April 25, 2017

Interview: Jay Som

Melinda Duerte of Jay Som on her dream tour,
the Bay Area's DIY scene, and her love of Carly Rae Jepsen.

Melinda Duerte, best known as Jay Som, comes across on the phone as a chill Californian. Her sentences are frequently peppered with laughs and her affable nature made me feel equally at ease as I asked her questions about  her recent tours, life as an increasingly-hyped musician, and her musical idols. But beneath that free and easy attitude lies a hard worker and one of music's most exciting talents. After the breakout bandcamp release of Turn Into and a stacked tour opening for Japanese Breakfast and Mitski, Duerte released Everybody Works this past March on Polyvinyl. The album's a collection of warm musical nuggets ranging from funk-inspired burners to fuzzy pop thrashers, cementing her status as a "Person to Watch." The album has Duerte’s fingerprints all over it (she writes, produces, and plays every instrument on her songs) and she took just as much care in answering my questions.

The Le Sigh: You’re in Canada right? You’re on tour with The Courtneys? 

Melinda Duerte: Yeah, I’m on tour with The Courtneys right now. It’s our sixth or seventh night, and last night was Toronto.

TLS: Yeah? How was that? 

MD: Very very like, the people are super nice. There’s a lot to do there. Lots of good food and very lively. It’s just nicer than America.

TLS: And Canada is also where Carly Rae Jepsen is from. 

MD: Uh yeah, the queen.

TLS: The Queen! I loved that you talked about loving Emotion when writing this past album. Were there any songs in particular in Carly Rae’s discography that you were like, “Ooh this is something I’m gonna try”? 

MD: Definitely, from that album specifically “Boy Problems” and “All That.” I definitely ripped off “All That” for one of my songs so I’m just going to come out and say it! (laughs)

TLS: Yeah! “All That” is one of my favorites. Which song did you feel you used “All That” as a reference? 

MD: "One More Time, Please." It was not even… I like straight up ripped it off.

TLS: I’m sure she won’t mind. 

MD: Well I never wanna talk to her, ever.

TLS: Really? You’d be too… like nervous? 

MD: Well that, and like also I just don’t wanna ruin anything.

TLS: Yeah, the fantasy of Carly Rae Jepsen. And you go a lot of different places musically with Everybody Works. Did you keep it short on person or was it more, “Yhis is what I’m doing”? 

MD: I think it’s the last one. I intentionally make short songs just because I kinda like it that way. I kinda like introducing ideas and not repeating them just for the sake of time. I just like short songs, and it happened to be a pretty short album too.

TLS: And you also mentioned to Paste that you read all the comments of all of your music stuff?

MD: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s like a really bad habit. And it’s kinda hard to ignore that 'cause I get tagged in stuff. So you’re just like “should I read it or not?” and curiosity just like ends up being the deciding factor. 

TLS: Are there any comments that have really stuck with you? 

MD: Like negative or positive?

TLS: Either or. 

MD: A common one I’ve seen is when people say that they are surprised that they ended up liking the album. I actually really know that feeling where I don’t go to listen to a new album with super high expectations, but “why not” and you end up liking it at the end and you’re consistently surprised by every song. That’s pretty cool. I find that a pretty cool compliment.

TLS: Totally. One of my favorite songs is "Everybody Works." That’s like the jam, I listen to it before work every day. 

MD: Nice.

TLS: You talk about how it’s about everyone is trying to “make it,” like everyone has goals they’re trying to accomplish, everyone works. And I’m sure that there are a lot of people coming up to you now, especially being on Polyvinyl and your busy schedule, and your glamorous tour with The Courtneys, I’m sure people come up to you and are like “Oh you’ve made it” but I’m sure you have goals and ambitions you're trying to work towards? 

MD: Oh yeah, of course. It’s funny that you mentioned it cause I was just talking about that with someone yesterday. There’s kind of this weird idea that if you get signed to a label or you have a team of people that you’ve made it and that you are financially successful and it’s actually the opposite. You’re still at the point where you have to have side jobs. You still have to work very hard to build this career, cause it doesn’t end there and I feel like if I was content with where I was, then what’s the point? I’m not working for anything, and that’s like the fun part. I still have to find ways to make money, cause you know I’ve gotta pay people, and I’ve gotta pay for things, especially on tour. You’re losing a lot of money but that’s literally the only kind of income that you can get in a stretched period of time.

