Jacob Aranda is a Bay Area musician so accomplished that it’s hard to believe his 2018 album Great Highway is also his debut.
He’s been playing for years, and has shared stages with many other musicians, including one of The Z Review’s favorite chanteuses, Paula Frazer. But beyond that, the songs on Great Highway have a world-weariness better suited to a musician twice his age. But he’s just getting started as a solo artist in his own right, and it will be interesting to see what he does next.
The Z Review spoke with this musician, luthier and advocate for the disabled and asked him five questions, and rather than slam his laptop shut in disgust, he answered them! It’s always nice when that happens. He also made a playlist that appears at the end of the interview, which is darn good if we do say so ourselves. So without further ado, we’ll let Jacob Aranda take it from here.
TZR: When did you first start playing music and who were your earliest influences?
JA: I started playing piano and then trombone when I was pretty young, but didn’t love how either were taught to me. At the time, I had a cassette of the soundtrack to Paris, Texas by Ry Cooder, which I listened to every day. On the other side of that cassette was the Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Sessions.
I could hear the room, the chapel they recorded in through my Walkman. I disappeared into that pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica.. I wanted to play them all. I got my first guitar when I was 13. My brother’s girlfriend gifted it to me after noticing how taken I was by my brother’s guitar playing.
TZR: In addition to playing music, you’re also a luthier. How did you get into that initially?
JA: I got into luthiery after I bought my first archtop guitar. I was already obsessed with stringed instruments, and then the carved top provided a new dimension. I studied violinmaking in Chicago because of that, then studied classical guitar-making in Spain under Jose Romanillos.
TZR: In addition to your own solo work, you’re also a prolific accompanist. What instrument do you get asked to play the most by other musicians that you work with?
JA: I probably get asked to play pedal steel and mandolin the most. Harmonica as well, some fiddle, occasional banjo. Pedal steel is fairly rare and in demand, and there are some great players here in the Bay Area. I always feel lucky and excited to play when asked.
TZR: In addition to your musical activities, your bio says that you also work as an advocate for adults with disabilities. Do you feel like the government provides enough resources for these individuals or is it woefully underfunded?
JA: Yes, I work for PDS Marin. It is the best-funded program I’ve ever seen and I feel lucky to work there.
I have worked in other programs that were in less wealthy communities and they were definitely underfunded. Across the country, people with disabilities are victims of underfunded and under-supervised programs, rife with horrible abuse, sexual and physical.
The disabled have historically been ignored and ostracized. Society is missing out by denying their inclusion.
TZR: Are there any musical genres you haven’t worked in yet that you’d like to try?
JA: I started playing folk and punk. I loved playing experimental and ambient music. I played Gypsy jazz for a long time; blues and country; Brazilian choro and bluegrass; classical guitar.
I would like to focus at some point on traditional Mexican music that my parents played for me. I love singing in Spanish, but I am embarrassed that my Spanish is so poor. I am between identities: Mexican, Scottish and Chinese… I’ve always wanted to belong more to my Hispanic heritage.