Omar Apollo has a song called ‘Ashamed’ and it’s an absolute revelation. It starts off with a tight guitar squeal and blossoms into a groove-led monster, where the 22-year-old’s falsetto is slippery, elusive and addictive. Think of it as a modern blend of David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ and Prince’s ‘Kiss’, with all the sexual tension and energy from both smashed together. It is certainly one of the best things we’ve heard all year. Before we go any further, take a listen…
“Writing these songs has to be quick for me,” Omar tells us of the quick-fire process it took to make the song. “It has to be a whole moment in time and the creative flow has to go quickly. Even if the words don’t make sense at the time, I know I have to keep going with it to complete it.”
It’s been a long and breathless journey for Omar Apollo. When NME meets him in London in mid-June, the 22-year-old is understandably tired. He’s jumping his way through Europe for his first tour with a full band on these shores and airing cuts from his superb new EP ‘Friends’.
It’s his second time here, but Apollo doesn’t look back too fondly on his first visit. “I hated performing myself, it’s so stupid,” he says of his debut European tour where he performed with a backing track. “It’s the dumbest shit,” he adds while drinking rosé and wrapped in an orange blanket, struggling to stay awake after a sleepless journey to London from Cologne.
His performances recently showcase someone who looks set to be a rockstar of the future. At his shows, he writhes and prances and hypnotises his young and engaged crowd. Having his pals up on stage clearly brings out a different performer. Everyone’s having a blast — though maybe too much last night.
He’s calmer and more collected off-stage, but he’s a bit homesick, too. Apollo grew up in Hobart, Indiana, a small town an hour from Chicago where there were a “lot of horses and corn fields” and “little traffic”. His new place in Los Angeles, where he moved to in January, is the opposite: vibrant, diverse and creative.
He lived in Hobart with his siblings and his parents; the latter having had a profound influence on Omar’s career so far. His parents left Mexico over 25 years ago to start their family in America, and, in the family home, the music choices and values they continue to embody trickled down to Omar.
“My mum and dad treat everyone the same,” he says of their nature. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult or if you’re super rich or super poor, they treat them the same.” His dad moved first aged 23 in 1979, and he’s beginning to see sees similarities between them both. “He’s a real artsy dude, but didn’t get the chance to perform like I did because of circumstance. He went through that shit so his kids could do what they wanted to do,” Omar says. “He lives through me a bit now and I live through him, in a way.” Omar says his parents are known to frequent his hometown’s local restaurants wearing official merchandise featuring their son.
“My Dad made me listen to The Beatles when I was very young. That song on ‘Revolver’, ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ is fucking nuts,” he says, starting the harmony parts and singing the chorus (he does this with basically every artist he namechecks). Neil Young came down too, as did the charm of Mexican artists like Vicente Fernandez and Pedro Infante.
The result is an artist free of boundaries and a creativity that soars when pulling strands together. On his latest EP, ‘Friends’, there’s a nod to the looseness of the LA-funk scene in ‘Kickback’, while the slow-burning ‘Trouble’ and ‘Hearing Your Voice’ showcases a young soul traversing through heartbreak and sorrow. He’s a creator with superb instinct — a rare quality at his age.
“When I write, I don’t think about it. But when I’m done with it, the song just makes complete sense,” he says. “For me, making music is a spiritual thing, and not to sound corny, but it’s your subconscious feelings coming out of you. I’ll be writing and it’ll be exactly what I’m feeling but I’m not thinking about it.”
He is still writing, too. He’s got a backlog of demos that he hopes to either work through or finish off over the next six months, and he’s even tempted to drop it under a pseudonym. What can we expect, then? “Last summer I had this phase of making ’80s synth-pop songs. I want to drop it under another name,” he suggests. “It’s super-’80s. It’s sick.” Get ready for his Serious Moonlight phase, perhaps.
Knowing how far he’s able to push himself and knowing that his audience will follow him wherever, it could be absolutely anything. Then again, it’s what all future rock stars are about: innovation and provocation. Sounds a lot like Omar Apollo, doesn’t it?
See Omar Apollo on tour:
The Blue Arrow, Glasgow (October 21st)
Night People, Manchester (22nd)
Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds (23rd)
Exchange, Bristol (25th)
Green Door Store, Brighton (26th)
Heaven, London (27th)