How Phil Elverum and Jazz Led to Jay Som's Dream-Pop Stardom

Mount Eerie's last album destroyed Jay Som's Melina Duterte

"I f------ love Phil Elverum," Jay Som's Melina Duterte told me over the phone last week.

"I think when I first started getting into weirder, not top 40, music in elementary school, I discovered Death Cab [for Cutie] and the Microphones. My mind was blown by the songwriting and production. I didn’t know you could make music like that," she added.

Elverum was the principal songwriter and producer of the Microphones, he currently records under the Mount Eerie moniker and he's one of Duterte's most important influences.

"I still use techniques that I've stolen from him," she said.

One of those techniques is a penchant for brave intimacy that avoids melodrama. While Jay Som's sound is decidedly more pop-oriented, it's heavily rooted in DIY experimentation and a dreamy wistfulness that confirms Elverum's effect on her.

Watch Jay Som's music video for "Baybee" (off of their new album, "Everybody Works") below.

But her guitar playing owes a lot to jazz as well, as evidenced by her acceptance into a jazz conservatory program when she was just a teenager.

"I was about to graduate high school and it was a last minute decision," Duterte said regarding her roundabout way of happening upon music as a career path. "I wanted to do jazz and play trumpet ... I really wanted to keep making music myself and recording." 

Instead of the jazz program, however, she decided, "I’m just gonna go to community college and learn how to do all of this stuff myself."

Still in her early 20s and with write-ups in the New Yorker and the New York Times, Duterte is well on her way to not only learning but also mastering all of this stuff. 

"It was out of luck or something that my music career took off," she said graciously. "I'm just so thankful."

San Diego-based Topshelf Records was the first record label to release a cassette for Duterte, and it's safe to say they'll be out in full force to support Jay Som's headlining show at Soda Bar on Saturday, Sept. 30. Get tickets here.

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