In the weeks leading up to tens of millions of Americans being told to shelter in place, Tucson songwriter Jacob Acosta routinely watched the news and speculated how intensely the coronavirus pandemic would impact his community. Now that he—along with the rest of the city—is mostly housebound, he's using the time to sort through his various emotions on the subject in the best way he knows how.
Soul Pandemic is Acosta's ongoing musical project, being written and recorded as the COVID-19 virus works its way across our world. Each week, Acosta is releasing one new song for the album, which reflect the latest news, government responses, infection rates and community initiatives.
"I feel like we didn't have the right response from the beginning, and that's what inspired me to do something," Acosta said. "Because I'm not a political power, I feel like my music and voice is the only way I can reach people, at least on a bigger scale."
Acosta's previous albums, such as 2018's Desert Sounds—an expansive and eclectic love letter to the Sonoran Desert's nature and history—were planned, written and recorded over the course of a year or more. But with Soul Pandemic, everything is happening and being documented in real time.
Acosta says the idea to write songs about the pandemic's impact didn't turn into a full album until he was listening to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'."
"It was really an anthem for American clamor and dissidence, and while listening to it, I got the feeling that we needed to do something right now," Acosta said.
As a result, the first single from Soul Pandemic is a cover version of the Dylan song. Not a traditional cover, Acosta's gentle guitar and singing is cross-cut with nature recordings, news audio covering the virus, and President Trump saying that he "doesn't take responsibility at all" for the lag in American testing.
"I tried to update the lyrics so they'd resonate more with people of our time, to call people to compassion, and to show voices from other places in the world because this is a global thing," Acosta said. "I'm hoping that this will be a call for people to work together and help each other."
The second single, "Sunshine Kisses" takes a decidedly positive approach to the subject. In addition to a pastoral guitar line and uplifting keyboard layers, the song features audio of doctors who battled ebola in South Africa, helped patients during the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and are in Italy to fight coronavirus.
"For this, there are no limits. I don't know what all is going to come out of it. As things come to me, that's how I'm going to make it," Acosta said. "It's all going to depend on where I'm at and what comes out, but I'm not limiting it. I want everything to be visceral and just happen, which I think is how art should be made anyway."
For Acosta, the pandemic is more than a muse; he also works as a teacher at a school currently closed due to the virus, and was also forced to postpone his wedding. He feels this project will likely have a wider relevance than any of his previous.
"I feel I need to express things through music, and I have so many feelings about this situation that I'm going to use this project as a vehicle to express myself, and also to connect with people," Acosta said. "There's an element of refreshing the spirit, there's an element of catharsis in it."
He says the biggest message to be found in Soul Pandemic is that we should be kind to each other right now, and support local artists and businesses through this time.
To further this message, he has also organized multiple live streams from his home recording studio during quarantine, both as a way to spread art to others stuck at home, and as a way to assist and raise awareness about the Tucson Musicians COVID19 Relief Fund, which is gathering money for local musicians who are out of work during this time.
"We have to be physically isolated, but that doesn't mean we have to stop our kindness or our ability to work together," Acosta said. "I think we can significantly change the order of things if we start looking inward."
A new song from Soul Pandemic is released every Wednesday. Jacob Acosta's music is available on Spotify, Bandcamp and YouTube.