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February 2021

Jay Som: Peace out

Written mostly in a burst during a self-imposed week-long solo retreat, Melina Duterte’s second full-length as Jay Som is a dream pop delight.
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Published: 12:18 pm, August 27, 2019Words: Martyn Young.
Jay Som: Peace out

Musicians can often be creatures of habit, used to their own distinct ways of working. It takes a special character to recognise the possibilities that shaking things up can entail. For Melina Duterte and her Jay Som project, a change of environment and working practices has brought about a step-change on her musical voyage of discovery with her compelling second full-length album, ‘Anak Ko’.

Speaking from her new home in Los Angeles, it’s obvious that Melina is excited about this record, and with good reason - this is Jay Som firmly making a significant stride forward. “I feel like when I finish something, especially a body of work like an album, I want to release it right now. I want everybody to hear it!" she enthuses.

The journey to the musical awakening of ‘Anak Ko’ is one of self-discovery and reflection after the initial thrill of finding success with her early super hyped recordings. Indeed, the album’s title meaning ‘my child’ in Filipino is representative of a body of work that has been clearly nurtured and cared for. The start of the process saw a period of self-care as Melina sought to decompress after the whirlwind accompanying her acclaimed debut album in 2017.

“I was coming off the crazy wave post ‘Everybody Works’,” she explains. “When I did that record, I was freshly signed, and I was very wide-eyed to the industry and what it means for me. I was very excited about the new opportunities. I feel like it got burned out too fast at the end of that, though. It’s a natural thing. When you’re a new artist, you have to tour a lot. We ended up touring for eight months out of the year.”

“I came off tour, and I was like, oh my god, I really want to make music now, but I was also so tired and just wanted a break from music. It was a mix of being emotional and being motivated to make a new record. It took a while for all the pieces to come together. It didn’t become fully realised until I moved to LA,” she adds.

“I had to grow up a lot the past three or four years; I got signed really young”
Jay Som

It was moving to LA from her native Bay Area that prompted a spark of creativity and inspiration. There were a wealth of positives that make LA a welcoming place for working musicians, some more simply elemental than others.

“I knew I had to live somewhere in California because it’s very easy to be inspired by your home. Having somewhere sunny is also really important.,” she laughs. “This is a hub of entertainment, a lot of people in the music industry are here, a lot of people have the same job, and they’re grinding the same way. So I was like, oh, I want to be just like these people and work really hard at my craft but at the same time, it’s super distracting as there’s so much to do here. There’s a show every single day. Friends and family are always passing through cos it’s such a touristy area.”

In an effort to avoid the distractions of one of the music industry’s most powerful cities, Melina took herself off to the spiritual wilderness paradise of California’s Joshua Tree National Park. It was here that the album's effervescent lushness and rich musical tapestry really took shape. It was a place that was in tune with Melina’s way of working and the tranquillity was inspiring.

“A lot of my songs are about being in touch with your emotions and sitting with them and not trying to be chaotic,” she says. “When I'm writing music, it’s always about practising patience.”

The period of making the album saw huge changes in both Melina’s professional and personal life. She left home, fell in love and even quit drinking for good. Her career was blossoming, and she felt ready to make the songs that matched her new exalted clarity.

“I feel like I had to grow up a lot the past three or four years,” she says reflectively. “I got signed to a label really young and started experiencing things and was thrust into the touring world. That opened up so many different perspectives for me, and I've met so many different people and been given great advice. I’ve had so many mentors. I think my music is a culmination of all these experiences packed into one. It’s all in this record.”

In contrast to her other records as Jay Som, this is her first album where Melina doesn’t play every single note herself. While still producing the record and being the driving force it was liberating for her not to have to do everything as she enlisted a group of long-time friends and musical collaborators including Laetitia Tamkofrom Vagabon, Taylor Vick from Boy Scouts and cult LA singer Justus Proffit.

“It felt really good to let go of the perfectionist control person,” explains Melina. “I think I was really overworking myself on the previous records. I just wanted to learn how to play every instrument myself, and I just wanted to prove something to myself. It’s good to loosen the reigns a little bit though. I have so many talented friends, so why wouldn’t I record them? They brought so many different styles to the table. The best thing you can ask for is a very seamless collaboration from your friends.”

"You have to work with the wrong people sometimes to get to a good place"
Jay Som

Melina is also a skilled producer in her own right and the experience of recording other musicians has given her a different enlightened perspective on her own music.

“You get an insight into what it’s like to work with so many different people,” she says. “You learn about people’s different emotions, group dynamics. You learn how to talk to people one on one. It’s so intimate. When you’re working with someone, who’s creating something from their soul, you have to envision this trust before you start working with them and you have to make so many mistakes. You have to work with the wrong people sometimes to get to a good place.”

The music on ‘Anak Ko’ is a perfect distillation of what Jay Som is and how Melina has created something that pushes at the boundaries of merely being an indie rock record and taking influences from other genres.

“Portishead were a big influence for me,” says Melina. “Especially their album ‘Third’. I was listening to that album a lot while I was making the record. There are points where it’s super crazy and chaotic sounding and so many points where it’s beautiful and straightforward.”

The importance of community and finding a place where you can feel loved and enriched both personally and professionally is at the heart of ‘Anak Ko’, and it’s driven Melina to make an album that is supremely moving with an affecting tender heart, perhaps it’s best exemplified by album track ‘Nighttime Drive’.

“It’s about my life for the past few years,” she says about the record’s standout moment. It’s an ode to my touring mates, and it’s about us, them and me and everything we’ve gone through.” 

Taken from the September issue of Dork. Jay Som's album 'Anak Ko' is out 23rd August.

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