Amber Bain is the woman behind The Japanese House. (Courtesy Danny North)

Despite Japanese House’s melancholy sound, Amber Bain is ‘really very happy’

The Japanese House’s EP “Swim Against the Tide,” with its synthesizer textures and feathery vocals, sounds mysterious. The act is actually is the brainchild of 20-year-old Brit Amber Bain, who imagined she one day would be a politician, until songwriting consumed her. She took the exotic moniker from a childhood vacation spot her family stayed in that was owned by Kate Winslet, dubbed The Japanese House, and used the name to make music anonymously as she moved from acoustic guitar into keyboards.

Didn’t you go through an androgynous period as a kid, where you dressed like a boy?

Yes. But I don’t think I ever wanted to be a boy. I just wanted to wear jeans and a backwards cap. But then you get told, “Oh, that’s what boys like — girls can’t wear any of that.” And then you find yourself thinking, “Oh. Well maybe I want to be a boy, then!” But ever since the age of 3 and I first came back from nursery school, I’ve always dressed the way that I wanted to dress, and I really enjoyed it.

How did you decide to get into music?

Well, music was always a primary element of the picture. I wrote my first song, “My Little Secret,” at 10 or 11, and I always liked writing songs. But it was just that I hadn’t really considered it as a career. The turning point was getting a MacBook and utilizing its GarageBand program. That was the beginning of the sound that I have now. Then I decided to not go to university and spend all my time making music, instead. And oddly enough, my parents were actually kind of pleased.

And then you started experimenting with recording your voice, right?

Yeah. And I now layer all my vocals, sometimes many times over, and I’m absolutely self taught. When I was younger and going on family trips, my dad used to make us all harmonize in the car, singing along to The Beach Boys or The Beatles, or even The Jam sometimes. So that was our car music. And I still love those Beach Boys harmonies. My dad and I just saw Brian Wilson the other night, playing the “Pet Sounds” album. He was amazing.

Your song “Face Like Thunder” doesn’t sound like a compliment. How’s the love life?

That’s a weird song. I’m a very moody girlfriend, very needy, but that’s not about my current relationship. And actually, I’ve been in a relationship for nearly two years, which is a really long time for me, since I’m only 20. But — despite how my songs might sound — I’m actually really very happy.

IF YOU GO
The Japanese House
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Dec. 3
Tickets: $14 (sold out, limited tickets at door)
Contact: (415) 863-2011, www.ticketfly.com

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