Brent Cowles and Tyler Kellogg of You Me And Apollo on the influence of soul and Motown
You Me And Apollo from Fort Collins started out as the solo project of Brent Cowles when he was seventeen. Over the course of the last handful of years, Cowles has turned what was essentially a bedroom recording project into a full-fledged band. In 2011, Cowles released Cards With Cheats with a nascent version of the band. With the current line-up, the act recorded its latest, self-titled EP, and in those songs you can hear shades of vintage soul and a hint of some of the folk that informed the project's earlier recordings. We recently spoke with Cowles and drummer Tyler Kellogg about the band's history, the influence of Motown and soul and the way in which Kellogg takes Cowles's songs and gives them a groove.
Westword: Did You Me And Apollo start as a kind of solo project when you were living in Arizona?
Brent Cowles: Well, it started as a solo thing in Colorado, and once I came into contact with River Jones Music in Phoenix, I decided to move out there.
What was it like out there for you, and why did you end up going back to Fort Collins?
BC: It was good. I met a lot of great people, and I had a lot of fun playing music out there. I was mostly having to work my day job more than I could dedicate enough time for music. I also wasn't feeling as healthy as I wanted to be, so I decided to come back to Colorado.
You and Tyler Kellogg knew each other before you went out to Arizona, is that right?
BC: Tyler and I met when he was thirteen and I was about nine. My dad was Tyler's youth pastor. We were just acquaintances at that point, but we reconnected when I came back to Colorado.
Did you both start playing music early in life?
BC: I was about thirteen when I started playing guitar and singing. I figured out a few chords and a few friends showed me some tricks, and it went from there.
Tyler Kellogg: I started around the same age. My brother played bass in a band, and I used to go to practice with him. One time, the drummer didn't show up and they'd always see me kind of eyeing the drums, and they said, "Well, get up there." It was a pretty rough start, and I played along to CDs I liked. One album I really remember was the self-titled Santana album. I couldn't play hardly any of the actual drum beats on there, but in my head it sounded like it. On a completely different spectrum, I remember playing along to one of the old System of a Down records. It was quite the interesting musical experience for my parents, I'm sure. I set my drums up in the living room most times.
Brent, were there particular artists that inspired you when you first started out?
BC: The first band that made me want to play music was the Early November. They were an indie band from a while back. I just latched on to their record The Room's Too Cold, and for some reason, it just spoke to me in a way that made me feel like he was expressing something very personal through his music, and it made me feel like I could do the same thing.
You both got started pretty young. Did you have other musical projects before You Me and Apollo?
BC: This is only the second musical project I've ever been a part of or in. The first one was called Seconds From Waiting. We were in Colorado Springs, and we played just around town at this place called the Black Sheep most of the time.
That's a big room. How did you get hooked up with that early on?
BC: I'm not even sure. We had played around a few coffee shops and we kind of convinced them to put us on some shows where they couldn't find any openers. I think the biggest band we ever opened for was the Photo Atlas, and they're still rocking it in Denver and doing well for themselves. I was pretty shy when I first started playing music, so I had the other guys do the talking.
TK: I graduated high school a year early. I played in a band where we changed the name every show. The one name that they did have, because they used to be a ska band before I joined, was Daily Delight, which was named after a really cool kind of vintage ice cream shop in Loveland called Dairy Delight.
I grew up in a small town in California with a population of around five hundred at any given time called Big Creek. It's a little bit north of Fresno. But I think I left at the perfect time because I was at the age where you start getting bored of your surroundings and getting into trouble. I remember my brother telling me stories of watching people do heroin on the bus down to the high school, which was maybe a 45 minute drive. It's kind of a remote, strange place, but a great little town.
We initially moved to Fort Collins when I was in sixth grade. That was the year Spring Creek flooded. But then we moved to Loveland, and I ended up hooking up with these guys, including Alex Anderson from Mancub and Flashlights. He was the main guy in that band that was called Daily Delight. I was in a sort of throwback country style band called the Riflemen. The most recent band I was in before You Me and Apollo was the Sunshine House, which changed over to Phil Waggoner's solo project called Catch Bees.
Was the name of this band always the same?
BC: Yeah, I started the solo project with that name. I just recorded songs in a room that I was renting in the basement of a friend when I had just turned seventeen. I had just got my GED, and I was working at a Super Target. I recorded songs during the night as You Me And Apollo. I didn't really play a show under that name until I moved to Phoenix, but I had a lot of recordings online, and I sent five or six to River Jones after stumbling across his website. We recently bought out our contract with River Jones, and we're just seeing what the next step in our journey is going to be.
