Omar Apollo’s Intimate Short Doc Speaks to Aspiring Musicians With Immigrant Parents

Lead Photo: Courtesy of Omar Apollo

Omar Apollo claims to have “really bad ADHD.” The 20-year-old singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist says he tried attending college in 2015, but dropped out after two weeks. “I just couldn’t keep up. I was like, man, this doesn’t make sense to me. I would just be in class listening to music,” he says. Clearly, his mind was elsewhere. Since then, he’s been almost totally focused on writing and recording his own jazz-influenced, soulful, sometimes funky, sometimes bilingual pop songs, and attention deficits notwithstanding, and it’s paying off.

When he picks up the phone to talk, the young Chicano artist who grew up in Hobart, Indiana (about a 45-minute drive from downtown Chicago) is in Los Angeles working on music in the home studio of producer and Benny Blanco collaborator Blake Slatkin. He’s in the process of reworking and developing his current collection of songs, all of which were originally released on SoundCloud. He’s writing more material too, working toward an eventual formal release.

The short doc “Omar Apollo: Figuring It Out,” premiering today on Remezcla, was shot while the self-taught musician was in New York City to play a show at New York University. But Apollo’s story definitely starts on the outskirts of Hobart, where he grew up skateboarding with his cousins in nearby Lake Station, where he lives today, and playing his acoustic guitar. He taught himself by watching YouTube videos, picked up a few chords from an uncle visiting from Mexico, and practiced. “I would fall asleep playing those chords, just trying as hard as I could because it was super fun for me,” he remembers.

Writing and recording on his laptop over self-produced beats was initially just something fun to do, a pastime to pursue with friends in his garage after school. Many of those friends are still his creative collaborators, like Zac Matias (aka Lonewolf) and Vinny Romero, who shot the video for his song “Brakelights,” with his friend Darien Eldridge directing. “They’re all really talented. We kind of created a scene for ourselves,” the Indianan explains. That scene includes Manny Barajas and Joey Medrano, childhood friends who form his live band for East Coast shows, but it has expanded to include new friends, collaborators, and fans all over the country.

A lot of this support found Omar Apollo through the Internet. While he met his manager on Twitter, he found an audience by posting his songs on SoundCloud whenever the mood struck. He didn’t give a lot of thought to it, that is, until one day he noticed a song he had dubbed “{}[]” had 20,000 plays (it now has more than 68,000). After that, all his songs started to rack up similar numbers. “Every time I dropped something, it would get more and more attention and I was just like, “‘Oh man, that’s cool.’ I didn’t push it or anything,” he recalls. These days he’s taking a more considered approach, releasing just one song a month until a proper collection of finished tunes is ready. For now, Omar Apollo doesn’t have anything on his mind except music, as long as it stays fun.

Omar Apollo plays Solidarity for Sanctuary‘s Quince Night on January 28. To purchase tickets, click here.