Genre-bending Artist Omar Apollo Talks “Apolonio,” Playing in Chicago, and more with WLUW

Interview by Anaïs Turiello

Omar Velasco, known widely by his stage name, Omar Apollo, has taken the music world by storm.  The 23-year-old singer-songwriter has raised the bar since his start in 2017 with first single, “Ugotme.” It all began in an attic in Apollo’s hometown of Hobart, Indiana and now has surpassed all limits, as his music and his influence spread to all corners of the world. 

On Oct. 16 of this year, Apollo released his first full length project, Apolonio, a title drawn from his own middle name. Ranging from soothing R&B to piercing rock, all the way to classical Mexican Corrido, it is his most striking and hypnotic expression yet. The 9-track record reaffirms Apollo’s smooth ability to remain undefined and unbounded. 

Taking on the majority of the writing and production himself, Apollo fills each song with expansive and ethereal sounds, while combining them with sensitive and seductive lyrics. It encapsulates the giddy uncertainty of youth, the passionate fire of love and longing, and the enchantment of lust. 

WLUW got the chance to speak to Apollo about his latest record … as well as his life during the pandemic, new music in 2021, and more.

WLUW: Apolonio is a very wide-ranging album in terms of sound and feel. “Useless” has more rock energy and then going into something like “Stayback,” which has more R&B. Could you talk a little bit about why you decided to create something so multifaceted and why diversity was important to you in creating this project? 

Omar Apollo: I didn’t really think about the overall or how it would be perceived. It’s a lot of different sounds that I really like. I just made a lot of the stuff that I really loved kind of really close to each other. It wasn’t like I was sitting on it for a long time.

WLUW: Your writing is very honest. Some of my favorite lyrics are, “Play some music like a harp in the sky” [from “Useless”] and also “I’m amazing / that’s what they tell me . . .” [From “I’m Amazing”]. Just that whole part is my favorite. 

OA: Thank you!

WLUW: The vulnerability seems to always shine through. Do you find it difficult to be so candid in your songs or does it come naturally? 

OA: I think it comes naturally–just being honest. I guess before, I never really talked about my financials or I don’t know, just anything like that. Music is something that has always come really naturally to me. so I think that I was able to tap into some emotions that weren’t current and also current ones, and then combining them. Kind of like having this thematic story be told from top to bottom of where I’m at and where I was. 

WLUW: I feel like storytelling is something that is very common in your music. I’m personally a very lyrical person when it comes to my favorite music. That kind of leads into my next question. Apart from a few feature tracks, you wrote Apolonio pretty much alone. What does that process look like for you and do you find it easier or more difficult to write alone? 

OA: It is hard, especially if you’re making a project. It’s pretty challenging, especially finishing a song. The second verse or the hook always comes pretty easy. I always try to make songs first verse and chorus and then I just save it and go back to it later and start something new. I want to write with other people just to learn, like how you play guitar with other people to get better. It’s always better to work with people that are better writers than you or better players than you because then you’ll feel like you have a lot of work to do and are more inspired and more motivated to be better. I think because I’m working on my next album already–I’ve been writing everything thus far and no one has been helping me. But now I want to get in the room with some people and get more than one perspective.  because I’ve only had my own perspective my whole life on writing, and I just like to do it on my own.  I think it’s good to collaborate and learn from other people because that’s the best way to get better. 

WLUW: The feature tracks on this album are really beautiful. I love the one with Ruel. 

OA: Yeah, Ruel is cool.

WLUW: Being from Indiana, you didn’t grow up far from Chicago. That’s where I am and where WLUW is located. Has being near the city and its music scene, if you were a part of the music scene, helped shape you as an artist in any way? 

OA: 100%. I used to go to open mics in Pilsen and I used to just go out and play in Chicago all the time just for free. We were just excited to play. So, I would go there all the time. I met a bunch of people from the open mics and then started going to their shows and then meeting people at the shows. One thing snowballed into the other and it was really cool. It was really fun. I think that Chicago played a big role in me as an artist and wanting to express myself and having the platform or the space to do that. 

AT: Do you have any Chicago venues that are your favorite to play or ones that you hope to play one day?

OA: I played [The] Metro and Concord [Music Hall] but I liked The Metro. The Metro is a really cool vibe. Concord [Music Hall] was cool; they have a nice green room. The Metro is just more of a staple for me because I had just been going to shows there for forever. I saw all my favorite artists there and a lot of my friends saw their favorite artists there. It was just cool to come full circle with it. 

WLUW: I do love The Metro and the location is really great too. Are there any venues that you hope to play? The Aragon [Ballroom} is a really big one. 

OA: I don’t be knowing venues. I don’t really think about that. I think playing Coachella will be cool. I know a lot of venues, don’t get me wrong because I’ve played at a lot of them. I liked the rooms that look like Broadway rooms–like really fancy and pretty. I think I would wanna play rooms like that eventually. 

