Omar Apollo Talks "brakelights", Midwestern Creativity, & 'Stranger Things'
Omar Apollo signs his emails with, “Love, Omar”, and that little dose of virtual goodness is also a pretty good indication of how this 20-year-old, self-taught artist expresses himself musically. Hailing from Indiana with his dreamy vocals and groovy tones, it’s hard not to fall for his work. Dressed in a striped T-shirt and wearing his grandmother’s Escapulario, MILK.XYZ caught up with Omar over a pair of Passionfruit iced teas, to talk more about his newest track “brakelights”, his love for Stranger Things (it’s filmed in his home state of Indiana), and his motivations as a budding artist. Check our full interview, plus the brand-new single, below.
What’s one of the earliest experiences with music that you can remember?
It would have to be with like some really traditional Mexican music. My uncles always got really drunk and sang a bunch of popular Spanish songs. They were always about murder, so it’s really weird to think about now, but I didn’t really think about it back then. I was probably like 8, but I always sat down and listened to my uncle play guitar and stuff.
You’re self taught—where does that motivation come from?
I didn’t grow up with any musicians around me so that kind of sucked. I guess that’s how Indiana is [Laughs], but I didn’t really think about it too much. I used to sleep with my guitar when I was like 12, I would fall asleep playing it [Laughs]. I remember I watched the movie Camp Rock and Joe Jonas played some really cool chords and one day my mom came in my room and I was crying and she asked me why, and I said because I could never play guitar as good as Joe Jonas. But yeah, since then I just tried to teach myself what I could.
What does one of your songs look like from start to end?
I usually arrange my songs in like a pop arrangement, but I usually don’t do a second verse mostly because I really like the way the song already is and I don’t wanna ruin it. And, most of the time if I don’t finish the song the day of, I won’t go back to it just because I like doing everything in one day.
How would you describe your work?
If I had to describe the work I’ve put out, it would probably be music that you listen to when you’re with your boyfriend or girlfriend on like a car ride home eating candy in one hand and driving with the other.
I love that you have such a specific scene in mind. Elaborate.
When you listen to music you kind of want to enjoy it, do stuff while listening to music. I just want my music to accompany beautiful moments. Either you’re at a barbecue outside or just hanging out having a good time. In any situation, good music makes any situation better—subconsciously or in general.
What’s it like being on stage?
Being on stage is really new for me, I just started performing earlier this year. I was so nervous for my first performance, I had my band with me and they seemed cool but I couldn’t stop shaking [Laughs]. My nerves have calmed down now and usually when I do shows people know the lyrics, which is a very surreal experience. I definitely feel an exchange of energy at every show.
Can you tell us a bit about your most recent track?
Yea, “brakelights” is one of the first songs I made where I got really attached to the song. I was just honest about my life situation and I think I’m starting to show off a different side of my music. I actually really like the song, it’s definitely one of my favorites.
Why is it your favorite song?
“brakelights” is my favorite song I’ve made because it was the perfect tone of my voice. It sounded really smooth and comforting. I just love hearing it. When I first made it I was like, “Oh wow.” I sounded a lot different. It took me a little bit to get comfortable behind the microphone and stuff. Just the way it was put together and the space in between; just the whole groove was something I got really attached to. It’s a song about my car. It’s just me. A lot of times writers make up stories, but this was just my situation at home.
What does your car look like?
It’s a 2001 Buick Regal.
It’s grey. It’s cool. I’m really attached to it.
Does it have a name?
Yeah—Gertrude. Or The Xany Wagon—that’s the nickname.
Xany Wagon is when she’s cool, she’s not messing up. And Gertrude is when, you know, like when your parents call you by your full name. “GERTRUDE IS ON GAME!” I cannot do this. I’d be on the phone with my manager [Dylan Shanks] and I had to get work and I’m on the highway. So dangerous. It just turns off. My friends just got used to it. Every time I’d drive it more than 11 minutes. If it was an 11-minute distance, we’d be okay. If it was more, it was just [dying car noise]. And I’d have to wait super long for it to turn back on.
What are your other favorite things right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot go Young Thug recently. I think he has the coolest voice. He’s definitely in my top three artists. His voice reminds me of James Brown if he were to come out now. It’s so 70s, it’s crazy. If he were to hop on some bass and drums, actual bass guitar and drums, I feel like he would be more appreciated. I love his voice. He’s so dope.
I’m always into watching a bunch of TV shows. I’m waiting for my favorite ones to come out. Stranger Things, I’m waiting on. It’s huge. The show is based in Indiana, that’s where I’m from. It looks like that. I try to do that with my pictures and how I’m portrayed on the internet. I want it to be very Stranger Things. You know what I’m saying? Just that whole energy.
What’s it like in Indiana?
We spend a lot of time outside sitting on the porch playing Uno. It’s so quiet there and we are very not quiet, me and all my friends. We would just go out to weird places, like the library and be loud and laugh. Being in the library, when you’re with all your friends. It’s hilarious. I used to skate a lot. Now we all have Rick and Morty nights, every Sunday when it comes out. All 14 of us. We are all super on the same page with things. My friends are animators and videographers so they’re always making really cool animations and ideas. It’s just super creative all the time.
Do you think being in such a quiet place is why you’re so creative?
There is nothing to distract us. There is nobody influencing us around us. It’s very organic, everything we come up with. There’s no influence at all. I don’t even know why we’re all so motivated. When we got to Chicago, people know we are not from Chicago. My friends have fruit snack in their pockets walking around. At my last show, they had a huddle outside and everyone was just looking at us because we were just doing weird things. We are all very proud to be from Indiana, especially me. Michael Jackson is from there, Stranger Things, Freddie Gibbs. My friend Drayco, and Wolf, and Vinny—we’re all super wanting to show people there is a scene over there and get kids more motivated.
Do you think patience is a virtue or a crutch?
That’s a really interesting way to look at patience [Laughs]. I was always taught patience is a virtue and its been working pretty well so far. When I dropped out of college after two weeks I told myself that I need to start making more music so I could progress, but I didn’t really think about the “how” part. I just trusted that with time I’d figure something out. I was always ok with waiting—I had to make sure that nothing I do is forced because then it’s not genuine. I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t get impatient sometimes, but I think being patient makes your success more fulfilling.
As a young artist, do you feel the obligation to make your work political?
Well, being a first generation Mexican living in America, there are tons of things I want to be vocal on. I think I’d rather take action than put it in a song, I’d love to speak with kids and just get involved. That’s definitely something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. I would love to help kids with immigrant parents because we all grew up with similar problems. I just want to make sure they aren’t forced into a career they’re not passionate about because of financial circumstance.
If you weren’t a musician, how would you spend the majority of your time?
If I wasn’t doing music I would most definitely want to be somewhere in the film industry. My friends are really creative with video ideas and scripts and it’s always something I’ve been really interested in. I’ve written two short films, but nothing I’m super proud of yet. I always have camera angles and colors for different scenes in my head for music videos. I help direct most of my videos and my friends usually build off the ideas and make them a lot cooler. I like to work with my friends, Lonewolf, Vin, Darien, Jonez and my brother Quique—they’re all extremely talented—because we’re all on the same page and the chemistry we have definitely helps add to the project.
Stay tuned to Milk for more west coast happenings.