Published Aug 21, 2019Melina Duterte, better known as Jay Som, faced a daunting prospect when it came to approaching her second album, Anak Ko: "I feel like last year I went through a big journey of kind of nerves and feeling like I was too pressured into being experimental with this new record," she reflects, speaking over the phone with Exclaim! in an interview ahead of the LP's release. Duterte can't help but see the album in comparison to Everybody Works, her breakout 2017 debut; this one, she says, represents a period of self-assertion.
"I feel a little more settled, a little more calm and like I know what I want from music and my relationships with other people, in terms of working and personal ones."
Anak Ko, whose meaning translates to "my child" in Tagalog, seeks to provide a sense of warmth, familiarity and comfort within the context of extended periods of change.
"I like to write about topical things and fiction and put it together in my songwriting," explains Duterte. She made a point to invite a range of collaborators into her process this time around, while continuing to handle writing, production and recording herself.
"I think I'm just tired of hearing only myself in my music sometimes, so it gives a fresh perspective. You know, I just can't hear myself drum anymore. Having other peoples' fingerprints all over my stuff feels really good."
The record experiments with different musical styles, grounded by a robust rhythm section.
"I don't really think about [like] 'I really want to make just a pop song right now, or I only want this to be a funk track,'" says Duterte. There is a greater focus on how she can incorporate elements of music she loves and is influenced by, though: "It's more about like, 'I really want funky guitars on this kind of '80s pop thing, or this '90s grunge thing.'"
One of the greatest influences on Anak Ko is the music of cult pop virtuoso Paddy McAloon and his band Prefab Sprout, known for their 1980s releases.
"I got into them later in life, like a couple years ago. Right after Everybody Works, I was like, 'This is really, really interesting,' and I felt like it was an awesome band to be sort of inspired by, because they have these really beautiful, kind of lush arrangements, but they're also very layered in a sense. I feel like I relate to that, and it's kind of the vibe I want from my music. And I think a lot of that can come from the foundation of their music, bass and drums."
Duterte's musical partnership with her live drummer, Zach Elsasser, played a big role in creating Anak Ko's sound.
"I've been playing music with him since he was 14 and I was 15, so we've just been doing music for a very long time together, and I feel like I learned drums from him. I picked it up just from listening to him all the time, and I feel like there's this really strong musical connection that we have. I just love the bass, it's my favourite instrument ever, and I wanted to showcase that in a sense. I feel like there's so much you can do with it rather than a guitar."
The process of making the album was shift for Duterte, who would previously "layer on the spot" on top of the original demo of a track. This time around, she developed different iterations of each song, then sent them to Elsasser. The record came together as friends visited Duterte in Los Angeles, where she would record their contributions at her home. A retreat in Joshua Tree provided the necessary headspace for Duterte to tackle lyrics, which she wanted to "keep simple but also try a little more to be concrete with certain ideas." The songs grapple with frustration, as well as the processing of actions and behaviours which can be outside of one's control. There is another side to them, too: one of extending warmth to the ones you love and cultivating a sense of peace and acceptance.
"It's definitely much easier to bottle up your emotions and reactions for the sake of happiness for everyone around you; it's something you have to unlearn," offers Duterte. "I feel like I've done so much growing up emotionally in my personal life, so it's only natural that it seeps into my music."
The core of Duterte's message is one of kindness, with which she imbues her actions.
"With friends and strangers, I like to practice talking less and actively listening more than I've done before. I really care about what people have to say."
Looking beyond her sophomore record, Duterte is eager to help others through using her skillset, taking the focus off of herself and onto how she can uplift fellow musicians.
"Over the years I've weirdly gotten more embarrassed and aware of myself because my life is so public now. I am insanely grateful for all the opportunities I've received, but have realized I can use the small amount of power I have to help other musicians through recording and mixing them. It's what I want to do for my whole life."
Anak Ko comes out August 23 via Polyvinyl Records.