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The Japanese House on Beyoncé, Pop Music and Being Good at Falling

The Japanese House
The Japanese House Photo by Jim Mangan, courtesy of Press Here

Amber Bain, who performs her solo indie pop music under the moniker The Japanese House, has had to contemplate the idea of pop music. She said she bucked against the notion that her songs fit into that category in some way, which, she thinks, has made them even better. She’s touring to support a new full-length album, Good at Falling, which is an open look into the 23-year old Brit’s life. She’ll perform songs from it and the quartet of EPs she’s released since 2015 for local fans at House of Blues’ Bronze Peacock Room on Monday, May 20.

Bain said it took some time and some very specific role models to help her accept her music being branded as pop. One of those examples is a Houstonian. Bain’s gone on record about a mini-fixation with Beyoncé, so we asked about the appeal.

“I think she’s inarguably inspiring,” Bain said. “She works with people that are really amazing at producing and her charisma is sort of overwhelming. I’ve always just been pretty attracted to that side of pop music, that making pop 'cool.' She’s so cool. It’s so easy to have pop music that makes me want to fucking shoot myself because it’s so boring and the same shit, again and again and again and again and again. Everything she does is original and new and exciting but it’s also pop music. That’s kind of what I like.”

Bain might bristle at the comparison to Bey, but making pop cool is something she too has excelled at since the release of her debut EP, Pools to Bathe In, less than five short years ago. She truly hit her stride with 2017’s Saw You in a Dream. The EP’s title track was a global success and the perfect set up for the full-length, which released in March. The new work propelled Bain’s Spotify streams over the 200 million mark and has been lauded by music reviewers, most notably Pitchfork, which suggested Good at Falling marks the notoriously shy artist’s “transformation from hesitant outsider to unlikely pop star.”

Since the beginning, Bain’s worked alongside George Daniel. The 1975’s drummer has produced The Japanese House’s albums, along with Bain and, on occasion, the band’s vocalist, Matt Healy. Working with them has influenced her stylistically but the biggest takeaway she’s enjoyed from their joint efforts has to do with that nagging philosophical position on pop music. She said they “kind of made me accept the fact that pop music can be really cool and that’s not something to be ashamed of.”

Since she’s been performing songs from the new album for fans, she’s noticed a stronger bond between them at shows.

“I think the shows have got kind of more intense in a way, in a good way,” she said. “There’s definitely more of a connection.”

Part of that connection has come from presenting a more complete body of work in LP form, she noted. As songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and producer of her work, she acknowledges she’s putting more of herself into the world with more tracks. She’s admitted to anxiety and introversion in the past, the sorts of forces that often create vivid and intriguing music but can make it hard to perform for audiences. But, as her body of work grows, so does her comfort level as a live artist.

“I guess a full-length album is more for people to latch onto. It’s more or less a story and people know you more, so I guess the more material you have out there the more people can connect to you.”

Case in point, the video for “Lilo,” the lead single from Good at Falling. The song and its companion video piece reflect on the everyday moments we have with those we love. Those everyday moments aren’t generally hailed, they’re often overlooked until they’re no longer part of the daily routine. It’s a good primer for the full album, because the LP is an honest reflection on Bain’s life. More than more songs to reflect upon, she says the lyrical openness of the new work is what’s further bonding her to her fans.

“I’m letting listeners in a lot more to my life. My album is pretty much a pre-breakup album where I talk about that relationship in quite a lot of depth and, like, I have a video that has my ex-girlfriend in it, I’m sort of being quite bold in terms of what I’m talking about and how much I’m giving away and I think people respond to that,” she said.

How is that working for her, we ask, noting her history as an artist has been one shaded by the veil of reserve?

“I feel more comfortable doing that, (letting) people know what’s going on than not and feeling like I have to hide something.”

The Japanese House, Monday, May 20, at House of Blues’ Bronze Peacock Room, 1204 Caroline. With Art School Girlfriend. Doors at 7 p.m., $18.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.