Meet The Japanese House, a Pop Star Who Defies Definition

In her music, The Japanese House's Amber Bain comes off as introspective; her lyrics about love and heartbreak float over her harmonies and synth beats. On stage, however, an extrovert emerges. "I want you to sing this one as loud as you can," she said at one point at Manhattan's Webster Hall on Tuesday evening. She commands the nearly sold out crowd, who sing along at a volume that is sure to cause a few noise complaints. More than once, a silence between songs is filled with a cry of "I love you!" from deep within the audience. "I love you, too," Bain will say back, and then launches into her next song.

In reality, the 23-year-old singer is both an introvert and an extrovert. "I think I’m both," she agreed. "In a social setting, I am very capable of holding a conversation, but then I will go home and worry and think, ‘I hate myself.'" Still, she mentions, she has a hard time being alone. "I can’t actively choose to be alone," she continued. "I have a really big fear of it. It feels like when I actively choose it, it’s depressing and then I feel like I have to look into my mind and thoughts. It’s [only] when I think, ‘I need to do some writing,’ that I choose to be alone."

Alone time, luckily, is not really something on the table right now. Bain is currently wrapping up the U.S. leg of her tour supporting Good at Falling, her first full album after putting out four critically-acclaimed EPs over the last four years. The album, already a best of 2019 contender by many accounts, has been described as everything from indie pop to folktronica. For the record, Bain doesn't really know what it is, either. "People ask, ‘What kind of music do you make?’," she said. "And I don’t know. I’ve started saying recently that it’s like a modern day, more depressing ABBA. I mean, it’s not, but it’s the closest thing I’ve come to. Or what I want to be, anyway." It has also, for lack of a better descriptor, garnered plenty of comparisons to other artists, most commonly the vocalist Imogen Heap and The 1975, whom Bain has toured with (she co-produced her album with The 1975's George Daniel). Bain has mixed feelings about this. "It depends who it is," she said. "The Imogen Heap thing annoys me. I think the only reason we’re being compared is because we both use harmonies and we’re female. I’ve listened to some of her music—and I really love her music—but i don’t fucking sound like that."

Amber Bain photographed by Maridelis Morales Rosado for W Magazine.

No matter who or what it sounds like, the album has plenty of fans, including Taylor Swift, who put the song "Follow My Girl" on her most recent Apple Music playlist. "I have no idea, to be honest," Bain said when I noted this. "She’s done it before. I think she’s a fan." Bain's new stardom has changed things for her as a performer. "The shows have really changed," she said. "There are so many factors, but they feel so different. I think i’m finally learning how to do it, because I find it so hard. Performing is not something that came naturally to me and, to be honest, it’s not something that I wanted to do. The only thing that I’ve wanted to do was write music, and everything else has been a bonus. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve learned to do it, because it’s fucking weird. I think a part of you dies, and a part of you grows." Which is not to say she's not enjoying it. "Usually I’ve had three breakdowns by now; I’ve had zero breakdowns," she said. "I’ve cried, a lot, and I usually never cry. I’m feeling very emotional and letting myself be emotional."

That might be due to recent developments in her personal life. "Yesterday, I hung out with my two girlfriends. I got two of them," she said at the beginning of our conversation when asked about her day off. "It’s intense. They are together and I’ve entered into a three-way relationship. I was debating whether to talk about it…. It’s all I can think about and all I can talk about it since it happened."

it's been a month since she entered the relationship—which includes Polly Mackey of Art School Girlfriend, who tour with The Japanese House—and Bain already describes it as a type of love she's never felt before. "I fell for them equally, she said. "Everyone was telling me it was going to be a car crash, but I literally couldn’t put the breaks on it. It’s already happened. By the time I was questioning how I was feeling, I had already fallen in love.

"I’m really enjoying it. It’s obviously very interesting and exciting," she went on. "Also, it’s kind of an amazing thing. I’m entering into a relationship where they know each other very well and they know the dynamic of their relationship, and I’m figuring it out. I don’t think it’s any more different than a normal way of being in a relationship."

In fact, she's still a bit incredulous about it all. "That’s three people that have all agreed," she continued. "It’s fucking weird. It shouldn’t have happened. It’s hard enough to get someone you really like to like you back. There’s two of them. But I feel really lucky. I feel like this year of being alone and depressed has really spun itself around. Now I’m like, ‘How am I going to write depressing music?’"

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