On Turn Into, her immensely appealing 2016 debut recorded under the name Jay Som, 22-year-old Oakland musician Melina Duterte established herself as a multi-hyphenate wunderkind — a singer, songwriter, and producer of sneakily sophisticated indie-pop songs. (Oh, and she plays all of the instruments on her records, too.) After posting Turn Into on Bandcamp, Duterte parlayed the popularity of the record into a received tour with Mitski and a record deal with Polyvinyl, which will release the latest Jay Som LP, Everybody Works, on Friday.
Essentially a bigger and bolder reboot of Turn Into‘s ecumenical, genre-hopping approach, Everybody Works finds Duterte exploring a variety of styles — from catchy dance-pop to guitar-heavy indie-rock to spacey ambient soundscapes — and somehow integrating them into a cohesive whole. The result plays like a mixtape of comfort music from the past 30 years.
“There’s just a combination of the genres that I sort of fell in love with growing up,” Duterte said during a recent interview. “I just went back to music that really resonated with me.”
Citing acts as diverse as Steely Dan, Death Cab For Cutie, Prince, and Earth, Wind & Fire as inspirations, Duterte admits that she took a break from keeping up with new music while making Everybody Works. Not that Duterte set out to slavishly recreate her CD collection. Part of the joy of Everybody Works is reveling in how Duterte synthesizes seemingly incongruously sounds in fun, novel ways.
Everybody Works is much lusher and more varied than your first record. I’m assuming it took you longer to make than Turn Into.
This was actually the fastest that I’ve ever done anything. I mean, I’ve only really made one record, [and] I didn’t even know that I was making a record, so that was just that. That was a culmination of two years of music. I was right out of high school and I was settling into adulthood.
And Everybody Works… I think this time last year I was doing the demos, and a couple months after I started actually working on the record. And I did that in three weeks. I wrote a lot of the songs, like half of the songs, on the spot and then I recorded them and I mixed them all. I think I was stressed. I don’t know how I did it. But it was fun. I had a lot of coffee, that’s why.
What were you stressed out about?
It was the first time that I’ve ever had a deadline for music. I think that it also made me work harder, and that was what was stressing me out. But at the same time it felt really good. So it was, like, a very positive stress.
You played all of the instruments on Everybody Works. There’s a long tradition in pop music of musicians doing this, from Paul McCartney to Stevie Wonder to Prince. But why not just get a guitar player or a drummer? Is it a control issue, or do you just consider this part of your process?
It’s a combination of basically, like, everything that you said. It is really a control thing because I’ve had experience with being in bands with people, working with other people, and a lot of times it just ends up not working out. A lot of people just can’t make decisions on the spot, like art choices and whatnot. Also just generally being friends, too, is a hard part. I feel like when I’m by myself I feel at peace. I kind of talk to myself more. I’ve been doing that ever since I was 12, I’m just used to it now. I can’t see it being any other way.
I love the guitar solo in “One More Time, Please,” particularly the guitar tone, which reminds me of soft-rock songs from the early ’80s that still have a warm spot in my heart. Everybody Works has lots of specific sounds like that. When you were making this record, did you start with the songs or with sounds? Because it really is a good “sounds” record.
It is a mixture of both. Specifically for that “One More Time” solo, I did want it to sound exactly like what you’re talking about — kind of a cheesy ’80s Prince solo. Anytime I think of sounds and tones for a certain instrument I have a lot of references. Like, ‘I want this to sound like Steely Dan.’ “One More Time, Please” is actually very influenced by Steely Dan. Especially the percussion. I feel like I’m pretty dedicated to that. It’s one of my favorite parts about recording.
Now that you mention Steely Dan, I do get a Gaucho feeling from your record.
I’m kind of thinking of that, maybe. More like “Do It Again,” that song. Which album is that?
The first record, Can’t Buy a Thrill.
So, I guess more of the first record, where they feel like they’re more psychedelic and a little funkier.
What were your other influences while making Everybody Works?
Right before I started that three-week recording process, I started to listen to the music that I was really into before, like, in middle school. I was listening to a lot of early aughts alternative rock, and pop music like Britney Spears. Also I went back to funk music like Earth, Wind, and Fire and also R&B. So there’s just a combination of the genres that I sort of fell in love with growing up. I just went back to music that really resonated with me.
You started recording music at age 12. What was the catalyst for that?
I was listening to music so much during that time. I was ingesting so much musical information. I think during that time LimeWire was very popular. Do you remember LimeWire?
So I was downloading a lot of illegal music. A ton of albums. Then if I liked them I would end up going to Barnes & Noble and buying the CDs from their CD collection because they would have really good music in there. Specifically I remember listening to Death Cab For Cutie. Their album We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, I was very inspired [by that] to start writing music and recording. Because I would hear the sounds on that album and I’d think, “I really want to do that.” It was just a natural curiosity.
That’s a pretty stripped-back Death Cab record. Was it the simplicity of it that inspired you?
Yeah, yeah. It’s one of their albums that’s not overproduced, I’m not saying all of their albums are overproduced, but that’s definitely one where it doesn’t sound super refined and it kind of sounds like you’re there in the room with them. So it has this sort of intimate vibe to it that I really admired at the time. And also, they had guitars and bass and drums and I really liked that at the time. I felt like that was something that I could do.
Were your early songs in a “Death Cab” style?
It kind of was. It was kind of emo, too. It was weird. I’ll never show anyone those songs but I’ll keep them safe.
When you started posting songs on Bandcamp, did you consider that site to be an avenue for potentially launching a career? Or was it just a creative outlet?
I think, at that point, it was more of an outlet. I was getting older. I was getting a little better at songwriting and when I discovered Bandcamp, I was pretty shocked with all these artists that I was finding. I remember thinking, ‘Man, their songs are really good and you can download their music for free or pay a dollar for it.’ I thought that was a really cool platform to have as a musician. So I started to treat my songs as a serious body of work.
You were interviewed recently for a story about the “death” of rock. Do you consider the music you make to be part of “indie” or “rock” music? You’re clearly influenced by that stuff, but Everybody Works could also be slotted in any number of other genres.
That’s definitely something that I think about all the time. I feel like indie rock is something that I don’t particularly identify with, but at the same time there are many parts of my music that are just, like, blaringly that. And I get that. But a lot of these articles that are coming out about me kind of box me in, and call me a shoegaze or dream pop artist, or, like, lo-fi. It’s this sort of lazy genre picking that a lot of journalists or even listeners tend to do. I don’t like to box myself into one genre because I do like other things. There’s so many other elements in my music that I hear myself.
Everybody Works is out 3/10 via Polyvinyl records. Get it here.