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Ask A Gay Icon: Jay Som Gets Career Advice From Carly Rae Jepsen

Billboard logo Billboard 6/23/2020 Nolan Feeney

How can you help LGBTQ people succeed in the music industry? One easy step: Share your networks and make introductions. So for Pride Month, Billboard is connecting queer artists with some of their musical heroes — who also happen to be major allies to the community — to get career advice.

Here, indie-rock darling Jay Som — who released her critically acclaimed second album, Anak Ko, last year — gets studio tips from pop favorite Carly Rae Jepsen, who recently released Dedicated Side B, the follow-up to last year’s Dedicated.

Do you have advice on fostering your interpersonal relationships while juggling a demanding work life? Do you find it difficult to balance new connections you make with the older ones?

It’s definitely a challenge and a balancing act that I’m still learning as I go. I’m very lucky that my family and friends are understanding of my lifestyle. I work hard at reaching out no matter where I am in the world. While on the road, your phone becomes a bit of a lifeline. Because we spend so much time together, our touring crew has become a tight-knit family, so it is sometimes surreal to come home and catch up with people who have no idea about the crazy experiences you’ve just gone through. But I find I need that change of company as well. I really look forward to getting into the groove of home life when I can.

How much creative freedom do you have when working with producers, co-writers and mixing engineers? How do you know if a collaborator is a good fit for that?

I’m lucky that I’m able to take full rein of my creative process. I have a team to help suggest like-minded collaborators, and I go searching out different talents as well. I travel a lot when I’m writing, and it’s very important to me — whether it’s Sweden, New York, Nicaragua or wherever — that a friendship is established in the room with whoever I’m working with before we dive in. I think good music comes from enjoying the process of making it.

How has the current pandemic impacted your creativity or work style?

It’s definitely been strange polishing off an album in lockdown. I was very relieved on the day of its release, and I have so many people to thank for making that come together. Since my project is done and I’m still a little creative bunny, I’ve been working on tunes from Zoom parties with my longtime friend and collaborator Tavish Crowe. We’re calling it “songwriting tag.” He’ll send me a track or two, and once I get some ideas, I’ll send him a voice note with a top line melody. We’ll call each other to debate the lyrics, and he’ll plug it in for extra production. It’s a much slower process, but I think the time and the space allow for some cool breakthroughs.

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Before going on stage, my bandmates and I always do a “cinnamon roll” handshake. It might be superstitious, but I feel like if we don’t do it, we won’t have a great show. Do you have any pre-show rituals or superstitions about performing in general?

100%. We have our own little wiggly handshake thingy we’ve been doing for years. I think it’s good to come together and just have a quick moment of connection before you go out there and put on a show.

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