For 25-year-old Jake Ybarra (pronounced “e-BAR-a”), the first step on his creative journey came in Harlingen, Texas, where he was born into a musical household. With a classically trained pianist for a mother, a semi-professional horn player for a dad, and a couple of guitar-playing brothers, music was constantly in young Jake’s ears. When he was eight, the family moved to Greenville, South Carolina, and music began leaving a permanent mark.
“We grew up Southern Baptist,” he explains, “so I sang in a bunch of quartets and boys choirs growing up. One was a group called Chicora Voices, and we would do recitals, sometimes with the Greenville Symphony. You learn to listen and learn what your voice can do.”
When he hit the age of 15, Jake put aside dreams of baseball stardom to dive into music more seriously, initially playing in a series of rock bands in school. However, as he moved on to college at Furman University, Jake’s attention was drifting toward storytelling and creating his own music.
“I found myself listening less to rock bands and more to lyricists,” he recalls. Thinking about influential albums, he says, “The first ones that really got to me were Jason Isbell’s Southeastern and The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. Until then I didn’t realize how sad songs could be, but they could also be beautiful at the same time. That led me to Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, James McMurtry, John Prine and Lucinda Williams.”
After graduating, Jake turned his attention to songwriting full-time. In 2020 he recorded what he calls his “pandemic project,” a four-song EP called Basement Songs, and posted it on Instagram. It garnered enough attention to land him a management deal and an opportunity to record his debut album, Something In The Water, with producer William Gawley.
“It is very gratifying when I get on stage and I see people reacting emotionally,” he says. “I know they’re into the words as much as the music.”