Genre: Acoustic, Pop
Sound description: Christian pop-rock leaning towards modern country.
RIYL: Elliott Smith, Rob Thomas, Matchbox 20, Edwin McCain, James Powter, James Blunt, Shawn Mullins
Inception: Del Mar, 2006
Influences: U2, Bon Jovi, Rob Thomas, Prince, Queen, Howie Day, Keith Urban, Stevie Wonder, Darius Rucker
Steven Ybarra began learning music at the age of three when his family got him a drum set and an accordion. Being raised in a family of Germans and Hispanics, his culture at home was colored and full of variety as he listened to everyone from Julio Iglesias to Helmut Lotti. His Oma (German for grandmother) first took him to Germany as a one-year-old, and from then on life became a mixture of sauerkraut and tamales. This Texas-born singer-songwriter attended Catholic school through the 8th grade, which set a spiritual foundation for his profound beliefs today.
For a time, he fronted 34Below, which released five CDs and toured nearly every state in the country. "I knew that I had been blessed with talent," he says. "I just was not sure how or where I would use it. Growing up I just wanted to be successful in whatever I did. For awhile I wanted to be an attorney and know everything about justice."
Asked about his favorite gig, he says "It would have to be a toss-up between the time that John [Ondrasik], the lead singer from Five for Fighting, who was our opening act, came up and sang one of my songs with me during our performance. But that would just about equal the time that we opened for Hootie and Blowfish and Darius came up and also sang a tune with me."
His worst gig? "It probably would be when I participated in a variety show. It was, like, out of bizarro world, sort of David Lynch meets The Twilight Zone. The talent was scary."
After 1000 shows and years of climbing the rock and roll ladder, Ybarra suffered encephalitis, an acute inflammation of the brain commonly caused by a viral infection. Ybarra could no longer meet the physical demands of touring and performing and had to quit 34Below.
"Having a serious illness can trigger some extensive soul searching," he says on his MySpace page. "I found a part of myself that was yearning to do something new and different and now the timing is right. I am very thankful and blessed to have this opportunity to share my music. I want to create honest, thought-provoking songs with passion and meaning. Something people can grab on to and have it leave them with a sense of knowing themselves a little bit better..."
Since 2005, he has been writing and recording new material and performing as a solo act at various venues around San Diego. His album Love Love Love was released in 2008. In September 2009, he won Best Acoustic at the San Diego Music Awards.
He recorded his 2011 album Best Days at the Dream Center in L.A. Around the same time, Universal Music Group/INgrooves began using his song “Love Love Love” as an iPhone app for a promotion by Jones and Sons Jewelry, to promote their line of engagement jewelry.
In 2012, Ybarra was serving as worship director at Grace Point Church. His song “Angel in My Life” (titled “Love Love Love” on his Love Love Love CD) appeared on a 2012 Valentine’s Day love song compilation, Date Night.
He was the featured artist on the massive iTickets.com website on May 15, 2012, with a Free Download of the Week featuring his song “Best Days,” followed by four June appearances at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar.
In early 2013, while taking a break from performing to record a new full-length, a new video for his song “Best Days” began streaming online. The following summer, he signed to a recording deal with Pacific Records.
His October 2014 single “All You Gotta Do” was recorded at Jason Mraz's home studio and produced by Mraz collaborator Andre De Santanna, with backup vocals by Danielle D'Andrea (who sings with Jackson Browne). He headed to Nashville in November to record a new album at Nashville-Castle Recording Studios with Carrie Underwood’s guitarist Chad Jeffers, as well as members of Kelly Clarkson’s and Martina McBride’s bands.
A song called "Sum of Two Hearts’ co-written with Diane Waters won first place in the 2015 Durango Songwriter Contest.
His next full-length What I Really Want to Say was released in May 2015. "It's basically a love letter and in my way saying thank you and I love you to all the friends and family who have supported me over the years," he says. The release party at the Valley View Casino Center VIP lounge also included the debut of his video for its first single "Stand."
A new single debuted in late 2016, “Why Would I Do That,” for which a video was released the following summer.