Jay Som | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Jay Som

Whatever She Wants to Be

Jun 29, 2017 Issue #60 - Father John Misty Photography by Matt Grote Bookmark and Share

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On “The Bus Song,” the first single from Everybody Works, the official debut album from Jay Som (aka Melina Duterte), Duterte has a conversation with a friend. Along the bumpy journey, their exchange is bolstered by conviction and compassion: “I can be whoever I want to be,” Duterte softly sings. “Take time to figure it out,” she advises.

These are just some of many moments on the new album where the 22-year-old’s confidence shines. As we connect by phone one languid Monday, this poise is also present. Throughout our exchange Duterte is comfortable with herself and feels positive about her future in music. Although Duterte is three years younger than me, I couldn’t help but seek her advice on how I too could feel more settled in life and certain about my work.

“It definitely comes from a deeper place of understanding yourself, knowing your abilities, and being aware of your skills and using them for you and for other people. That took me a while to realizeit happened recently,” she says. “I realized that being kind goes a really long way and being prompt and assertive with yourself in multiple areas of your lifementally, physically, ethically, and financially. It really is about being yourself and believing in yourself. It seems simple but it’s not. It’s insane to realize that.”

Duterte gathered this certainty in the string of releases that preceded Everybody Works. At age 12, she started uploading songs to her MySpace page for fun and so her friends could hear them. With similar intent, from 2012 to 2014 Duterte uploaded a handful of songs to Bandcamp. These tracks were whispers from her bedroom and recording experimentsone (“Finding What You’re Looking For in the Closet”) was recorded with a webcam’s microphone. “At that time I wasn’t thinking about a more lo-fi sound, it was more using what I had,” she explains.

After a brief hiatus from posting musicshe worked full-time at a deli in the Bay Area and went to community college to brush up on her recording skillsin 2015, Duterte uploaded a collection of nine songs, later called Turn Into, she had amassed over the years. The hushed intimacy and dream-pop vibe of the songs resonated with listeners and by 2016 Turn Into was re-released by Top Shelf Records and then again by her current home Polyvinyl. “To this day I am still surprised and I am very thankful,” says Duterte about the attention Turn Into has received.

Following a summer tour alongside Japanese Breakfast and Mitski and playing a handful of shows on the West Coast with Peter Bjorn and John, Duterte returned home and spent just three weeks in her bedroom studio recording Everybody Works. “I think it was the bumper time between the demos and the actual three weeks that I wrote it,” she says clarifying the timeline of her new record. “I started the demos last year in March and then I went back to it in October. During that time, I just got signed [to Polyvinyl] and I went out on tours so I had all different influences and inspirations that made me need to write these songs. It was just there in me. It was natural.”

Everybody Works is a slight shift away from the thick haze of Duterte’s previous releases. The new songs have been shaped by her love of the ‘90s and early ‘00s funk, R&B, and pop music that was the soundtrack to her adolescence. “Remain” is a sugary, but tender, pop song that glides into “1 Billion Dogs,” a song that’s covered in heavy distortion. By the following track “One More Time, Please,” not a trace of sludge remains and instead a playful groove drives the song.

“This album is more of a traditional approach to an album but I’d say it’s more genuine and I hope that people can hear that,” she says. “It was more of a natural reflection of my influences. It’s just me going back to the music that I listened to before and reflecting on why it made me fall in love with music.”

With plans to tour heavily and to start working on her next record, 2017 is shaping up to be another busy year for Dueterte. But she’s ready.

“I am in a really different time of my life than I was when I wrote Turn Into and also when it came out. I am happier that way too because I get to do what I love, with my friends, and, sometimes, make money from it, so I can’t complain.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2017 Issue (April/May/June 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]




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