One night in 2015, shortly after Thanksgiving, singer-songwriter Melina Duterte, who performs under the name Jay Som, was sitting in her San Francisco apartment imbibing a few too many glasses of wine.
“I was pretty drunk,” the 22-year-old says from her new apartment in the borderlands between West Oakland and Emeryville. “By the third one, I was like, ‘Let me just release these songs.’ ”
So Duterte perused her collection of some 20-odd tracks, plucked out nine of them, slapped on a photo of bougainvillea that she’d taken while on holiday in Italy, and uploaded the entire project onto Bandcamp. She decided to call it Turn Into, and though it was by no means her first release — since her junior year of high school, Duterte, who is from Brentwood, Calif., has been recording and uploading music onto the site — it ended up being the project to launch her career.
This Friday, Nov. 18, Turn Into, which is already available digitally, will be released in physical form — including vinyl, CD, and cassette — through Polyvinyl.
The subtle indie-rock album includes both finished and unfinished songs from the artist’s collection, but you’d be hard pressed to pluck out the inchoate tracks from the complete ones. Simple and delicate, Duterte’s creations are chock-full of shoegaze elements like distortion, feedback, and washed-out chords, including both the singer’s own acoustic strumming and some electric guitar and bass, too.
But it is Duterte’s whispery, unaffected voice and colorful yet candid lyrics that are the most poignant aspects of her work. Most of her songs are directed toward a mysterious, unidentified, and ungendered “you,” and though the messages she is trying to send are obvious, the particulars are opaque. Parse her lyrics and you could almost think you’re reading poetry.
“You smoked the rest of me and crushed me on the cracked cement,” she purrs in the album opener, “Peach Boy.” “If you’re so bored, if you’re so grown, why don’t you run away? / I’m counting the fingers off my hands.”
“Emotionally, it takes a lot out of me to write,” she says. “It’s very cathartic. Sometimes I listen to my music or read my lyrics and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ ”
In the year since Duterte drunkenly uploaded the album onto Bandcamp, many, many things have changed in her life. The formerly independent artist was able to quit her job at a deli and start focusing on making music full-time. (She’s currently working on a follow-up album to Turn Into.) In February, she opened for singer-songwriter Mitski for Noise Pop and was later invited to join both Mitski and Japanese Breakfast for their 27-city tour in the summer. She also opened for Swedish indie poppers Peter, Bjorn, and John in August for the West Coast leg of their tour, and recently went on a small, solo tour of her own. Not to mention, Duterte now has a manager, and her songs, which used to be available only on Bandcamp, are now found on more standardized streaming and purchasing sites, like iTunes and Spotify.
And yet, even though she’s left Bandcamp behind, Duterte will always harbor a soft spot for the indie music platform that helped her gain her fanbase in the first place.
“I love Bandcamp,” she says. “I fell in love with it instantly. And I still think it’s one of the greatest tools you can have.”