Four years since he first uploaded music to SoundCloud, turning heads with his smooth vocals and sharp production, Omar Apollo releases his almost-but-not-quite debut. “I do, but technically it’s not”, he laughs over Zoom from New York City when asked if he sees ‘Apolonio’ as his first official album. “I was going to put out a full-length, but because of COVID I just started calling it a project.”
Coming in around the 30-minute mark, it arrives as a condensed version of what Omar has to offer. “It has the same amount of effort and love as an album,” he affirms, “but you can’t tour right now, so I didn’t want to put out an hour of music and not be able to play it. I’m still coming up and I’m still hungry to do better.”
Writing all nine tracks and handling much of the production himself, the self-made star instead looks at ‘Apolonio’ as a snapshot of things to come. The record’s eclectic nature - distinctly his yet brazenly diverse - showcases his broad influences, his friends (Kali Uchis and Ruel both feature), and his heritage.
We caught up with Omar Apollo on the verge of the record’s release to find out more.
What does ‘Apolonio’ mean to you?
Every time I put out a project, I feel like I get better. Just getting back in it, being able to attack it better than you did last time. It’s my best shit for sure though. I’ve been making music for three, maybe four years, and this is just more of my experience. I’ve lived life a little more. The production is just crazy on it. I feel like I’m becoming the writer I’ve wanted to become.
Have you had a moment to take stock of everything that’s happened in those years?
I was out with some friends and I had my headphones in, and I was listening to the first songs that I made. It was so weirdly nostalgic. I just remember my headspace and what was going on, and what I was trying to do with my life at the time. When those moments resurface it kind of hits you. Compare that to where I’m at now – I was at Electric Lady Studios for a week, which has always been the dream. It’s fucking weird. I’m still not used to it, but I’ve accepted it. This is how shit is now.
Do you approach writing music in a different way to how you did then?
The whole making the beat is the exact same, I just got better at it. I kind of know what I want more, what I’m looking for exactly. When it comes to writing it’s the same. That’s the crazy thing. It’s the same process I’ve been doing since I was 17. I haven’t changed anything, besides material things such as compressors and mics. It’s pretty much the same shit.
You switch up your sound a lot across the tracks. Is that deliberate?
It does jump around genres, but there are still little bits of what is in all of my songs, no matter the groove or tempo. It’s not on purpose, it just happens. If I’m feeling a certain way, or listening to reggae or funk, whatever I’m feeling in the moment I just have to do it. I can’t force it. I feel like I did a pretty good job with this record to make it sound cohesive. It all sounds like it was made by the same person.
You also sing in Spanish as a nod to your Mexican roots. How important is that to you?
It’s huge. I’m a Mexican American. My parents sacrificed a lot so I could go to school, be in sports and make music. They sacrificed a lot of their time, and we didn’t make that much money. It’s a huge part of me. It’s always going to be there. It’s a culture that’s ingrained in my lifestyle, so I don’t have to try and be anything. I’m proud of my Mexican heritage and I’m always going to represent.
What are you hoping people will take away from the record?
The only thing I could hope for is inspiration; for people to get inspired. It doesn’t matter what kind of inspiration. Whether it’s playing guitar, or doing better in school, or trying harder in your relationship… just to inspire you to do something that turns into something positive. That’s all I can hope for.
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Conflating his electro-pop tendencies with the occasional stride of a campfire guitar, he turns everything he touches to glistening radio gold.
His debut album ‘Ivory’ lands next month.