Omar Apollo, Musician
INTERVIEW BY : RANA TOOFANIAN | WORDS BY : LIZ RAISS | PHOTO BY GRACE PICKERING
Listening to Omar Apollo doesn’t conjure any one feeling. There’s snatches of soulful Santo & Johnny-style melodies, classic pop key changes, slide guitar, and a fair amount of range and falsetto for someone who describes his natural singing voice as “fucking trash.” The 20 year-old cites an exotic range of influences, from D’Angelo to Jimi Hendrix to Los Panchos. The unpredictable, global appeal of Omar Apollo is surprising given he’s born and bred in Indiana, where he developed a tight-knit friend group, which includes his drummer and tour manager who recently accompanied him as the opening act for Jungle.
WestwoodWestwood produced the video for Omar’s newest single, “Ugotme,” a song about the kind of emotional tunnel vision love incites. The singer and guitarist is prone to single-mindedness, first as a dedicated dancer who had a Vine following, then as an amateur singer training his vibrato four to five hours a day via YouTube tutorial. YouTube is also how Illegal Civilization’s Mikey Alfred found Omar’s music, which he used in his “Summer of ‘17” film. Now, the two are collaborating, with Alfred directing the new visuals we’re stoked to introduce to the world today. We caught up with Omar ahead of their debut and talked about Indiana, self-confidence, and Jimmy Fallon.
How did the project between you and Mikey come about? How did you two meet?
Somebody tweeted and was like, “Yo i heard your song in Illegal Civ’s video.” Then two weeks later I was in LA and Illegal Civ asked if I wanted to go to Flog Gnaw for a screening of the film. [My friends and I] are all from Indiana, it’s weird somebody out here would know my music. I saw Mikey at the screening and he explained how he found me on Youtube. He texted me a week after that and was like, “let’s shoot.”
Tell me about growing up in Indiana.
I didn’t know any different until I started traveling and then I was like, damn shit’s different. But it was really cool. Everybody knows each other and I’ve had the same friends since middle school. We’re away from each other for a while and we grow so much and we come back together and we’re just better versions of ourselves
Do you work with any of your friends now?
I grew up with my drummer, Joey, we used to skate together all the time. He didn’t tell me he played drums until like two years into our friendship.
You guys just went on tour with Jungle? How was that?
The first night we did our performance in Vancouver, me and Joey were terrified. We had to keep using the bathroom, like five times. We were so scared because it was 1200 people and we’re used to 300 or 400. But after that one it got easier.
We just shot the video for the “You Got Me” single, what inspired you to write that song?
I was living in my friend’s attic when I wrote that. It’s about when you love someone everyone else doesn’t matter. The hook is “you got me numb,” meaning they’re the only person you care about.
Your songs are about heartache. It’s the running theme.
It always just happens, I don’t mean to.
Your friends told me you use to be a dancer. How did you get into dancing, when did you start?
I started dancing when I was super young, a type of Mexican folk dancing. You wear sombreros, and it’s mostly footwork. You dance with a girl wearing the huge dresses. And then I got into movies with everyone dancing and moving. I started when I was 13 or 14 and stopped when I was 16 or 17.
Did you just dance for fun?
Yeah, I was never in a competition. Choreography wasn’t my thing, I was more into freestyling, like popping and tutting, tutting is hand movements.
Apparently you were popular on Vine.
I was popping, I was a Vine dance!. It was so funny. But I stopped doing that because I was like dang I really like music. I loved playing guitar. I don’t want to be known as a dancer. I want it to be like, whoa, Omar can dance!
What’s it been like to be discovered and have a manager and take what you were doing in your real life and make it happen?
It’s been weird, because I’ve never been too entitled. Especially when I was younger, just being a Mexican kid. So now someone thinks like this is really good music and I’m like ‘really?’ I think it’s good, but I didn’t know that it would be so widely appreciated at all.
I’m trying to believe in myself a little more. Four months ago I didn’t know if i wanted to do this shit because it’s so much pressure. But recently I have been like this is what I’m supposed to do. I had to step back and not talk to people and get centered. If you have a strong foundation with your friends and family then you will be fine.
Did you always know you could sing?
No, I was fucking trash. I knew I had a great ear because I played guitar. Music just made sense. But my dad would tell me I was a terrible singer. So I YouTubed how to do a vibrato and did a bunch of stretches. And then I was singing all the time. I would practice like 4 to 5 hours a day and would film myself on the ipod and just do it all the time and I would show my friends and they’d just laugh.
What motivates you to make music?
I just love making music and getting lost in it for hours. Just forgetting about everything. Just trying to make something that sounds cool or whatever you’re feeling at that moment. If you make a shitty song it’s so sad. it can ruin your day. So you’re just chasing that good feeling.
What about musical influences?
In 2013 or 2014 around when Chance the Rapper was coming up, he was huge because he was from the Chicago area. I used to go to those open mics he use to have and those really made me like, damn I really want to do this. As far as influences, it would be; Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Gary Numan, D’Angelo, David Bowie, Elliottg Smith, Cuco Sánchez, Los Panchos, Don Blackman.
I feel like those artists are a good representation of the diversity of your own music.
Good music is genereless. Pop for me is anything.
You classify it as pop.
If I had to. All it is, is popular music .
I hear you’re obsessed with Jimmy Fallon, why?
Check it out, he acts, he sings, he plays guitar, and he’s a comedian. People criticize him for laughing too much but like that’s just the coolest characteristic, to just laugh all the time. I was depressed when I was 16 and that shit made me happy over everything.
Just him existing motivates me more than like any other artist. When you can connect success with motivation it’s so inspiring.