Interview: All aboard the Jay Som bus

All aboard the Jay Som bus

Ahead of Melina Duterte’s trip to Brighton for The Great Escape this weekend, she fills us in on ‘Everybody Works’.

One of the most poignant moments of Jay Som’s debut album arrives near the end. On ‘Everybody Works,’ - also the title of the record - Melina Duterte repeats the title lyric over and over again. Everybody works. It’s a code for the granular approach colouring the entire album.“Before I wrote that I was broke,” Melina reflects, speaking on the phone from her home in Oakland, California. “I looked at my bank account, and it was like minus ten dollars.”

Her economic insecurity isn’t unfamiliar to a generation of kids wondering if they were sold a bad deal by their parents. Melina talks today about watching famous indie rock bands and wondering how it was that she struggled in obscurity, while they all succeeded. Jay Som’s success emerges from anger – a sense that she could do everything they could. It was this brand of utopian thinking that directed Melina into her home studio, determined to close the gap between her and her idols. Never more true than on ‘Everybody Works,’ Jay Som claims her place as one of the most promising musicians of her moment.

Jay Som found her creative energy in the small things. Minutiae resounds everywhere in her songs; forgotten moments, underrated exchanges, scene pieces slipping to the edge of the viewfinder. Writing songs from the age of twelve, Melina turned her love of the Microphones and Death Cab For Cutie into a bedroom project, pushing the boundaries of the genre. Unwittingly, she also channeled Broken Social Scene, too, by way of lilting lead guitar lines and fuzzy group vocals . On ‘The Bus Song,’ a group vocal shouts, ‘but, I like the bus,’ in a moment that feels stolen from 2005. The reference was a happy accident.

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“Fuck it, I’m going to write what I want to write about.’”

Melina Duterte

Album closer ‘For Light’ meanwhile extends out past seven minutes, repeating its chronological lyric, ‘I’ll be right on time,’ until it becomes only one part in a sea of instruments.“I’m more of an instrumental arrangement person,” Melina, says, in lieu of placing lyrics at the centre of the action. Jay Som’s greatest trick is this type of disappearance.

Perhaps the simplicity of the statements on ‘Everybody Works’ reflects turning point. On her first untitled effort - later re-released as‘Turn Into’ - which came before singing to Polyvinyl, Jay Som reliably packaged a lo-fi aesthetic for the wide-screen. Accordingly, Melina talks about ‘Everybody Works’ in broad strokes. “Lyrics have always been hard for me because I tend to overthink them,” Melina ponders. “And when I started writing, I would spend too much time thinking ‘I have to make some grand statement.’ There was a moment before I did ‘Turn Into,’ where I was like, ‘fuck it, I’m going to write what I want to write about.’” Her logic is powerful. ‘Everybody Works’ and ‘Turn Into’ both emerge, in this light, as albums about an artist accepting her voice. The barriers keeping her out were her own, and the constraints are now removed.

Both ‘Turn Into’ - with its metamorphosing title - and ‘Everybody Works’ accomplish a sort of artistic unchaining. She builds a small world (Melina plays almost every instrument on her records) but one with the spaciousness of an artist exploring the boundaries of what might be possible. Occupying the space of an outsider artist, Jay Som pens songs which occupy a long tradition, without sounding beholden to it.

‘Everybody Works’ possesses an uncommon humility – a bit of brightness in an increasingly blighted landscape. Of course, Jay Som encourages both a downward and inward gaze. Discovering what’s forgotten, it’s work worth working for. 

Jay Som will play The Great Escape (18th-20th May),where DIY is an official media partner. Tickets are on sale now. Visit diymag.com/presents for more information.