When we first interviewed Omar Apollo almost exactly a year ago, "Brakelights" was in rotation, and the young Indiana singer was singing about his sucky car. A lot can change in a year—things have been going well, and it was time to catch up.
The thoroughly impressive Stereo EP dropped at the end of May, and Apollo hit the road two weeks ago. When our call connected he was at a drive-thru somewhere between Dallas and Austin, grabbing coffee with the band before their show that night. The two-month sojourn is the artist's first as a headliner—it's called the "W.A.N.T." tour, short for "We are Niños Timidos." He laughs when asked about the name. "I guess it’s an act. I’m not fuckin’ shy—my drummer’s shy though. We have one shy guy."
He'll head back to Indiana when tour wraps at the end of the month. Home is just south of Chicago, and the Midwest is well-represented in Apollo's "Ignorin" video. The artist rocks a Notre Dame shirt in the video, and the video is a high-energy look at Apollo's life, full of grass, trees, and bonfires. "Everyone’s always like, 'What do y’all do in Indiana?,'" he says. "But there's been a pattern—anywhere I go and I meet someone I really like, they’re always from the Midwest."
It's an especially potent point in 2018, a time when the Midwest is often unfairly derided as "flyover country." But Omar Apollo is proving the close-minded wrong, one show at a time. Read on for our interview, and watch the just-released "Ignorin'" video below.
Do you have any specific connection to Notre Dame?
I just really love the name and the colors they use. I have some friends that went there but I’ve never been, it’s just like—if you want to rep Indiana, that’s a great way to do it.
Was the video shot in Indiana?
Yeah, it was shot outside of my house that I lived in at the time. I was living there in an attic with four homies, I moved out six or seven months ago. I still live in Indiana, but just outside the south side of Chicago.
You made it out of the attic.
It was cool for what it was, it was pretty trash though for the most part. It was just one big living room with four people. They were all my best friends, so it was cool. I just feel like with so many people in one room for so long, there’s going to be problems. Someone’s not shutting up, or someone invites too many people over. But I liked being up there, and three of those roommates were in the video.
I bet you appreciate walls and doors more now. I also loved those bonfire shots in the video, are you a fire person?
Definitely. All my friends are pyros, it’s pretty crazy. We love having bonfires, just chilling and drinking.
We can’t do that in New York.
Yeah, we just go in the forest and get a bunch of shit. Twigs, logs, make a big ass fire. The other day we had a bunch of leftover firecrackers and didn’t know what to do with them, so we just threw the whole thing in there. It was so fuckin loud.
Do you feel any responsibility to represent for Midwestern culture? The last couple of years especially, there’s been an unfair stereotype about the Midwest being scary or backwards.
For sure. Everyone’s always like, “what do y’all do in Indiana?” They’re wondering what there is to do, people are just crazy. There’s actually been this pattern for me—anywhere I go and I meet someone I really like, they’re always from the Midwest. I know when someone’s not from a big city. Everyone’s nice, no one’s a dickhead.
This is your first headlining tour. How does it compare to your previous experiences?
I went on tour opening for JUNGLE in April, as the opener. The rooms were fucking huge. But being the opener, you always kind of get fucked over. The band was dope, they were great, but we didn’t get any respect from anyone else [Laughs]. We would just get fucked over, but I don’t take that personally at all. It’s completely separate crowds…. The JUNGLE crowd would rock with me when I played the hype songs, but there would really only be 30 people there for me, and they would all be in the corner together. It was pretty funny and fun to watch, actually.
But so far on this tour, five out of our six shows this time have been sold out.
This tour is the W.A.N.T. (“We Are Niños Tímidos”) tour. Are you all shy guys?
[Laughs] I think I came up with it with my bass player. But we’re not shy, I guess it’s an act. I’m not fuckin’ shy. My drummer’s shy though, we have one shy guy.
You’ve been vocal about bringing your Mexican heritage to the front of your music. How do your parents and background factor into your music?
I have so many cousins, and they think they have to work as hard as their parents did, to the point where they don’t really have dreams. You just provide, that’s your duty. And you can still provide and do what you want. I just want to let them know that our parents came over and worked hard, but they worked hard so that we can do something else.
When I told my parents I wasn’t going to go to college—I went for two weeks and when I told them I was dropping out, they were like, “Damn, for real?” They didn’t say that, but they were worried. I just said, “I got this, don’t worry about it.” And I’m able to send my parents money now, it’s the greatest feeling.
It’s a cultural thing to work hard and don’t complain. I just wanted to switch it up. I worked at a 9-5 but it was just not right. I don’t know how y’all do that. I like to work smart, not hard. [Laughs] I just didn’t agree with that stigma.
It’s especially great to see you break through in rock, which has been lacking diverse voices lately.
I fucking love rock, I’ve been listening to so much Neil Young. My new shit’s going to be tight. He has some crazy songs, he’s so fire. I was going to cover “Harvest Moon,” we haven’t rehearsed it yet though.
Do you feel as though you’ve successfully cast off the “bedroom pop” label?
I hope so. That shit is dead. I don’t reverb out my vocals to the max—I don’t want to sound arrogant, and yeah, it’s DIY, I make my own beats, but I just don’t sound like everyone else. I couldn’t care less, but it’s annoying that it’s always going to be a thing.
One of our favorite tracks of yours is “Erase.” Who’s the song about?
That’s just remembering what was, what could have been. It’s all about, “I still think about the times…” It’s just about someone, you know? [Laughs] That song means a lot to me. When I sing it live—when you like your music, and you sing it live, you think, “I could really get into this right now,” you know?