Jay Som on “Anak Ko” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jay Som on “Anak Ko”

The More Things Change

Dec 11, 2019 Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney Photography by Lindsey Byrnes Bookmark and Share

Melina Duterte has no need for embellishment. Ask her how she came up with the title of her third full-length release as Jay Som, Anak Ko, and she admits it has no particular connection to the album. The phrase means “my child” in Tagalog, and she simply liked that her Filipino mother uses it constantly to address her in her text messages. Ask her about her goals, and she says she envisions making music for five more years, after which she will step out of the spotlight and focus on production work. And ask her how she wanted the new Jay Som album to be different from her previous release, 2017’s Everybody Works, and she replies that she didn’t. “I feel like I follow a lot of my favorite musicians until their third or fourth albums, and sometimes you feel that decline in their songwriting in terms of being too experimental,” she says. “I still wanted to be true to my songwriting, and I didn’t want to be too ambitious.”

If Anak Ko isn’t a wildly different album than its predecessor, it is nonetheless an album of firsts. Having relocated to Los Angeles, she wrote and recorded away from the Bay Area community where she first gained prominence. Instead of perfecting songs by recording them over and over as she had done in the past, this time she would write demos and ruthlessly revise, with tracks going through numerous iterations before reaching their final version and half not making the final album at all. As Duterte had previously played every instrument on every song, this time she enlisted a cast of friends (Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko and Chastity Belt’s Annie Truscott among them) to contribute vocals, strings, and pedal steel to her increasingly varied sound.

But just as much remains the same. As before, she recorded everything in her bedroom studio, and her music retains the dreamy, intimate quality that has defined her sound. There’s still shoegazey pop (“Superbike”) and sighing, homespun ballads (“Nighttime Drive”), and her songs are still full of longing and self-doubt. This time, however, everything is a bit sharper, both melodically and texturally, from the funky ‘80s pop echoes of “Tenderness” to the swooning pedal steel-drenched closer “Get Well.” It’s the work of a songwriter confident enough to know that sometimes her most straightforward ideas are her best ones. Even so, Duterte is still coming to terms with what it means to be an indie rock success story, something she says remains “overwhelming” despite having had several years to get used to it.

“In Asian culture, in general, you’re supposed to not stray away with making music or entertainment and stuff like that,” she explains. “Don’t do arts. Be a nurse or a doctor. But luckily my parents have been super supportive since I was a kid. They were like, ‘You’ve got to practice. Keep practicing music if you want to get anywhere.’ They are extremely supportive and buy all my merch, and my mom wears my hat all the time and my dad’s coworkers are always like, ‘Your dad shows me everything.’ I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry,’” she says with a laugh. “But it feels good.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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December 22nd 2019

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