Any time a new artist comes on to the scene, especially one with an alias, every publication (including their own press releases that they’re sending out to said publication) is quick to label their artist. They’re a [location] based artist whose [adjective], [adjective] and [adjective] music is the next big thing! When there’s no face to attach to this [adjective] music, that’s when we start to fill in the blanks for them.
When I was first introduced to The Japanese House, I thought it was a band. More specifically a duo, I don’t know why. I thought it was two males but then the name Amber Bain kept popping up whenever The Japanese House was mentioned. Oh, so then it was male-female duo. Turns out, The Japanese House is a strictly solo endeavor of Bain’s, whose calming, soothing, and atmospheric (look, I filled in those adjectives for you) music transcends you into another headspace. There’s a bunch of illusions to water, both lyrically and visually, and yes, her name “The Japanese House” comes from the house she grew up in. So yeah, it cleanses your soul in a way; clears your mind and lets you take in whatever The Japanese House decides to put forth.
So when Bain began showing her face and doing interviews, some of those blanks began to fill with new words — most of which were targeted at her gender and her not-so-typical style that didn’t align with her gender. Backstage at The Echo in Los Angeles on the last night of her first headline tour, Bain and I immediately jumped into her two most common labels: “female” and “androgynous.” I mention that no one ever calls anyone a “male artist,” and she laughed, “Wouldn’t that be something? Male artist Ed Sheeran releases new song.” Ah, that Sheeran, clearing the path for all male artists everywhere.
Nothing about how Bain has been portrayed in the media is on purpose. She simply didn’t want to go by “Amber Bain,” hence the pseudonym. “It’s also not purposeful that I have a low voice,” she pointed out. “So this whole androgynous thing came about after I started releasing music and doing interviews.”
“There’s a probably positive on having a pseudonym and not knowing I’m a girl,” she continued. “But then again, that shouldn’t really matter. I understand why it exists but it seems to be more like with music people — trying to learn about the person behind it. With like photography — there are really famous photographers — but it’s not an art form that incites extreme hysteria around the person whereas music is [something that does].”
There’s something that happens to you when you listen to a song that doesn’t happen with any other type of art. It grabs a hold of you and can make you feel happy, sad, angry, relieved, loved, alone, like you want to dance, like you want to cry — sometimes all within the same song. It’s quick, concise, and to the point — all in a few minutes too — but within the confines of it, it’s endless in its potential to connect with you. The fact that someone, an actual human being, can create something so powerful is a hard concept to wrap your head around. Which is probably why sites like this exist and conversations like the one I had with Bain never seem to disappoint. “There’s an outward expression so when people connect with a song they feel like they have to connect with the person,” she explained. “There’s interest [in the person] in other art forms but I don’t think it’s the same as musicians.” That need to connect with the person who made us feel the way they did, whether that’s distracting us from the world or comforting us in spite of it, is what drives us to constantly label them. It’s the only way we can logically make sense of something that actually can’t be explained.
As The Japanese House continues to gain more attention and acclaim, that mystery that Bain unintentionally built up is slowly fading away but those labels are still there, tacked onto the front of her name. “People often say that I’m androgynous and I guess in a sense I am because in a way I don’t confine to — but then again what even is the gender stereotype of what girls should wear and what boys should wear?” She pointed to all (4) of the women backstage at The Echo and said, “We’re all fucking wearing jeans right now, no dresses! But we’re not massive tomboys or ‘androgynous.’ There’s a lot of shit people have to go through to be androgynous. I think it’s kind of ridiculous people call me androgynous because I don’t wear girly clothes, like who cares? But at the same time, I don’t know how much I think about gender.”
Bain recalled seeing I Blame Coco, now known as Eliot Sumner, when she was growing up and that a-ha moment of finding someone who was just like her. “When I was like 14 I was a big fan of her. I thought she was really cool and she wore the clothes I was wearing — Doc Martens and denim jackets and was quite boyish. And I remember thinking, well she’s wearing that and she’s really cool, I guess I don’t have to be embarrassed anymore.”
Now, Bain has become that for many other girls who don’t follow the blueprint of what society classifies as “female.” She explained, “I’ve had a lot people come up to me, especially on this tour, tell me I’ve given them confidence to dress a certain way. One girl said I helped her come out to her parents.” The concept of a “female” artist and discussion of gender seems tiring and endless. It’s most definitely become an annoyance to ask what it’s like to be a female musician knowing that your male counterparts never have to worry about being confronted with the same question. Despite of it all, Bain recognizes the importance in being labelled and ultimately fighting against them.
“The conversation is getting started because we don’t want to have the conversation anymore. It seems like an endless cycle but hopefully — I have a little sister who is 4 and I hope by the time she grows up, this won’t be a thing anymore. Maybe her male teachers will be wearing skirts.”