Omar Apollo, born Omar Apolonio, dropped out of college after just two weeks. Soon after giving academia the boot, he started creating an easy-going style of retro-tinged pop that borrows from jazz, R&B, funk, alternative and soul.
The twenty-year-old first-generation Mexican-American singer-songwriter, who calls Indiana home, began strumming the guitar at age twelve and then put his ax to the side for a few years. He resumed playing at eighteen, at which point he began to absorb new styles of music and started to pen his own material. He quickly made up for lost time.
While he brandishes accomplished picking chops, in addition to winsome crooning, his music expands beyond the typical guitar-driven fare. He cites David Bowie, Prince, Alex G, Cuco and MorMor among his influences. His recent EP, Stereo, includes songs in both English and Spanish.
Westword caught up with him to talk about his work.
Westword: Hi Omar. What's up?
Omar Apollo: Just chillin' at band rehearsal.
Where are you?
I'm in Indiana.
Have you been touring outside of Indiana a lot lately?
Yeah. I've been touring with my new band. We recently played in Canada, then in Seattle and Portland and some other places in California.
How long have you been seriously pursuing your music career?
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For about three years now. I dropped out of college after two weeks. I only went because my mom wanted me to. I started playing when I was twelve, and I played until I was like fifteen, and then I got bored because I was just learning dumb chords and normal stuff. I just kind of stopped, but when I was eighteen I started listening to some jazz, and I fell in love with it and picked it up again.
What kind of jazz?
I heard this one album called Ego Death – kind of hip-hop, jazz and soul – by a band called The Internet, and I didn't know you could make music sound like that. I don't usually go deep into music rabbit holes, but it made me want to play guitar again, so I went and bought one. It was a Samick guitar. I paid forty bucks for it.
Do you still play it?
No. I have a Telecaster now.
When did you start writing songs?
I started when I was about seventeen.
You have some great guitar chops...
Thanks for noticing. Yeah, my dad put me on to the Beatles when I was young. Then I started finding other stuff like Prince and Bowie.
Is your voice modeled on anyone?
No. It's whatever I end up with it. I try to use it as an instrument. I taught myself how to sing using YouTube videos.
You look a little like John Mayer. Do you ever get that?
All the time.
Do you like his music?
Yeah. He's amazing.
Do you have a CD out?
Just the EP, Stereo, that came out in May.
Have you been getting a lot of press?
Yeah, it's pretty cool. I had two singles that were doing well, and then after the EP, things definitely picked up.
What channels do you use to get your music out there?
Spotify and iTunes. It's been pretty magical. I've got a lot of followers. And now they're putting my face on playlists and stuff. They show love all the time.
You have a big tour coming up, right?
Yeah. I leave tomorrow. We fly to New York and then drive from there.
How many people are in the band?
Four total. I play lead, and my friend plays guitar and synth, and then I have a bassist and a drummer.
How did you find your bandmates?
I know them from my neighborhood. They're pretty much just homies from the block. I met a lot of my friends skateboarding. I sucked as a skater, but I did it because my friends did it.
What's your town called?
I grew up in Hobart, Indiana, but now I live in Whiting, just south of Chicago. A lot of my friends live nearby in a town called Lake Station.
Do you like sports?
No. I hate sports. But I like tennis.
How do you feel about fashion?
Well, the older I get, the more I care about what I put on. It's good to look nice.
Were you able to play locally and get enough attention, or did you have to get outside your town to be heard?
No, people would come locally. It was cool. They either heard the music or by word of mouth. By the end of last year, I was selling out shows at local bars and coffee shops.
How much have your shows grown in terms of audience since you started?
When I started, it might have been like 100 people, then it was about 250, and now it's like 350- to 400-capacity venues and some are already sold out for the tour in L.A. and Santa Ana. It's great, but it's kinda weird to think that these people who I've never met me know who I am. It's all word of mouth. One person finds it on the Internet, and then they share it.
What else should people know about you?
I've got some really cool shit coming up; it's leveled up from the stuff I started with. I'm maturing as a musician. As I get better, my arrangements are more thought out. It's progressing.
Do you have a method?
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I try to be more conscious of my songwriting process. I feel like I have a bird's-eye view of what I'm doing. I'll be in sessions with other people in places like L.A., and I see how they work, and I'm like, okay, let's try this.
What are your themes?
How I'm feeling in the moment...and I write about relationships sometimes.
Omar Apollo, 7 p.m. Thursday, August 8, Larimer Lounge, $12-$15.