When it comes to the mythology of music-making, there’s often no story more alluring than the raw, unfiltered display of creativity that is DIY bedroom recording. For 25-year-old, Filipino-American Melina Duterte, who performs under the moniker Jay Som and has recorded and produced all of her releases in her room, DIY recording is her first love. “I love the comfort it brings me and the familiarity,” she explains. “I’ve been in large studios before and I’ve played with other people in different studios or home studios but there’s something about the control, in my home studio that just feels right.”
Duterte started out recording and uploading covers to MySpace in her room at 12. Using her DIY ingenuity and introspective, dream-pop sounds she has become a driving force in American indie rock. Her latest album Anak Ko (a Tagalog phrase which translates to ‘my child’) released on Polyvinyl is a reverb-drenched, shoegaze fantasy. One where we can imagine being the most emotionally available, honest versions of ourselves all set in a hazy, Super 8 music video.
To guide her in the making of the album Duterte found herself drawn to the chaotic beauty of heavenly indie-pop trio Cocteau Twins, trip-hop pioneers Portishead, and 90s California indie band Pinback. For the first time Duterte reached out to her surrounding circle to work on her album bringing in Chastity Belt’s Annie Truscott, Justus Proffitt, Boy Scouts’ Taylor Vick, and Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko.
Raised in the Bay Area in California, Duterte was surrounded by music from an early age. Her house was filled with vinyl her dad collected from his time as a DJ while her mother, who sang and played guitar, taught Duterte how to sing. Her family’s love for music even played out in their favourite past time – karaoke, which Duterte says is hugely popular in Filipino culture. “I grew up with the karaoke machine at my house and every time we’d have parties my dad would put it on and my mum would be singing a bunch.”
Duterte was given her first guitar at eight and began playing the trumpet at 10, beginning a long affinity with classical music training. She almost went to a jazz conservatory until she realized she wanted to focus on recording her own music. Combining her love for creating with her years of technical training she began to work on her own songs and eventually self-released in late 2015 on Bandcamp in the hope someone would listen. Someone did – online indie label Polyvinyl signed her up and re-released the demos as her debut LP Turn Into.
The release of her second album 2017’s Everybody Works saw her status continue to ascend as the well-received album landed on copious end of year lists. For the quiet and softly-spoken artist the newfound attention was overwhelming at first though, she now feels better equipped to handle the intensity of those moments: “I feel more at peace with myself and I feel like I’ve done a lot of work mentally. I think that translates into my music and I just felt more like myself making this album this time around.”
The work Duterte put into herself allowed her to process her feelings on “wanting to care for people and wanting them to know”. The solemn Americana-influenced ‘Night Time Drive’ deals with her fears of drifting away from loved ones when demanding tours take you away from home. “Friendships change in that way but it gets pretty depressing sometimes and you start to really think about your place in life and why you deserve all these things and what did you do, are you lucky.”
Though life on the road has its many downsides, Duterte had an inspiring experience seeing crowds of young women of colour at shows in 2016 when she went on tour with Asian American artists Mitski and Japanese Breakfast. Duterte describes the pair as “powerhouses on their own”. Recalling the tour, she says: “It was super eye-opening and it meant a lot to see that many girls at shows. I’ve never seen that and I remember thinking I didn’t have this when I was younger. I didn’t know this could exist.” Now as a beacon of hope for others like her, Jay Som shows are packed with young women of colour waiting eagerly to sing her songs. She simply says: “It feels very good”.
Photos by Lindsey Byrnes.