Jake Ybarra’s Something in the Water backs strong songwriting (the title track) with a country-rock heart (“Late November”). We spoke with the native Texan about songwriting heroes, growing up in the church and working through the pandemic.
“I was pretty productive (during the pandemic),” Ybarra says. “I think it was half boredom and half trying to process the world. I’ve been writing songs for a while, but I had the time to work on the craft during that time. I wrote a lot.”
Alt-Country Specialty Chart: Describe how the new album took shape.
Jake Ybarra: Most songs are no older than late 2020. I made the whole record in two days last June. The songs already were done so we just had to cut them in the studio. We cut the music on one day and I did the vocals on the second day.
Explain the title Something in the Water.
I write story songs (frequently), but “Something in the Water” was one that felt more personal. Honestly, I don’t really remember writing the song. “Something in the Water” flowed out of me in about an hour and felt a little different than my typical writing. I just felt like that had to be the album title.
Personal experience seems pretty important to these songs.
Oh, it’s very important to these songs. Some songs like “No Reason to Write” are fictional – I just wrote myself into that song as the person reading the letters – but there’s a lot of personal stuff in songs like “Something in the Water” and “Call Me By My Name.” They weren’t very fictionalized at all.
Describe the album’s common lyrical theme.
I didn’t really realize there was one until after the fact. I demoed about twenty songs all within the same period. Then I listened back through all the demos before sending them off and realized I write a lot about sin. I listened back through my lyrics and was like, “Holy shit. I write a lot about sin, angels, demons, and god.”
I think those things are just baked into me from growing up in church. Sin probably was in there so much because I was righting mistakes I made as a younger man. The other theme was finding myself and missing people and places I hadn’t seen in a long time during the pandemic.
Did you embrace the church growing up?
I loved church as a kid, but the brand of church we were in was fire and brimstone, so it instilled fears in me too that I still deal with today. I was ready to get out on my own by the time I was seventeen or eighteen. My parents don’t even go to church very much anymore. We all seemed to move on around the same time, which is interesting.
Explain how your parents playing music shaped you as a songwriter.
I think that really shaped me musically. My mom was always playing piano around the house, and I took piano lessons for a while. Both my parents love music. They fell in love over their shared love of music and instilled that love of music in my siblings and me. I found my own favorite songwriters and lyrical heroes when I got older, but we were singing in church choirs and quartets when I was younger.
Talk about some favorite songwriters you found.
Townes (Van Zandt) is someone I love and find him such an interesting writer, but I don’t think I can write that way. He had such a distinct way of writing. Guy (Clark) was the one where I was like, “Man. I know those words. I know those turns of phrase. I know what he’s saying. He was saying very profound things in very simple ways. I felt I could do that.
I know James McMurtry is younger than those guys, but he’s my biggest songwriting hero. He can have these eight-minute songs that are very detail oriented and paint these perfect scenes of life and shitty things, but then he’ll have a three-minute song that’s more upbeat and fun. I grew up reading lots of short stories and I feel his songs are short stories.
– Brian T. Atkinson
Artist: Rachel Baiman
Album: Common Nation of Sorrow
Release Date: March 31, 2023
Record Label: Signature Sounds
Artist Website: rachelbaiman.com
On writing the new album: “This is a homecoming project for me in some ways. I wanted to explore these songs based on who and where I am right now with the town and people who have raised me musically.” – Rachel Baiman
-- Brian T. Atkinson
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