The immediately striking thing about the Japanese House’s debut full-length, Good at Falling, is the way singer-songwriter Amber Bain isn’t shy about pulling back the curtain on her private life. With lyrics that manage to be profoundly sad and yet at times brilliantly funny, the English singer tackles everything from the fear of dying to soul-sucking depression to the self-loathing that comes from having five too many drinks the night before.
As her career takes off, Bain is in the weird position of having turned her life into an open book—something entirely unexpected, considering the way her one-woman project the Japanese House started out shrouded in mystery. Those who’ve been following the 23-year-old since she began making EPs as a teenager will recall early speculation that Bain was actually Matty Healy of the 1975, working on a side project under a pseudonym.
Today, she’s happy the record’s being set straight. And she’s okay with being prodded for the back story to “Maybe You’re the Reason” lyrics like “I turned my gaze to the ceiling/Thanked a God I don’t believe in” and “I think I’m dying/’Cause this can’t be living.”
“I honestly don’t know what it is, but I’ve lost all sense of privacy,” Bain says, on the line from a Kansas City tour stop. “That’s not really something that I desire. But still, I’m becoming a very open person in my personal life. I’ll talk about pretty much anything—I just really don’t have a filter. And maybe that’s a good thing. When I write a diary, I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be read someday, and that kind of excites me.’ ”
A large part of the thrill, she admits, is being able to connect with others who’ve fallen for her chilled-out, synth-saturated mix of downtempo electronica, sun-flooded MOR, and breathy dream pop.
That Good at Falling is as quietly celebratory musically as it is downbeat lyrically isn’t an accident. Like, well, pretty much all of us, Bain has learned during her time on Earth that everything isn’t always double rainbows and winning lottery tickets. To get to a point where you can enjoy the good days, you have to develop coping strategies for the bad ones.
Music can be great on that front, as anyone who’s ever found solace in the beautiful misery of the Smiths, Joy Division, or every emo act from the early ’00s knows. With Good at Falling, Bain serves notice that she gets the joke, even when it can be hard to laugh.
“The good thing about writing about all these emotions is that you get to find out there are all these other fuckers who have felt the same way,” she says appreciatively. “In the same way that what I’ve written is helpful to them, it’s also been good for me.
I get to go ‘What’s happened to all of them is what’s also happened to me.’ Talking about whatever it is that’s bothering you is always a good thing. Even if it gets you in trouble, the positives outweigh the negatives.”
If those sound like the words of someone who bottled things up for years before finally agreeing to try therapy, it’s no coincidence. Bain decided to get on the couch while she was working on Good at Falling, and reveals that the process opened some doors. She’s glad about that, even if it means everyone gets to see what’s going on inside.
“It’s probably been really fucking annoying for everyone around me, because I’m always prattling on about myself,” she says with another laugh. “I don’t totally know how I feel about therapy. I have a very logical brain, so I like to be able to measure exactly what is helping, and therapy is an immeasurable thing. But I know that it makes me understand my own songs more. I don’t always know what I’m writing when it comes out, but afterwards, when I look at the songs, I’m happy that I get to go ‘Oh—this is how I feel.’ ”
The Japanese House plays Fortune Sound Club on Thursday (May 9).