TLS: Yeah. And you’ve toured a little bit at this point, do you have any tour tips you could have told your younger self, or other musicians who are just now embarking on a tour? 

MD: (Laughs) Don’t bring that many clothes. First of all. (Laughs) That is so important. you can just buy clothes on the way. You’ll also have time to do laundry, its fine. Especially for long tours. Try to spend as much time with yourself as possible. If you are touring with other people, like a four piece or a three piece or someone else, you are basically married to these people. You’re with them 24/7 but you need to learn how to separate from those people and find your peace. Like an hour is a long time. Like spending an hour, by yourself, somewhere quiet is like super important for your mental health.

TLS: You’ve toured with so many cool people, are there any artist that you would love to be on a tour with, like a dream tour? 

MD: I mean there are so so many bands. Maybe Yo La Tengo, obviously.

TLS: Yeah? That would be dope! 

MD: The Pixies would be great. Well Mitski is going to tour with the Pixies soon, that’s so fucking insane. Uhhh Deerhunter. That would be great. Also I don’t know, I feel like it would be kinda cool to open not for a band but like a popstar or something? Or even like Tegan and Sara.

TLS: I’d say you should open for Carly Rae Jepsen but then you might have to meet her. 

MD: I know and I don’t wanna do that sooo (laughs) that’s a hard no.

TLS: And you’re still living in the Bay Area when you’re not on tour? 

MD: Yes, that is my homebase.

TLS: If someone was in the Bay area, are there any DIY places or bands they should check out, or people who are really running shit over there? 

MD: Yeah let’s see. There’s this really cool place called The Hole, and it’s a DIY house venue. It’s the best one that I’ve ever been to anywhere, like anywhere in America. They like really know how to run shit. The sound is good, they have people working upstairs at the door, and they have a merch table. It’s just really good space and good vibes. The people who run it always end up having really, really good shows. I’ve played a couple of shows there. I actually live right next to it, so its walking distance from me. Uhhhhh for other paces, I guess in SF and Oakland there’s The Nightlight. I’m like, forgetting everything! (laughs) I really like Rickshaw Stop. It’s one of my favorites.

TLS: You’ve also mentioned other places that you’re already working on the new album? 

MD: Yes.. well I’d say I’ve got the demos.

TLS: I read somewhere that you said that it sounds different from Everybody Works. How so? What’s changing? 

MD: I think it it’s a little more experimental, especially with the structure and the arrangement of the songs, mostly due to the instruments. I think it’s a little… I don’t wanna say crazier but it’s more off- kilter than the stuff I usually do, and there is one song that straight up sounds like Radiohead, kinda. I think this new record is one where I really wanna spend a lot of time, instead of like, three weeks.

TLS: What kind of instruments are you using that are different? 

MD: More electronic stuff. Also I’ve been incorporating my trumpet into my recording score lately and just manipulating how that sounds. I just like weird sounds, and I think I’m gonna stick with that for this new record. We’ll see. Check in with me in a year. (laughs)

TLS: Totally. I love it. When you say you’re manipulating the trumpet sounds are you using Ableton or Logic or Garage Band? What kind of software? 

MD: The software that I use is Logic Pro 10. I’ve using that for a long time. All of Turn Into and Everybody Works was on Logic. I love it. It’s my favorite.

TLS: Why Logic as opposed to the other programs? 

MD: I just haven’t gotten Pro Tools cause it’s expensive and I don’t know, I’m just used to [Logic]. I think I’ll start using Pro Tools later, like I know how to use it and it’s soooooo nice but I think at the time it was just way to expensive like 600, or 600 to 900 dollars. And that’s just too much.

TLS: Yeah, especially when you can do many great things with Logic already. 

MD: Exactly, it’s super user friendly.

TLS: Great! Well that’s all the questions I have for you. Thank you so much for talking the time to talk. I hope you have a beautiful calm rest of the day, lots of fun alone time. 

MD: (laughs) Oh I’m gonna do some laundry and I will have fun.

Listen to Jay Som on bandcamp.

Mo is a writer who can be spotted at the gig dancing like a squid. Follow him on twitter @sadgayfriendx.