[INTERVIEW] Jay Som opens up about latest album, ‘Everybody Works”

jay som photo by cara robbins

Jay Som’s Melina Duterte Introduces Us to Her Sonic Landscape, and Explores the Making of the Album “Everybody Works.”

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.

Performer Magazine: So, I want to talk about your new album, which is really great. I’ve listened a few times now, and the main theme is this period of young adulthood, and growing up, and how it’s not easy. What would you want to convey personally about this period of time?

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.

PM: In your songwriting process, did you draw from your own personal experiences for stories, or how did that work?

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.

PM: I know your new album was recorded in just three weeks, which is crazy for how great it sounds—I feel like you got everything right. What was this process like with such a quick turnaround, and what different instruments and production techniques did you use?

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.

Jay Som - photo by Cara Robbins

Jay Som – photo by Cara Robbins

PM: I read that you’ve been making music for 10 years and you’re only 22. How did you know this is what you wanted to do and how did you start making your own music?

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.

PM: From this album and the past album, what do you think is the biggest difference, and how did you approach the new one differently from a creative standpoint?

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.

PM: I really like that you have the concept of an album being a piece of art, because not all artists do this and it’s very important. What do you do to get inspired when you’re making music? Do you listen to other music, or do something else? What is your creative outlet?

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.

Jay Som - photo by Cara Robbins

Jay Som – photo by Cara Robbins

PM: Obviously not everything about a musician’s life is glamorous or easy; what is the hardest thing about being in this industry for you?

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.

PM: Have you encountered a lot of backlash?

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.

PM: Conversely, what’s your favorite thing about the music industry?

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.

PM: I was scrolling through your Instagram feed earlier to see what your day-to-day life was on the road, and I saw one post that was very intriguing. You had a pad on top of a drum—have you done anything to make your sound exactly right in that same vein?

Jay Som - photo by Cara Robbins

Jay Som – photo by Cara Robbins

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.

PM: I can’t get over “I Think You’re Alright.” It’s such an intimate track—so beautiful and heartbreaking. What inspired the song, and how did you set it up to be this dreamy landscape?

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.

Jay Som Everybody Works

Jay Som Everybody Works

Jay Som – Everybody Works

Standout Track: “The Bus Song”

Follow on Twitter @jaysomband

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