Breaking Big: 4 new artists to hear now
Who’s topping the charts, going viral, and ruling our earbuds? Each month, EW’s introducing the freshest music talent you have to hear now. Below, get to know Jay Som, Bailey Bryan, Porter Ray, and Alex Lahey.
Who: Melina Duterte, the 22-year-old Bay Area resident who performs as Jay Som, began dabbling in music young, asking for a guitar as an 8-year-old (she cites Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O as an early influence) and later playing trumpet through middle and high school. The brass instrument crops up on “For Light,” the expansive closer to her Polyvinyl debut, Everybody Works, that dropped March 10. Duterte recorded the entire project, which runs the gamut from lo-fi indie-rock (“1 Billion Dogs”) to slinky funk (“One More Time, Please”), herself in her home studio last fall.
Claim to Fame: Duterte uploaded her first collection of songs, Turn Into, onto Bandcamp in November 2015. But she expanded her following in 2016, opening for Mitski on her national tour and reissuing Turn Into after signing to Polyvinyl. While she draws on indie touchstones from Mitski to Death Cab for Cutie’s 2000 sophomore album We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, Duterte most emphatically cites Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 pop gem E·MO·TION as inspiration. “I felt very assertive with [Everybody Works] because I was also listening to her music,” she says. “I liked how energetic and youthful the spirit is — and it’s just so not ashamed to be this pop record.”
What’s Next: After a hectic South by Southwest — she’s slated to play 10 sets in four days — Duterte embarks on a co-headlining tour with fellow rockers The Courtneys that’ll hit small clubs from coast to coast.
Key Track: “Baybee,” an addictive jam that blends Duterte’s loves of ’80s-inspired synth-pop and melodic indie-rock. —Eric Renner Brown
Who: This 19-year-old singer-songwriter from rural Washington began commuting to Music City in high school when she landed her first publishing deal, but scoliosis-correcting back surgery three years ago offered her the material she needed for her introductory tune, “Own It”: “I spent three months out of school,” she recalls, “I was missing out on everything! And I lost 15 pounds and I grew two inches; I didn’t feel like myself.” The results of that soul-searching are all found on the cotton-candy sweet anthem. “For me, the song was really just things that I needed to hear,” she says.
Claim to Fame: Bryan, who counts the Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift as her biggest country music influences, created one of the industry’s first vertical music videos, perfect for iPhone and Snapchat — which is to say, perfect for her peers. “I liked the idea of using social media in a positive way,” she says of what guided the Green Shoe Studio production. “The song is essentially about accepting and expressing yourself and social media has become such a place to get who you are across [to people]. I wanted do that in a way that’s real and encouraging to other people.”
What’s Next: The singer just got to helm the fabled Ryman Auditorium stage in Nashville for the first time — she’s been opening for Dan + Shay on their winter trek — but she’s spending all her off-time in the studio. “I think it’s going to be an EP first, but you may want to double-check that,” she says, laughing. “We have a lot of music that covers a lot of time; we’re using songs I wrote when I was 15. I love music because I think it can be used to make other people feel understood. That’s my goal with writing songs.”
Key Track: There’s only one track on Bryan’s Spotify profile, but you’ll have no problem keying the repeat button all afternoon. —Madison Vain
Who: “I’ve been writing poetry my whole life,” the 28-year-old Seattle native tells EW. But while Ray always loved creative writing and hip-hop, becoming a rapper wasn’t as natural a fit as it may seem. “For me, when I was growing up, there really wasn’t anyone that I had to look up to,” he says. “If you’re on the east coast, you have a Jay Z or a Nas or a Biggie Smalls. If you’re on the west coast, you have Tupac. For us, we had Sir Mix-a-Lot.” Although Ray has released six mixtapes since 2013, his debut for vaunted indie label Sub Pop, Watercolor, is the apotheosis of his sound: deeply personal lyricism and swirling beats that approximate the pitter-patter of a rainy Seattle day.
Claim to Fame: Sub Pop isn’t exactly known for its hip-hop roster. The label currently boasts Sleater-Kinney and Beach House and previously launched the careers of Nirvana and The Shins. But Ray caught the attention of a notable exception, Ishmael Butler, who comprises half of the experimental Sub Pop duo Shabazz Palaces. Like Ray, the 47-year-old Butler grew up in Seattle’s Central District, and took the MC “under his wing.” Ray recruited both members of Shabazz Palaces and a slew of other Seattle musicians to imbue Watercolor with a “homegrown” vibe that would leave listeners with “imagery in their brains of how Seattle looked and how Seattle felt.”
What’s Next: Macklemore is “bringing light back to Seattle,” in Ray’s words, but the MC hopes he can help usher in a broader wave of hip-hop artists hailing from the Pacific Northwest. “We’re this untapped resource!” he says. And Watercolor was also a pivotal artistic step for Ray, who raps about personal hardships — the deaths of his father and brother, the incarceration of his son’s mother — more candidly than he ever has. “It’s like an autobiography,” he says. “I wanted to touch on topics that I’d skimmed the surface of before.”
Key Track: “Arithmetic,” a clattering cut that features a guest appearance from the dexterous Seattle MC Cashtro. —ERB
Who: The 24-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, has a knack for spinning the tiny, unremarkable details of everyday existence into riveting portraits of twenty-something life — and then topping it all off with a gale-force indie-rock hook. On “Ivy League,” she wonders if having a more prestigious degree would improve her prospects at work; on “Wes Anderson,” she hides out in the shower “to avoid doing some useful s—.” Who hasn’t been there?
Lahey says the confessional approach comes easy. “The thought of ‘Oh my God, I’m telling all these people about my life in these songs’ came to me well after I started writing and performing, perhaps when people actually started listening to my music and telling me how personal it is,” she says. “It’s better that way than to be fretting about [whether] people [are] giving a s— about your life, when actually, they’re just allowing the songs to be a reflection of themselves.”
Claim to Fame: After winning a rising-artist competition on Australian radio station Triple J, Lahey caught the attention of two of her favorite musicians: Tegan and Sara, who took Lahey out on a European tour earlier this year. “To feel as though I’ve been taken under their wing is a privilege to say the least,” Lahey says. “They are so sure of the environment they want to create in their work — one of inclusivity, openness, dedication, and fun — which is something that I aspire to do as an artist and a leader.” Lahey will also hit the road with Blondie and Cyndi Lauper for a stretch of Australian dates in April.
What’s Next: She’s working on a full-length follow-up to her B-Grade University EP, which Lahey put out on her own label in 2016 and then re-released earlier this year after signing with Dead Oceans. Squeezing in recording time between tours is a “daunting yet exhilarating process,” Lahey says, but she’s determined to have the LP out by the end of the year: “It’s going to be a big bucket-list moment for me.”
Key Track: “You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me,” a slightly self-deprecating tale of unrequited love that’s alternatingly funny and heartbreaking. “I find it empowering to play live because it took so long for my band and I get to get it up to scratch,” Lahey says. “The song is special to me, not so much because of it’s specific lyrical content, but because I feel it signaled a change and development in my songwriting.” —Nolan Feeney
For more emerging artists, revisit EW’s February slate of Breaking Bigs.