Jay Som and Palehound on Their New Band Bachelor and Friendship at First Sight

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Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and Palehound’s Ellen Kempner discuss their cheekily named new supergroup, their spontaneous recording process, and how their bond helps them brush off the bullshit.

Jay Soms Melina Duterte and Palehounds Ellen Kempner
Photo by Tonje Thilesen

Melina Duterte is waving a crocheted Baby Yoda in front of the Zoom screen. The L.A.-based musician better known as Jay Som usually keeps the adorable creature on her desk, but today she holds it throughout the call, its mint green ears bobbing in and out of the shot. “I crocheted that for her birthday,” proudly offers Ellen Kempner, aka the Poughkeepsie-based leader of Palehound. “I was trying sooooo hard to get it there on time. I’ve never overnighted something before, but I overnighted that.” “Ellen’s an insanely good gift-giver,” counters Duterte. “I really am so intimidated by that.”

Over the last few years, the rising indie rockers have forged a long-distance friendship built on mutual fandom. Within minutes of joining the Zoom, they are calling each other geniuses and espousing “I love you”s. Duterte and Kempner first met in the greenroom before their 2017 co-bill in Sacramento, with the former touring behind Everybody Works and the latter A Place I’ll Always Go. Hearing them tell it, a heartwarming supercut starts to materialize: the San Francisco concert where they met each others’ dads, the post-show diner trip where they cemented their forever bond over chicken nuggets and grilled cheese, the time Kempner let Duterte use her Boston apartment as a makeshift greenroom despite not being home. It was only a matter of before they teamed up: Doomin’ Sun, their debut album as Bachelor, merges Duterte’s expansive production impulses and Kempner’s perceptive lyricism.

Sparked by a 2018 jam session that felt refreshingly effortless, they rented an Airbnb in Topanga, California and set up a studio there for two weeks at the beginning of 2020. They choose that space in part because it had a piano, and in part because it had a hot tub, one they used every day to the point of getting rashes. It was a joyous, deeply restorative time, and they prioritized making music that captured the way they felt when they were together. They emphasize the hours spent listening to Billie Eilish, Radiohead, and Brittany Howard, the nights spent watching The Mandalorian, and the daily 7 p.m. “crazy time” rituals, which entailed screaming and purposely messing up tracks for fun. “I listen to the record and I just remember laughing with Melina,” says Kempner.

While Doomin’ Sun doesn’t sound quite as jubilant as the accounts of its creation, there is a lightness in its exploratory guitar parts and an almost associative quality to its lyrics. The songs combine vivid imagery rooted in intimacy and desire with a gnawing fear of climate change and walking alone at night, among other things. The relationship between ambient anxiety and warm, immediate comfort provides the album’s central tension, in its own way a reminder of why it’s nice to have a friend when everything else seems to be crumbling.

Pitchfork: What was it like jamming together for the first time back in 2018?

Ellen Kempner: Oh my God, so nerve racking. We were recording the music to “Sand Angel” [from Doomin’ Sun], and it’s so awkward to ask, “What does this song feel like it should be about?” Melina started doing some mixing, and I started writing about having a sex dream. I had the first verse and thought, Damn, this is probably really weird.

 

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