Bachelor talk collaboration, play songs from 'Doomin' Sun'

Bachelor join The Current for a virtual session. (MPR)

Bachelor, the duo including Palehound's Ellen Kempner and Jay Som's Melina Duterte, join The Current for a virtual session to play tracks from their debut release, Doomin' Sun. The duo catch up with The Current about recording the record in Topanga, CA, the emotional meshing that takes place in a new collaboration, and writing to cope with fears of mortality.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

MADDIE: Hi I'm Maddie, sitting down for another one of The Current's virtual sessions. Today I am joined by the duo Bachelor which is comprised of Melina Duterte of Jay Som and Ellen Kempner of Palehound. Thanks so much for being here, you guys.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Thank you for having us.

MELINA DUTERTE: Thank you.

How are you guys doing? How's your day starting out?

ELLEN KEMPNER: It's been a fun day so far we did a Reddit AMA earlier. We had a lot of fun with that.

MELINA DUTERTE: We answered a lot of questions.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Yeah. Lots of questions, different kinds of questions, too.

Were there any questions that came up in that AMA that surprised you in a good way? Like something that you really enjoyed?

ELLEN KEMPNER: There was one person who was like, "I have my first crush on a girl ever. How do I talk to her?" That was amazing. That was I think that took the cake for number one question.

That's so cute.

MELINA DUTERTE: Reddits are always so cute because everyone's like, so sweet. They're just like, "Do you have any advice for like, songwriting? How do I get into like being a musician?" It's just very wholesome.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Surprisingly wholesome. For like Reddit, you'd think it would get dark, but it doesn't.

That's good! That's good news. It's like that little sweetheart microcosm. It's probably partially due to the crowd that you attract. I wanted to talk about how this project kind of came into existence. I know you guys are hanging out in the same physical space now, but you're typically on different coasts. How'd Bachelor get started?

ELLEN KEMPNER: Well, we got started in Melina's old home--this is Melina's home studio that we're in right now. But the first thing we ever did was in her old home studio. I live in New York, but I was in LA for a week. We played some shows together and had been friends over the internet for a minute. But we made plans to hang out and make music together and actually get to know each other. So we spent a day in her bedroom just playing drums and recording songs and just kind of like immediately clicked and realized that this was something we wanted to do.

Doomin' Sun just came out a few days ago. What was the recording process for that album? When did you write those songs?

MELINA DUTERTE: It was really cool. It was fun, right before lockdown happened during last year. So we were in Topanga, California in January. We were there for two weeks at an Airbnb and we just brought my entire studio over there, and just set everything up and just made all the songs on the spot except for one song. We had a lot of fun.

Was creating all of that music within that sort of short two week timespan something that was different for you guys making albums, or is that kind of what you've done before?

ELLEN KEMPNER: It was different, for sure, because we hadn't written anything going into the studio either. That was the most different part. I feel like two weeks is around what it usually takes for at least like Palehound to record a record. But there's a lot of preparation that goes into that beforehand, and we did not have that this time around. So it was very different.

Was that a deliberate choice, like you didn't want to come in with a lot of songs prepared, or was it just kind of circumstantially how that worked out?

MELINA DUTERTE: I think that's my style and I'm always so--I'm a little too chill about that I think. I just like, "Ah, it's fine. We'll get it done in two weeks." And Ellen was like, "Uuuh, okay."

ELLEN KEMPNER: Well, that was so inspiring, 'cause I've never worked like that before. But Melina writes as she records, which is really cool, and I learned a lot from that. But, yeah I think I was pretty go-with-the-flow, like, more go-with-the-flow than I would have expected myself to be in that scenario. I think I just always trusted that we would get something done, because Melina seemed pretty confident about it.

MELINA DUTERTE: It's really challenging, but I think it's like a cool muscle to flex on the spot. It's like a form of improv for music.

Yeah, absolutely. I have really been into the lyrical content of this album, because songs like "Back Of My Hand," talk about like, pop fandom, or "Stay In The Car" is just about another little moment in time. Where do these songs come from in those more specific and unique lyrical moments?

ELLEN KEMPNER: Those lyrics are all kind of--those are small ideas that I had going into the studio. For those two songs in particular. I had been inspired to write a song about standom, and the oppression of celebrity and beauty culture for a while, but I hadn't really found a good framework to work it in with, because I like to tell stories and shroud things in little details when I write. That's kind of how that one worked, and then "Stay In The Car" was just like a little poem in my notes app. That was a couple lines, and then we elaborated on it.

