of passage — I had my little tool belt,” she says. In a time when everyone felt helpless, Bain found herself focusing on any activity that was not related to music. “I think I was feeling a lot of guilt in not being active enough,” she says. Eventually, music came to her “in bursts.” She began doing sessions with producers Chloe Kraemer and The 1975’s George Daniel; often, songs stemmed from those sessions, with the final lyrics coming later. “I usually have lyrics for a verse and a chorus, and that’ll be the vibe of the song,” she says. “Then I ended up having to finish f*cking loads of lyrics at the end, which is always the hard part because I have put myself back into where I was, and that can be tricky. For example, on ‘Sunshine Baby,’ the choruses were written when I was in that relationship, and the verses were written when the relationship was basically over.”
In our conversation, Bain does not go into detail about the timeline or the who/what/where of the breakup and how it aligns with the album. In the liner notes sent to press, she says: “Love was never the issue. I never wasn’t in love. But I realized I wasn’t in love with myself. We broke up when the album was done.” All that needs to be said is within the lyrics. Plus, she’s still deciphering those herself, a full year post-recording. “It feels like I’m a listener now, because I haven’t really listened to it for a long time. It’s nice doing it that way because if I’d [recorded] it a few months ago, it’s tattooed in my brain. Now I can come back to it and be like, ‘Oh.’ I’ll come back to songs and realize what they’re about anyway. I don’t really know what the f*ck I’m talking about when I’m actually writing it. It feels like I’m literally saying gibberish, and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s what I was saying.’ It is a kind of therapy in that way.”
Despite the record’s serious subject matter, In the End It Always Does is Bain at her poppiest; I dare you to find a catchier hook than on the chorus of album standout “Touching Yourself.” “Oh, that is a pop song,” Bain confirms.
In addition to Kraemer and Daniel, Bain worked with past collaborator Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Muna’s Katie Gavin, a close friend, to hone in on the sound. The latter was a serendipitous one; the whole band had at various points stayed with Bain in Margate before eventually heading back to London. “One day, I was like, ‘I’m in the studio.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, cool. I’ll swing by.’ And then it just happened that she help me write ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joni Jones.’ And that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in the studio.” Later, on the hypnotic “Morning Pages,” Gavin lends her voice and lyrics, singing, “She’ll do that thing where she sits at your feet / And it used to be so hot, now it’s just sweet.”
Healy, the band’s previously rumored frontman, also appears, jumping on the album’s second single “Sunshine Baby.” Bain recalls the journey of those early Internet whispers to now. “When my career started, everyone just thought I was The 1975, and obviously I have this tie to this band, but that was in every single headline,” she says. “It’ll be the talking point of most articles, which obviously can be really tiring. At the beginning, I was a bit like, ‘No, mine.’ But I’m so appreciative of their friendship and working with them that I don’t care anymore. I just honestly couldn’t give a sh*t. I’m just like, ‘Oh, my poor little self, I have to work with these people, all these great pop stars.’"
“I’ve become a lot more positive,” she continues. A large part of that can be contributed to a new partner, whom Bain met on Raya (“I ended up flying to Detroit on Valentine’s Day [to meet them], which is actually such straight culture, I can’t believe it.”) and has been dating long-distance from London to Detroit since (“I wish those apps gave you some sort of subscription or airline discount”).
“There’s this thing that my girlfriend and I talk about, where you are either someone that thinks that you could always be having more fun, or you’re someone that thinks that you’re having the most fun that anyone has ever had. And both are kind of toxic, but I’m definitely [the latter]. I really love my silly little life. I often just look around, and I’m like, ‘My life is so silly and so weird. What the f*ck am I doing?’ All these weird things happen to me, and we meet all these strange people, and I’m just like, ‘This is kind of bliss.’"
She’s already started working on new music, which she says is inspired by “Celtic music and Shania Twain,” and is poppier than ever. “I feel like a lot of my music sounds really happy, and the lyrics are like, ‘Oh, I want to kill myself.’ This new stuff is just really happy, which is nice. It’s almost ridiculously positive.”
Lately, Bain says, she’s been more online than ever, and searching out her own image. It’s a far cry from the days when she didn’t want her identity known.
“There’s some really questionable fan art on Twitter,” she says. “There’s some great ones, and there are some ones that genuinely, I’m so offended by. It’s like, ‘Why do you want to make me upset?’ I keep a folder of the horrendous ones of my phone.” She laughs at this. “I’m just like, ‘Oh, that’s what I’m perceived like.’ But to be honest, most of it’s really nice.”
Another Twitter search result pops up in her memory: “I’ve seen people saying that me and Maya Hawke have the same energy, so I looked her up. I didn’t actually know who she was. Is she an actor?”
“She is in Stranger Things,” I reply.
“Oh, I didn’t see that.” Bain continues to try to find the connection. “She seems a bit kooky.”
“I think you guys just have the same haircut.”
“Oh. Is she gay?”
“Her character on Stranger Things is.”
“Well, that makes sense. Now I get it.”
Several years into her career and more confident in herself than ever, she’s okay with a little mistaken identity now and then. Sometimes, it’s even from her own algorithm. “I always get suggested to myself on Spotify,” she says, amused. Do you hit skip or listen? “Oh, no, I listen to it.”