When one thinks of the dreamy pop that’s the signature of London-based artist The Japanese House, a gloomy North Yorkshire day isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, these were the conditions in which I had the opportunity to interview the band’s core member Amber Bain, discussing her preferred production techniques, as well as her future album, tour plans, her favourite East London hang-outs, and why she won’t move to Los Angeles.
Are you a subscriber to one particular D.A.W (Digital Audio Workstation), or do you use multiple when writing and recording?
I use Logic. I just don’t find Ableton particularly creative, I enjoy the opposite approach found in Logic. I started on Cubase and then moved on to Garageband before discovering Logic.
Do you have a go-to synth, plug in or drum machine, and what do you focus on in sound design?
I simply use what’s on there; I usually sound design in quite a weird way, putting synths through guitar amps (and simulators) as well as guitar effects. I don’t use pre-sets for fear of people knowing which one I’m using, although maybe I’m giving people too much credit as far as knowledge of sound design goes (laughs). However, I prefer to focus on songwriting and not sound design.
How do you get the vocoder effect on your vocals?
I don’t use a vocoder at all, minus underneath the vocal layers in the song Lyon. It’s all harmonies and vocal layers.
How do you start the songwriting process – is it with a guitar, synth or a plug-in, or maybe something else?
It depends on the song. Because I’ve been writing so much on tour, as I’m never home, I usually create soundscapes and produce from there. However, this new EP (which is coming out in a few weeks, although I can’t remember exactly when) has a lot more guitars on it. You have to switch it up or it gets stale and boring – like the sex life between a married couple (laughs).
Talking of guitars: obviously you’re left handed and play a right handed guitar upside down. How did you start playing like that?
I started playing on my dad’s guitar, and he’s right handed, so I couldn’t re-string it every time I played it. It actually helped me once when I was shooting a music video – they brought me a guitar on set without realising I was left handed. I had to tell them, “it’s fine.” (laughs) It also makes people think that I’m some sort of genius, which is nice as well.
Do you use a lot of guitar pedals and effects?
No, I’m really lazy (laughs). I have a TC Helicon for vocal harmonies and that also has a lot of guitar effects on it. I also use a Swollen Pickle distortion which is really cool. Also, when I was in Kansas City I was given some JHS pedals which I’m becoming a big fan of. When recording I often DI the guitar into the computer. When I was recording the song ‘Clean Blue’, I placed a Shure microphone between my knees and played in tempo with the rain in order to get the guitar recording. On the song ‘Letter By the Water’ I recorded through laptop speakers, and while I was recording there was a gunshot (due to the filming of a movie at the studios next to my house), and I liked it, so I kept it. However, the guitar I was playing was out of tune, so I now have to play it a whole step down live. I take a lot of guitars on tour (laughs).
Are there any plans for an album soon? Obviously you’ve got another EP coming out soon, is the full length next?
Yes, I’m planning to finish it at the end of the year, I’m just always touring.
How about future touring plans: obviously you’re playing both Parklife and Latitude in the summer, are there any more UK plans?
I’m on tour until the end of the year – as for specifics I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s happening next week (laughs).
Finally, from one person to another who now lives in East London, what’s your favourite hang out?
I love London Fields – I’m there a lot in the summer. I like the sun, so I always think to myself that I should live in Los Angeles; then I remember that there’s no English pubs (Amber then puts on a American accent saying that her friends say, “but we have English style pubs here), and that you can’t drink in parks. Oh, I also love Old George in Bethnal Green.
By Callum Alston