WLUW: You include a track entirely in Spanish on this record [Dos Uno Nueve] Why is staying connected to your Mexican culture through your music important to you? 

OA: I mean that just kind of happened. 

WLUW: Do you plan to make more Spanish music? 

OA: Yeah, I have a ton. I mean, I had a ton before I started working on Apolonio too. I have a ton of more Corridos and some Reggaeton, Cumbia songs–I just love music. That was the one that felt right to release on the album though. I thought that one went along with the theme and I just really loved it. I mean, that’s the music I grew up on. 

WLUW: I like that you used your area code from where you grew up, right?

OA: Yeah, 219. Dos Uno Nueve! 

WLUW: In what ways have you evolved since you begin with the 2017 single, “Ugotme” and your first EP, “Stereo” in 2018? 

OA: I think that I’m finally, especially right now with the music that I’ve been making that’s not out, I think I’ve finally reached what I’ve been trying to do sonically and writing-wise. It was definitely a journey and I think that everything that I did, in the beginning, was to get to where I am now. I just fell in love with the process. I fell in love with getting gear to have better sounds and having guitar pedals on your synthesizer and just all that shit–all the little nerdy shit that really opens up something creatively that I’ve been trying to do. I think back in the day, I really only used guitar and bass because that was all I knew how to use. Then I started taking piano lessons and started playing synth more. I feel like I’ve grown so much. Now, when I go back to just make a song that’s just guitar and bass after playing synths and other shit, it’s like I have a different look on it. I feel like I’m more creative when I go back to just guitar and bass, which is cool. 

WLUW: It seems like resources really played a big role. You’ve produced every song that you’ve made, at least on Apolonio, correct?

OA: Yeah, there’s only I didn’t Bi Fren was, I think, the only one. I arranged it but I didn’t produce it. It was a DJ Dahi and Mike Uzowuru beat. They just sent it to me and I wrote it in 15 minutes; it was really cool. 

WLUW: What gravitates you toward the producing aspect?

OA: I got tired looking for beats when I first started. I was just on Soundcloud and Youtube looking up beats and I didn’t like any of them. I kind of knew what I wanted and I could play guitar so I was just like, ‘I can just make them.’ I just started paying attention to different things like time signatures and what I liked and then would just do it. I learned how to use a program and stuff and just started putting it out. I think producing a song from the start to finish just feels really good. It’s just like ‘Oh wow, I did that,’ you know? I don’t know; I guess it’s kind of selfish. 

WLUW: No, it’s really cool! I think a lot of artists don’t really play a major role in that and it really shows in your music. 

OA: Thank you. 

WLUW: I wanted to move on to your fashion sense and your style. It’s very unique and distinct. How do you express yourself through fashion and get inspiration for your style? 

OA: I get a lot of my inspiration from a lot of things. A lot of old movies, TV, and fashion shows. There are just certain things you hear about. I really like Marni and getting a lot of stuff from there. I have like a combo of things. Lately, I was dressing really fancy in suits and stuff. But lately, I’ve been wearing a lot of vintage clothes, like really baggy but with really nice pieces with it. It’s interesting. I’ll probably put something on my story today. I don’t know, I used to just kind of dress with whatever I had. When I dress [well] I feel really good about the day. I feel like I’m doing something. Especially if I say I need to go to a meeting or go to the studio or something, I like dressing up really nice because you know, you get home, you get out of your work clothes, it’s cute. It’s better than going to the studio in sweats and staying in sweats the whole day. I don’t know, I just like to change. Sometimes I wear two outfits a day or three outfits a day if I’m feeling really crazy. I’ll probably change later if I’m going to change the house again because I went to go get coffee or matcha, but I’ll probably change again.

WLUW: Especially with the pandemic, it definitely feels nice. Like a return to normalcy in some way. 

OA: Yeah!

WLUW: You’re classifying Apolonio as a project as opposed to an album because of not being able to tour after the release. How have you been dealing with not being able to play shows or be on that normal schedule that you had before the pandemic?

OA: I just kind of arrange my days how I used to be before I was touring. I would just make music. I mean, I live with a lot of my friends so I kind of just stay here. I‘ll go to different places like I’ll go back to Indiana or I’ll go to New York and go to the studio. But I’ve been picking up a lot of hobbies. I just started, for my house, getting a lot of cute things like coasters and chairs, just stuff like that. I just ordered a couch so I’ve been waiting on that. And then just like watching TV. I’ve been taking piano lessons and doing some swimming. I mostly just make music but this week my parents are here, so I’ve been hanging with them. It’s been really cool. 

WLUW: What do you think the future holds for you as an artist? I know you said you’re making another album already. 

OA: I think the future holds me. 

WLUW: Do you have an idea for when the next album will be? 

OA: I don’t. I mean, next year for sure. But I don’t know, we’re gonna see. I’ve been working really hard on it. 

WLUW: Yeah, things are very uncertain right now. Do you think you’ll release it when it’s safe to tour?

OA: Yeah, probably. I mean, who knows? But probably. 

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