Things that I love about your other projects is that you have such personal songwriting, and this album still feels very personal as a duo. How did you balance both of your individual selves and musicianship to create a create a pair here?

MELINA DUTERTE: Yeah, I think that's a good word, balance. You really have to think about that. You have to sit down and really think about how you're going to work with someone for the first time, and a lot of it is how you communicate with each other. Not as working partners, but as friends do. I think that goes hand in hand with the music that you make, because you're trying to be emotional with each other, you're kind of like letting go of those walls--because it can be like really embarrassing. Especially with someone you don't know that well. But it's really easy with Ellen because we have so many strengths in different ways, and I love to take a backseat when it comes to lyrics because I hate writing lyrics. But I love paying attention to production, and stuff like that. Ellen is just so good at writing, and she's also a producer too which is amazing. So those things coexist in a really cool way when we collabed.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Yeah, I think we both learned a lot from each other. I kind of knew that was gonna happen, but wow, I was really inspired by watching her produce. She's brought up being inspired by the way that I write lyrics. I think that those were two things that we're each respectfully like, embarrassed about with our own projects. So I think that was cool to see someone who's like--has that at the top of their list of what they feel confident doing.

It sounds like you have very complementary skill sets, which makes a perfect duo, which has been really fun for all of us to hear. Is there anything that coming into this recording process surprised you about the other person's music writing work style, that you really enjoyed?

ELLEN KEMPNER: I don't know if anything was because I knew how Molina did things, but I think I was just still surprised that how quickly she could do it and how quick like, you just would get an immediate, perfect idea for like a baseline, like, first. There was very little trial and error of different parts. There was a lot of, "Oh, I know what I want to happen and then making it happen." So the whole process was a lot faster than I thought it was going to be. I saw us doing a lot of post production after the two weeks of recording and we really didn't.

MELINA DUTERTE: Yeah. I feel the same way about you too. I feel like I want you to get more credit for the way that you produce and play instruments because Ellen did play drums for a lot of these, and also piano, and some keyboard stuff that I know you've done before but it's really cool to see you do that because I feel like a lot of people box you into this like guitar rock--you're like this guitar God person, but you're not just that--like beautiful songwriter and are also an amazing producer. But you also have ideas in your own way too--you have references and then you'll be like, "Let's make it funky," right away and you'll just play--you'll play and do it. What you do--you don't--I feel like I collab with a lot of people where they just want to talk about it and talk about it but with you it'd be like you pick an instrument up and you just do it. And that's my favorite part about recording is when it's less talking and more just like, we can play the music now and then we'll watch TV later.

ELLEN KEMPNER: For sure. Then we would talk at night too, after or during TV we would talk about just like sh** in our lives that was going on. I think that that really bonded us in terms of like, just completely meshing into one. Like really feeling each other's wavelength--like really feeling the mood, always being very connected like, "Oh, I can tell you're not feeling this you don't even have to say it," or like "Oh, let's take a break. I'm feeling tired and I can feel that you're feeling tired." We just really meshed.

Yeah, the way that you to speak about each other is exactly how I pictured this friendship existing as a listener of this album because you guys just have such a clear mutual admiration. It's very, very sweet to get to witness. I've been thinking a lot about duos as I immerse myself in the world of Doomin' Sun. Do you guys have any particular musical duos or iconic duets that speak to you?

ELLEN KEMPNER: Wow.

MELINA DUTERTE: Sonny and Cher.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Damn, I gotta think about that.

MELINA DUTERTE: I feel like The Breeders are basically--

ELLEN KEMPNER: The Breeders. The Deals. Man, there's one--

MELINA DUTERTE: Tegan and Sara, for obvious reasons, they're twins. Yeah, who's an iconic duo?

ELLEN KEMPNER: Run the Jewels was a really iconic duo.

MELINA DUTERTE: Ben Affleck and J. Lo.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Iconic.

MELINA DUTERTE: Because they're back together now.

They really are.

MELINA DUTERTE: Yeah, it's a lot to take in.

ELLEN KEMPNER: I'm gonna think of a lot more after this interview. I'm gonna remember all my answers as soon as we hang up.

