At 22-years-old, while most people Jay Som’s age are graduating from universities or trying to make ends meet, Bay-area native Melina Duterte has two albums under her belt and has already finessed a loyal following for her lo-fi, bedroom rock confessionals. Her most recent release, the sublime contextualization of that very realization titled Everybody Works, has left her leaping in bounds over any potential sophomore slump. Soon she’ll be on the road for a summer tour before heading back to concoct her next DIY piece. For a busybody like Duterte–who allowed us to impede on her sleep with this interview–putting in the hours has been something of a constant theme throughout her music career.
At 8-years-old she was idolizing bands like The Donnas and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, looking to the chops of guitarist Allison Robertson and glam-sleekness of vocal stunner Karen O for inspiration. By age twelve she was already embedding herself into the record and writing process, fueling her innate need for complete DIY control that would later manifest in her debut Turn Into.
“My mom bought me this guitar–that I actually still have, I’m actually looking at it right now–and I sort of taught myself how to play by going on UltimateGuitarist.com and looking at Blink-182 and Green Day,” Duterte explained. “After that, I started playing trumpet but more in a strict, mechanical and formal kind of way.”
Earning both formal and informal education in music, Duterte was pushed by her mother to continue to pursue music but to make it financially viable for her. More traditional options like becoming a music teacher were suggested, but it was clear from the very beginning that Duterte belonged in the studio and on the stage, nitpicking the nuances of her life into glazed, fuzzy enchantments of rock. The solo nature of her creation Jay Som was born both out of necessity and want–Duterte just prefers to work alone. “I like challenging myself with certain instruments and learning how it’s played and then putting my own twist,” she said, mentioning with a laugh that if there was more of her she’d do it all onstage too.
On Everybody Works Duterte began to experiment more with incorporating more of the sounds that truly drive and inspire her music into the mixture, drawing on artists like Tame Impala and Yo La Tengo often throughout.
“I think with those artists they are always my instant references, before and during the time I was writing the album I would always go back to those artists,” Duterte said fondly of the two bands. “There’s just something about their albums that really take ahold of me and I remember I would always think ‘I really want the drums to sound like this Tame Impala song’ or ‘I really like the way they sing on this Yo La Tengo song.’ Knowing exactly what you want for a sound or for like a structure for a song and using your influences is very important.”
In between the time that Turn Into was released and Everybody Works emerged, Duterte felt a shift in the process of actually making the music, from her taste, influences, and general performance. Energetic, autobiographical, and texturized with a dreamy alt-folk sensibility, under Jay Som the young singer has captured an electrifying portrayal of the mundane that is nothing short of poetic–not dissimilar to that of Courtney Barnett. With Duterte, however, the intimacies are bedroom deep, stuck in the personal fog of one’s own stream of conscious observations and chaotic wondering; and this emerges sonically as well.
“There was a big buffer between Turn Into and Everybody Works, it was almost like a year. During the time someone releases a new album it’s not new to the artist, it’s not as fresh as you think,” Duterte said of the changes. “I felt like I had more of a grip on my own sound and I was more intentional and also I was just listening to more music and different inspirations. Now I feel like I’m making pretty different music too, I’m already making demos for whatever I’m going to make next–but it’s always shifting.”
Already looking to the future and given the content of her last album, the question came up whether or not Duterte ever thought about in concern or curiosity of going back to school. In the spirit of the album’s eponymous song (in which she sings “Try to make ends meet/Penny pinch til I’m dying/Everybody works”), Duterte seemed unconcerned with the notion. Between supportive parents encouraging her to make this music thing work and her own obvious individualistic sense of her own abilities, school or a career in the traditional sense is something that’s “always there” should she need it.
“With school, I’ve always had a mindset that school is always there and I can always come back, I don’t like to compare myself to others like ‘This person has a degree and they can do whatever they want with this and they’re only twenty-three!’ It’s very important but if I don’t have the means or money to go to it what’s the point? I’m sort of already doing what people want to do after school.”
With her upcoming tour, Duterte did express a hesitancy for going to certain places given the increasingly tense social-political landscape that the is currently a reality in the U.S. A daughter of Filipino immigrants, she admitted that while she has reservations about traveling, her shows are pretty safe spaces filled with people with broader minds.
“Last year when I went on tour we actually hit places like the midwest and the south but from this tour, post-Trump and post-election, I am a bit wary and scared about what we could encounter,” Duterte said. “But I’m also pretty happy too because usually people that are musical are pretty open minded people and are out to have fun and escape from their life for like a night.”
Her one concern? The fact that every time she’s in L.A. people are always trying to solicit drugs to her. Living in the bay area she’s used to this–but offers of coke and meth are just a bit much for her.
Words: Steven Ward
Jay Som will be on tour this month with a stop at the Echo on April 21. Supporting acts include Kera and the Lesbians and Pinky Pinky. Tickets are still available here. Visit her website or Facebook for more info and to get ahold of her album Everybody Works.