Melina Duterte moved into a new place, stayed caffeinated for three weeks and shaped one of the year’s most eclectic and invigorating records. The Bay Area artist, who records under the name Jay Som, released her debut record Everybody Works on March 10. The album delivers the empathy its title promises and expands her sound beyond the bedroom pop characteristic of 2016’s Turn Into. I talked with Duterte ahead of her show with The Courtneys on March 22 at Minneapolis’ 7th Street Entry.
As her debut for Polyvinyl Records, Everybody Works presented Duterte with her first formal deadline. She spent a month settling into her bedroom studio, only working on the album in the three weeks before its due date. “It became chaotic,” Duterte said of the process. “Because I was always caffeinated and I wasn’t getting any sleep, I think [I] got some weird stuff on this album.”
Though fast-paced, Duterte’s process has structure. First she records the foundation of the idea, then she plays with the arrangement, next the melody and finally, the lyrics. “Lyrics always come last,” Duterte said. “So those were the fastest part.”
During this process, she began to incorporate R&B and funk, producing the album’s centerpieces, “One More Time, Please” and “Baybee.” Duterte cites Carly Rae Jepsen’s critically adorned 2015 record EMOTION as inspiration for her turn towards funk. “It was very natural,” Duterte said of her expanding palette. “Turn Into has a different soundscape; it’s kind of standard guitar and bass drum stuff. But I think during the time between Turn Into and Everybody Works I was already stretching that sound and listening to different people,” she continued.
Everybody Works is startlingly cohesive given its wandering sound. “I was just more interested in making more layers and a dense record,” Duterte said. “I just had all these ideas that I wanted to tuck into one thing.” Duterte’s voice keeps the record centered, lying just beneath the shimmering guitars or bouncing synths. The speed with which Duterte put the lyrics on the page takes nothing away from their intimacy.
“Bus Song” demonstrates Duterte’s ability to tell a story with the bite of a ballad in under four minutes. “I think when I first started writing it, and even now, I hear these two young kids conversing, and that’s kind of the baseline of the song,” Duterte said. “Bus Song” emanates from fragments both experienced and imagined. “Bedhead” offers the record’s most strictly cathartic moment, concerning Duterte’s struggles with stuttering as a child. “It was so personal I didn’t know if I wanted to show people,” Duterte explained. “It’s kind of a barren, stripped track that at first I thought wouldn’t match the album. But I’ve grown to like it.”
The elegant title of the record conveys Duterte’s commitment to the emotional rawness present in “Bedhead.” Everybody Works renders the feeling of slipping into a new set of joys and problems, and recognizing the parallels in those around you.
Duterte’s a star of a Bay Area music scene that, though declining, she believes is still thriving in smaller numbers. Just 22-years-old and already an owner of Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” stamp, Duterte gives the Bay Area and fans of adventurous pop rock everywhere a boost. Everybody Works is warm, zagging away from expected indie rock caverns while holding onto its communal optimism. “Some of the songs are a sort of note to self that I’m not the only person who’s going through this,” Duterte said.