22-year-old wonderkid Melinda Duterte (better known as Jay Som) spoke to Rare Candy just a few days after the release of her debut album, Everybody Works, on Polyvinyl Records. If you haven’t heard it yet, go listen. The album is a glossy slice of dream pop perfection, and it deserves every word of the widespread acclaim it’s garnering. Duterte is talented beyond her vocals and instrumentation: her awareness in a world that has become increasingly unnerving is a hopeful light for young people considering the direction they wish to take in life.
By Matt Malone
RARE CANDY: We encountered your music in August of last year, just when Polyvinyl revealed that they would be releasing your album in 2017. It seems like you’ve gone through an incredible whirlwind since then. How would you characterize your life in the last five or six months?
JAY SOM: My life has been unbelievable since then. Opportunities I have never dreamt of keep coming, and I'm consistently surprised with my life right now.
RC: Getting into Everybody Works. “Lipstick Stains” is the live “I Think You’re Alright” outro. It’s cool that a glimmer of that song made it onto the album. It is so faint, but it works as a beautiful opener. What is the story behind “Lipstick Stains”? How did it end up as the first song, and was it ever meant to be a “fuller” song?
JAY SOM: I initially wrote that as an outro for “I Think You're Alright” for a solo set because I needed a different ending since I couldn't emulate a full band or rockin' guitar solo. I wanted to capture the intense and fleeting feeling of infatuation so it's intentionally short. It was originally just two guitars and my vocals, but I instantly heard orchestral instruments when I first recorded it. I also thought it was a good opener because it sounds like morning, like waking up.
RC: Twisting and turning throughout Everybody Works is a theme of self erasure or self absence. Lines like “I don’t feel like I’m here,” “You shaved off parts of me I must erase,” and “My words turned to ash, they went nowhere as if I’m barely there,” (from “One More Time, Please,” “Baybee,” and “BedHead”) suggest a wider notion of internal struggle with existence. Where did this idea stem from?
JAY SOM: I still haven't come to terms with what this album means to me, and I hear something new every time I listen to it. I tend to be too self-indulgent or pensive with myself, and that does translate into my lyrics and into the grander themes of the album. It's hard not to write about what is so present in my life. It's cathartic.
RC: Some of the people reading this will be college students who do not know what they want to do with their lives (myself included!). You have mentioned that the phrase “everybody works” acts as a mantra for you. How so?
JAY SOM: I have had so much experience with uncertainty in my school life, music life, and job life. It has taken a minute to realize that consistent hard work and being kind pays off in so many ways. It's super important to recognize your strengths and realistically try to achieve certain goals. I also think that school is always there, and you can always go back to it.
RC: What advice would you offer an artistically-inclined college student?
JAY SOM: Being real and kind to others to form some sort of connection is key and is something I'm still reflecting on. Immersing yourself in your art by learning about "the greats" and supporting your friends that are doing the same thing are both important. It's tough out there, and I understand the trials of working shitty side jobs to make your hobby or passion a viable component in your life.
RC: You wake up and see a Pitchfork 8.6 “Best New Music” next to your album. How did you react? Do you read your reviews at all, and was this one any different?
JAY SOM: I was actually on stage for a show in Phoenix when everyone found out, and I was quite surprised. I think it's great to be acknowledged by music publications, but I also think it's not necessary to seek validation that way. Still, it's a nice feeling, and I'm always thankful for anyone that takes the time to listen to and write about my music. I try not to read reviews because I fear of being influenced by them and changing the way I write/sound. But of course I'm always curious.
RC: Any artists/bands/albums you think might be inspirational resources in this moment of uncertainty?
JAY SOM: PWR BTTM, Downtown Boys, and Priests to name a few excellent ones! Of course, there are many more.
LISTEN TO JAY SOM: https://jaysom.bandcamp.com