VICTORY MOON. That’s the loose translation of Jay Som, San Francisco musician Melina Duterte’s baby name generator-inspired band name. Since 2012, Duterte (who also plays in Bay Area band Summer Peaks) has quietly shared songs online under the Jay Som moniker.
Shortly after moving from her hometown of Brentwood, California, to San Francisco last November, Duterte released Turn Into, nine “finished and unfinished” guitar-driven lo-fi pop songs that she wrote, recorded, and mixed herself while learning to play drums. “I accumulated a bunch of instruments and equipment throughout time, and I took classes for audio engineering,” she says. “I did everything by myself.
“[Turn Into] was weirdly random, it was spur of the moment,” Duterte continues, “I was just at home one night and I remember thinking, 'I don’t have any release out.’ I used to do this thing where every few months I’d release, like, one song, and I’d put it on Bandcamp or my SoundCloud. Those would usually be demos that I’d record. But I ended up looking through a bunch of my songs on this hard drive and I picked out nine of them, and I just decided to put them all together without thinking about the track listing, I didn’t really think about making them sound better.
“Four of the songs on there are unfinished,” she says. “To me unfinished is like, there were some instruments missing, there were some sounds that I didn’t really like. I just wanted to have something for people to listen to.”
While the medley of songs on Turn Into was randomly picked, they sound like different petals plucked from the same daisy. Opener “Peach Boy” rides an electrifying zig-zag riff; the second track, “Ghost,” is also characterized by its twangy, geometric guitar melody.
“That riff [on 'Ghost’] was the very first thing that was written, like not even the chords or anything,” Duterte says. “I thought it was this playful, kind of strange guitar riff. I built the song around it.”
She takes a deft architectural approach to her songwriting, creating music that’s both structurally sound and scrupulously detailed—songs that are buttressed by sturdy bass lines and layered with intricate, crystalline guitar parts. Though she says she hates writing lyrics, hers capture feelings that are viscerally relatable: On “Peach Boy” she sings about a sweet-then-sour Sour Patch Kid kinda love—someone “smoked the rest of me and crushed me on the cracked cement.” It’s an almost universal experience, having a person fill their lungs with you to the point of intoxication before thoughtlessly discarding you when their high fades.
Since we spoke in April, Duterte’s stepped out with her first official release, an immaculate 7-inch on Fat Possum Records. Apparently Turn Into was just the tip of the iceberg—this new mini-release features two songs, but they’re both bulletproof. “I Think You’re Alright” begins as a hushed ode to languid love that’s just “all right” before Duterte woefully sighs, “I’ll be your old broken TV/Your stuttering baby/Your puppy when nobody’s home.” But three-quarters of the way through the song, dueling riffs slice through the comfort of complacency with empowering resonance.
The B-side “Rush” is completely different: Through salty doo-wop surf licks, Duterte enticingly croons to “forget your feelings for a while” before howling, “Why’d you wait so long?” The track is aptly titled; it reflects the physical manifestations of a blooming romance, that time when blood courses through your veins, coloring your cheeks, heightening your senses, and brightening the mundane.
Right now Duterte’s opening for the inimitable Mitski on her first national tour as Jay Som. It’ll just be her and a guitar, but trust me—that’s an unassumingly potent combination when it comes to Melina Duterte.