Yeah, we'll superimpose it over the top of screen like, "Here's some more iconic duos." It's more than Ben Affleck and JLo. That's awesome. I know that you guys haven't really had the chance to play live shows, of course with the album just coming out and the project is being announced a little bit earlier this year. But you have Doomin' Sun Fest on the way next week, do you want to talk a little bit about curating that and what that's been like?

ELLEN KEMPNER: Yeah, that's been really fun, and was for a minute a very stressful thing that we didn't know if we were gonna be able to pull off. But then we did. And we filmed a bunch of stuff, and we were able to. It was really amazing, because we kind of just made this long list of all of our friends whose music we love and who we respect a lot. And we're like, well, probably like a fraction of this list will respond and be down but so many people wanted to do it, which was really cool. We had a lot of people on the lineup. Way more than we were thinking would happen because a lot of people were enthusiastic about joining us for this, which we were surprised by--I mean, I was at least.

MELINA DUTERTE: Especially for a virtual event because now, as this summer--we're entering the summer now, like virtual events aren't happening as much. Everyone's announcing the festivals and the tours this fall. So it's kind of like putting a cap on that in a really nice way. So this event is really cool.

ELLEN KEMPNER: Totally, and everything's for donation. So everyone is donating their time and their sets and that really speaks a lot to these people as well.

Yeah, it's a really incredible lineup. I feel like everyone that I've been excited about making music over the past few years like soccer, mommy and vagabond and Adrian Laker and a million other people. Yeah, I think it speaks to the nature of virtual events too, to say that that many people were available and able to do it, so that's really cool. Something to look forward to.

MELINA DUTERTE: Yeah, we're excited.

Yeah, well, we are going to hear one more song for you guys here. "Sick of Spiraling" is a song that really stood out to me on my very first listen to this album as just a fantastic song that I think encapsulates a pretty universal emotion really well. Is there anything you want to tell the viewers here about that track before we dig into it?

ELLEN KEMPNER: That's song is just about the anxiety of mortality, and how we think we can prepare, or keep ourselves safe or something. And we just have actually no control over our lives or what happens to our bodies physically. I know that's kind of dark, but it's something that I've been trying to embrace and be less scared of. So I think writing a song about feeling like that on tour, especially because tour is so dangerous sometimes. Tour is dangerous, you're doing like a lot of like driving. I've been in accidents on tour before and stuff like that. You're just like, at the whim, like you're just at the disposal of everyone around you, basically. So I kind of wanted to frame it through that and just cope with the fear that I had whenever I was on the road by writing what I think is kind of a funny song about it. But yeah, maybe it's not that funny.

No, I like what you're saying about--like, the subject matter is dark. But there is a certain lightness about the song. And I think that that comes through in a couple of the tracks on this album. What were you guys keeping in mind when you develop the sonic world that Bachelor exists in?

ELLEN KEMPNER: It was really track by track.

MELINA DUTERTE: Yeah, it wasn't as deliberate in terms of having the sonic qualities completely match the story of whatever we're writing about. But yeah, like Ellen said, we went track by track. We made decisions based on what felt natural and cool, too. Just lots of experimenting in that way, and I think that we've both individually had a lot of time throughout our lives to experiment with writing music and being in studios and seeing what sticks. That's the thing about collaborating too. It's like you're just like throwing paint at the wall with someone else and you're like, "What works?" And what doesn't.

ELLEN KEMPNER: I think another thing that makes it cohesive is that we had a, you know, we took a bunch of Melina's gear, but it's not like we're in this fancy recording studio where we have like a million different guitars or a million--we had a pretty limited amount of stuff to use. So you hear similar characters kind of happening just by nature of that being like what we had access to.

MELINA DUTERTE: And we had just windows--we were in the house like the computer and the speakers were set up on the dining table, and the room had windows on all sides. The back patio was full of trees and you couldn't tell that you were in LA, which is fun.

Yeah, absolutely. Trees and two weeks in an Airbnb and a beautiful friendship. That's what I'm getting. That's the album.

ELLEN KEMPNER: It was a dream.

MELINA DUTERTE: With a hot tub.

That's fantastic. Thank you so much, Melina and Ellen for joining me today.

Songs Played

00:00 Stay In The Car
03:07 Anything At All
23:17 Sick of Spiraling
All songs appear on Bachelor's 2021 release Doomin' Sun.

External Link

Bachelor - official website

Credits

Host - Maddie
Producer - Derrick Stevens
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza
Technical Director - Peter Ecklund

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