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Bachelor first formed over a mutual love for chicken tenders and sh*tty reality TV. Before launching the duo, Jay Som‘s Melina Duterte and Palehound‘s Ellen Kempner were introduced in 2017 while sharing the stage at a show. They had been mutual fans of each other’s music for some time and Kempner described their interaction as “best friendship at first sight.”
Their bond over fried food and dramatic dating series proved to be the foundation not only for lasting friendship, but also for a joint side project. Bachelor’s debut album Doomin Sun is a testament to their connection. It was written and recorded over the course of just two weeks in the dusty hills of Topanga, CA. “You’d think that it would feel like a lot of pressure,” Kempner said of their brief recording process. “But it really didn’t feel like that at all. We just showed up and started the day we got there, and kind of chilled a lot. It wasn’t a very busy week, we spent a lot of time just watching TV and sleeping in.”
Duterte and Kempner’s friendship is at center stage on Bachelor’s Doomin’ Sun. The 10-track effort teeters between melancholic murmurs heard on songs like “Sand Angel” and erratic chords that mimic the inconsolable frustration of “queer yearning” on tracks like “Anything At All.” The music is both atmospheric and comical, laying out anecdotes like falling in love with the no nonsense confidence of a trashy Florida woman or the endearing charm of a partner unknowingly kicking you all night in their sleep.
Speaking with Kempter and Duterte over the phone, their connection is clear. They’ll casually drop inside jokes and giggle at each other’s responses. The two switch between dishing out playful digs and exchanging a heartfelt “I love you.” “We really love each other, truly and genuinely,” Duterte said with sincerity. “The hardest part of making this record was just laughing so much that sometimes we couldn’t get stuff done.”
Read an edited and condensed version of our conversation below, where Duterte and Kempner sing each other’s praise and speak about their unique experience as two queer solo artists existing in the indie rock scene.
Tell me about the band name Bachelor. What does it mean to you?
Duterte: We came up with that because I love the ABC show The Bachelor. I’m really obsessed and I think at the time I was really into the current season. I knew everything about it and I would force Ellen to watch it with me. But I think it was actually Ellen’s idea to name the band Bachelor because it’s cute. It’s the opposite of what we are, it’s very strange sounding. You picture a cis guy in a suit. And we’re just, like, really gay and not that.
What are some strengths the other person brought to the table during the recording process?
Duterte: Ellen is so good at writing songs, but in a really fast way that’s really beautiful. I have a hard time sometimes, especially with lyrics and the way to word a song, because I tend to write like I’m in producer mode. I play my instruments and write my lyrics last. Ellen’s like, ‘I have this idea. It’s this cool story, this guitar part symbolizes fire striking down.’ Things like that. She has this entire story and it’s really powerful and super cool and I think I was very inspired by her throughout the writing process. When you collaborate with people, you feed off of them and you’re like, ‘Wow. I never thought of this that way.’ You carry that with you in future sessions that you have with yourself or with other people. Ellen is just very inspiring in that way.
Kempner: For me, this was a completely life-changing experience to record this record in terms of how I approach recording. Melina is also just so inspiring as a producer and as an instrumentalist. She is a pro at every instrument. If she could clone herself, it would be the best band in the world. Melina’s ear is unlike anything, her instincts for painting a picture in a song. I would write stories and Melina would build the set. You know, it was like writing a movie almost. I would write the screenplay and Melina would build the set. She just knew exactly how to capture the story and what the song needed at all times. There were some ideas she’d have where I would be a little bit skeptical but also really curious to see. She would do something and then we’d listen back and it would be absolutely perfect. Like, wow, that just made the song and this is a wild idea that I never would have thought of. She’s always thinking of hooks, she’s the groove master.
Ellen, I read in a former interview that once you came out, you were able to meet other queer people and you noticed a lot of queer people started attending Palehound shows. Have either of you been missing that sense of community and now that you haven’t been able to play live shows in the last year or so?
Kempner: For sure, I have not been around enough gay people.
Duterte: You’ve seen me!
Kempner: I have seen you. You’re the only gay person besides my partner that I’ve seen all year. I’ve literally been on Tinder just to look at gay people in my area. Just to literally see what they look like and how far they are from me. [Laughs] It’s really sad.
Duterte: I miss it. One of the things I miss is all the young queer people, especially is seeing all the kids who are like, ‘I made out with my girlfriend to your song and that’s our song now.’ I really miss really cute interactions like that. It means a lot. Ellen and I are the same age and when we were growing up, we really did’tn have anyone. We had like, The L Word. Who else?
Kempner: Ellen DeGeneres.
Duterte: [laughs] Ellen DeGeneres. That was our visibility at the time.
I was wondering what you had in mind when writing the lyrics to “Spin Out.” You talk about watching the world spin out in a slow burn. It definitely does at times feel as though the world is burning, especially since you recorded this album in early 2020 when Australia was literally on fire.
Duterte: At the time, I was having problems with the cis men around me in my life, especially my best friend. I was struggling with some microagressions and having to talk about that with cis men in general my whole life, like a lot of people have to do. You kind of want to blame people for that and you can help but see that in your own personal life, you see that in the world and how people, especially powerful white men, treat people that live in this country. They have directly caused destruction in this world, as long as humanity’s been around. I can’t help but feel this anger and resentment watching the world turn into something that it shouldn’t have been.
And I love how your song “Anything At All” breaks down at the bridge. I listen to it a lot when I’m driving and get mild road rage, it’s great. I also get the sense that it’s about the idea of flirting with someone and not necessarily knowing if they’re queer not.
Kempner: Yeah, that song is the gay song. I mean, they’re all gay songs, but that one is the horniest song. It’s about that. It’s about feeling out a vibe. That song for me, I’m always writing lyrics about emotion and pain and sh*t like that. But this song is just about sex and about the anticipation of sex and the hesitation of being queer and feeling out what is happening with someone.
Duterte: Queer yearning.
Kempner: Queer yearning, for sure. Like queer yearning and confusion. That’s part of the bridge, it should feel like road rage because it’s that moment where you’re like, ‘Gahhhhhhh. Why isn’t this easy? Why does this have to be so hard? Why do I have to be so cryptic and weird and why do I have to question myself every f*cking minute of every day?
Ellen, you mentioned you write about pain when you write lyrics. While Doomin Sun is about joy, it also touches on pain, especially relating to identity and queerness. Can you unpack that?
Kempner: Even what Melina was saying about ‘Spin Out.’ That song is about the pain of being a queer woman and feeling misunderstood and feeling like an outcast. Melina and I have very similar experiences of being the same age and being queer solo artists in the music industry. So we dealt with a lot of insecurities and a lot of family fears and self-doubt. I think we had a lot of really inspiring conversations about those things leading up to recording and during recording.
Doomin’ Sun is out now via Polyvinyl. Get it here.