Apollo grew up in Hobart, Indiana, a tiny Midwestern town in which, he says, there was hardly a Hispanic community. He grew up dancing (“movies, like You Got Served and Stomp The Yard, they made me really want to dance”) and playing guitar. His biggest musical influence, he thinks, might’ve just been tagging along with his mum to work.
“My mum used to work at a hair salon and I’d be there all day with her when I was a little kid,” Apollo recalls. “And they’d play tons of reggae and Spanish music, while I was just playing a Gameboy, playing Pokemon. My sister, growing up, was always playing Juanes and Mana, stuff like that. I grew up on both English and Spanish music, so it’s just natural to me. It’s just in me.”
Apollo is self-effacing when talking about why his songs move between the two languages and describes his song-making process as “pretty chill”. His music is low-key, full of charm and harmony; his slow-jam grooves steeped in soul, R&B, funk and folk moods.
”I know that so many kids are singing along and feeling the same way.
After self-releasing two much-streamed EPs, 2018’s Stereo, 2019’s Friends, Apollo is at work on his debut album, however he’s not sure how far into the process he is. “I just keep making stuff until I’ve got something that feels like an album to me,” he says. “Something that I can play front to back, and all the songs hit me the same. Like, they belong together, visually and sonically.”
By visually, he’s referring to colours, “Songs have colours for me. I’m not synaesthetic but songs or albums have colours to me, these visual qualities,” Apollo says. “Friends was black and blue, night-time colours, something nocturnal and metallic. Stereo is purple-ish.”
Those early EPs are full of songs about growing up. Often, Apollo feels as if he’s left that younger version of himself behind, but the tunes can still hit hard. “Sometimes old feelings resurface, or old songs that I’ve written have become more relevant (to me) than when I wrote them,” he says. “Like, I’ll be singing a song live, and I’ll be getting real emotional and I let those feelings resurface. I know that so many kids are singing along, and feeling the same way, and that makes it all even more emotional.”
Omar Apollo plays at Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on Wednesday, February 5, and tours nationally with Laneway Festival.