Anak Ko: The birth of a Jay Som record

Words by Dean Valentino.

Under the Jay Som pseudonym, multi-instrumentalist Melina Duterte has gone from indie bedroom producer to acclaimed songwriter, touring with a slew of incredible bands along the way.

On her third record, Anak Ko, Duterte is fearless – blending elements of pop, shoegaze and even country into a genre-bending contender for album of the year.

Anak Ko translates to ‘my child’ in Tagalog – an endearing term in her parent’s native tongue that serves as an underlying, sentimental tribute to the people who taught her best. 

Melina: They were supportive, which is the opposite to Filipino culture. It’s frowned upon to be in the arts, because it doesn’t make money. They just believed in me and saw I was really interested and they were like, ‘If you want to continue with this, you have to learn everything and pay for your own shit, but we’ll support you.’ I think it was the right thing to do on their end.

Currently in Topanga, California recording a collaborative album with Ellen Kempner from Palehound, Duterte talks about the appreciation of music within Filipino culture.

Melina: My dad just sent me a video of my mom doing karaoke at a restaurant! She’s a really good singer; she taught me how to sing.

Surrounding herself with a supportive community has been the cornerstone for Jay Som, who has lit up stages alongside female powerhouses and fellow Asian-Americans like Japanese Breakfast and Mitski, as well as producing records for friends, Chastity Belt

Melina: We’re very supportive of each other and I feel like that’s just natural. We have to be supportive of each other because there are not many of us.

Non-males in music have always been there – we’ve always been around. It’s nice to find this community and care for it.

Working with a band for the first time, Anak Ko is not only a display of great songwriting, but also thoughtful and clever production.

Melina: I wanted to flex my muscle and see what I could do with it… that came from a place of wanting to help other people. I feel like I have this skill I can offer.

From the opening sounds of ‘Crown’, (which stemmed from a joke, classical composition on a friend’s organ) to the Steely Dan inspired drum samples in ‘Tenderness’, Anak Ko is full of magical moments, highlighted by Duterte’s attention to detail and experimental nature.

While she draws inspiration from the likes of Cocteau Twins and Wild Nothing (whose debut record ranks as her essential dream-pop release), these songs are nostalgic in their own unique way – built up from a confident, grounded mind.

Melina: Using those samples to write the first phases of those songs really helped with the process to make things more basic about the progressions. When you strip your production bare, you have more time to experiment.

It’s clear that alongside all of this, Duterte’s biggest strength lies in her own appetite for change and growth, with her recent teetotalism playing a big role in that.

Melina: I didn’t want to drink on tour anymore and there were health reasons. I’m literally allergic to alcohol and it took me a long time to realise that. I was fucking up my nerves and stuff, but I was also using it to escape from problems that I needed to face.

Everyone should step back and look at their relationship with alcohol every once and awhile, to see where you stand with it.

There is a natural association with alcohol for touring musicians. It’s used as reward for hard work and you’re often pointed in the direction of your rider when you get to a venue, but for Duterte, this is her work space and she was keen to give up the habitual pattern and strengthen her relationship with touring. 

Melina: I love touring now. I started to replace (drinking) with other things like going for walks or hanging out with friends outside of my band. I was being more honest with myself and when you’re more honest with yourself, the people around you feel more comfortable.

Never has the Jay Som project felt more honest and comfortable and Anak Ko completely embodies that. Bringing her live show to Australia for the very first time, Duterte and her band are set to tear through tracks off all three albums, including ‘The Bus Song’, ‘Superbike’ and a few surprises. 

Melina: I’m excited to be around Australian people, I love them so much — you guys are so funny.

Side note: If you’re a new Jay Som fan and keen to check out more music from the US, there are a few recommendations from Duterte, including Boy Scouts, Chastity Belt and Stephen Steinbrink:

Melina: I always say this…. He makes gorgeous music, very 70s style songwriting. Everyone should check him out!

Jay Som tours Australia this February.

FRI FEB 21 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
SAT FEB 22 – The Foundry, Brisbane
SUN FEB 23 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne