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Oakland-based musician and songwriter Melina Duterte—otherwise known as Jay Som—has taken her songs from her social media pages to audiences all around the world, each listener awaiting her fresh take in today’s booming musical world. With hazy backdrops, fresh production, and lyrics that linger long after you’ve heard them, Jay Som’s music is something to be celebrated. And so is her debut album, Everybody Works [stream it below], following a series of demos. We recently spoke with Duterte to learn more about the visionary artist behind the songs.
Melina Duterte: I think more or less for a sense of direction, this album focused on general themes about self-reflection, and being in touch with your emotions, and being vulnerable. I think it’s just more of a traditional approach for a record than anything I’ve ever done before, so I didn’t want to overthink it.
MD: I think it’s a mixture. I tend to write about what is very private in my life, and it usually takes personal anecdotes and small experiences that happen to me daily.
MD: It was the first time I ever had a deadline for anything, so I took it seriously as a body of art and work. I think I gave myself way too much time or not enough time, so I would be very, very stressed out and I’d be drinking coffee to get over my sleepiness, and I was kind of making myself crazy, and I think it was all positive stress, in a sense. It’s weird to explain because it all happened so fast—three weeks is crazy. I had demos done back in the spring of last year, and I kind of sat with those for a couple months, and the three weeks is when I really got down to it and fleshed it out.
MD: I just started doing that because I didn’t know anyone at all who was doing that, and I thought it was really cool because I wanted to emulate my favorite artists that I was listening to at the time, like Death Cab for Cutie, the Microphones, and I think it was just natural curiosity. I got obsessed with it for a really long time. I started uploading music to Myspace and kept building from that.
MD: Maybe my attitude with it [was different]. It is a little more polished because the first record — I don’t really consider that an album; it’s literally a collection of demos, finished and unfinished songs. I put a little more thought into [the new record], trying to make every track cohesive and thinking about the art and how it translates with the music. I think it was just the thought I put into it.
MD: I always try to listen to other music—music that is being put out by my own friends, or recommendations. I’ve stopped searching for music myself because there’s too much music now. I try to listen to as many other artists as possible. I like to watch movies too and get inspired by those.
MD: I think the hardest thing is trying to keep your head up high. Trying to be assertive and confident with yourself and this career that is looked at as ‘not a career.’ I think that people tend to forget that you’re a human. That’s probably the hardest thing.
MD: I think so — people say, ‘Yeah well, you should treat it as a job, people would love to be in your spot!’ You know, dumb stuff like that when they’ve never experienced it before. I think that people think it’s very glamorous to be a musician when it really isn’t. We’re not rich—that’s a common misconception.
MD: I think having the opportunity to work with a lot of people that I don’t think I’d be able to work with in a normal life, like musicians and booking agents and managers, and different kinds of people.
Meeting other independent women in music, too, has been my favorite thing. The number of women in music is way too low, so meeting anyone like that is refreshing because it makes you realize that music is no longer white male-dominated—and it shouldn’t be.
MD: I think that’s my whole life in recording—using shitty equipment but trying to make it sound right by using other shitty things. [laughs] One day I tried it as a joke, and I was like, man I don’t like how the towels sound on these drums, let me try this pad, and it was like, lying down next to me, and then I put two of them there, and it sounded great! And people have been stealing my technique ever since. I also duct tape my microphone to my microphone stand so, not super luxurious, but it works.
MD: I wrote that song when I was 15 actually, so it was an older song. In the similar vein of not caring what people think, the topic was being present in my life and giving my all to someone. It hurts a lot, it hurt to write it, it was very cathartic. I wanted to write a song that people could relate to. It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve written and it’s our ending song every night for these live shows.
Standout Track: “The Bus Song”
Follow on Twitter @jaysomband