How did you end up meeting the other guys that are in the band now?
BC: Cards With Cheats was just a collaboration between me and my friends Corey Kaufman, Matt Roberts and Spencer Monson. We just kind of made it sound like a full band on that record. Tyler came over one day, sipped on some whiskey and listened to the record. I had known that Tyler was a drummer through a friend of ours. I didn't have any intentions, but it was something I had thought about before. When he heard the record, he decided to help me get it printed and pressed and he said, "Let's make a band." We formed a last minute band, had a few practices, and had a CD release. We went through a few members until we got the line-up we have now. Guys that are willing to commit and the means to survive as starving musicians.
You had been intending to release a series of 7-inches?
BC: We did start the 7-inch series earlier in 2012. It was a three part series, and we released the first. We're calling it &1. We're using the ampersand as our logo and trademarked image. We decided that we wanted to have something with more than just two songs on it and on a different format that we could offer people with the line-up that we have playing on the stage. When people come to see us, it's nice to have more than two songs to give them to listen to after they go home. So we decided to release all six songs on the EP, but we'll definitely continue the vinyl series later.
You Me And Apollo is a name that suggests multiple meanings. Does it signify anything in particular for you?
BC: It did just kind of happen. I had a dog named Apollo a while back. I just used his name in a sentence, "It'll just be you, me and Apollo." It kind of rang in my head, and I decided to go with it as a name for making my music.
What would you say are the root aesthetics of your music?
BC: I would say, if I was going to put it into a category, a kind of '80s folk, blues throwback to Motown kind of mesh. Live, lately, we've been getting pretty rock and roll at points. We've been getting heavier with the full band.
How did you meet Jonathan Alonzo?
BC: I met Jon Alonzo when I was playing solo and he ran sound for me at Road 34. He was running sound for me again the next night at Everyday Joe's. Everybody knows Jon Alonzo, so I had heard of him. Tyler and I were planning our first full band tour on the West Coast. I was on my way to play a house show, I think, and ran into him driving to the house show, and I was yelling from window to window, asking him to come on tour with us. He came on tour, and he's been in the band since.
The vocals and the way the arrangements are made on the new record has a definite soul feel to it. Would you say that Sam Cooke or Otis Redding were an inspiration for your music in any way?
BC: Oh, absolutely. I actually listen to a lot of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. I think there's something that naturally resonates with me in that music. So it seems to come through more and more as we continue to write as a full band. My singing has definitely been influenced by a lot of the old Motown music and I know Tyler listens to a lot of it. When we're on long drives, we'll thrown on a Motown mix.
TK: We've also recently started covering some of that stuff like a Coasters song.
Tyler, as a drummer, what do you like about playing this style of music compared to some other styles of music that you've played?
TK: It's a lot of fun, for one. The Riflemen was a blast, but I can only get so creative with that kind of country feel. It's not as dynamic a musical style, I feel. There's definitely people like Hank 3 who can pull it off and have that kind of creativity, but I don't know enough about it to be in that mindset. Sunshine House was pretty and dynamic, but there's something to be said for music that you hear and your foot starts tapping and your head starts bobbing. Brent naturally writes music like that. It's usually easy for me to come up with a drum part to compliment that and bring it out.
BC: I've noticed that a lot. Whatever skeleton of a song that I write and bring to the band, as soon as Tyler lays down a beat, that's when it becomes groovy. I think it's a combination of what Tyler's mind immediately goes to whenever I bring him a song and it works really well together.
Who inspires you as a drummer, Tyler?
TK: Stuff that I really like could be an influence but it's usually way beyond my skill set. Like when Ginger Baker was playing jazz before he was in Cream. I listen to a lot of jazz, but I don't know any of the drummers' names. As far as modern drumming, [Jim Eno] from Spoon? Most of those drum beats are super simple, but they have these unique tweaks within the same beat, where he's kind of playing off of himself; that's also an idea that sort of came from jazz. Brent and I recently went to see Dr. Dog at the Boulder Theater. That drummer [Eric Slick] is just insane. He's incredibly creative, and he's playing to not necessarily the music. He's actually adding counter melodies or pieces that are musical in themselves, not just percussive. So I really appreciate drummers like that.
BC: Dr. Dog is a band that we as a band really look up to. They've been one of my personal favorites for a long time. Same with Wilco. They're just insanely talented. They can take something so simple and turn it into something remarkably significant.
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