Not long after he got his first guitar, Omar Apollo tried his hand at writing a song. He was 11 or 12 years old, and he only knew whatever basic technique he’d picked up from YouTube and a visiting uncle. But he wasn’t going to let that hamper his creativity. “Friday night, a bad time,” he sang. “I am sad ’cause my mom is gone.”
Those lyrics are telling. Apollo is the child of hard-working Mexican immigrants who landed in Hobart, Indiana, a rural town about 40 minutes from Chicago. His mother was gone on Friday nights because, like his father, she worked two jobs. Apollo seems to have inherited their determination -- it’s part of what’s made the genre-defying 22-year-old singer-songwriter one of the hottest names in music.
Apollo’s music defies standard genre lines, the critically acclaimed mix of R&B, funk, pop, folk, and psychedelic indie-rock was first heard on his breakout 2017 single “Ugotme.” A friend gave him $30 to upload the track to Spotify, and before long, he’d racked up tens of thousands of streams. Apollo quickly posted a couple more songs, and those resonated with streaming audiences too. “I was like, ‘Whoa. This is cool. I'm from Indiana, you know? It was very cool that they rocked with somebody that was Midwest and, like, a Mexican kid.”
Choosing to pursue music was a big risk, especially for the child of immigrant parents. Apollo tried going to college, like all his friends did, but it wasn’t for him. After dropping out, he moved into a buddy’s attic along with several other friends and began writing songs -- upward of 35 per week. The output was impressive for a young kid who’d only gotten serious about writing music when he was 17. Before that, Apollo was filled with creative energy looking for the right outlet.
Growing up, Apollo danced (Mexican folk ballet and hip-hop), wrote poetry (he was published in seventh grade), and got into drawing and airbrushing. “Every time I wanted do something else, they were just like, ‘You're gonna put it down in like a month,’” Apollo remembers. “And I'm just like, ‘Whatever. At least I'll learn.’ I think it's important that kids explore their interests, even if it's just for a couple of months.”
He ultimately decided that singing and playing guitar were what he liked best. That’s how he found himself in that attic, churning out songs that would eventually go viral on streaming services. It wasn’t just Apollo’s unique sound that grabbed people’s attention. It was the quality of his lyrics. “My music is all my experience with life,” he says. “You know, traumas and love and all that good stuff.”
Apollo made his 2018 debut EP, Stereo, in the attic apartment. A stint living with another friend in a basement in Whiting, Indiana, yielded the follow-up, Friends, released in April 2019. Both EPs have earned rave reviews and landed Apollo on numerous “artist to watch” lists. Since finding a manager, Apollo has moved to Los Angeles, a logical launching pad for the next stage in his career. Plus, he says, the sushi is way better there.
“Since I was 17, I felt this motivation,” Apollo says. “I don't know why or who or what was driving it. It was just, like, ‘This is what I have to do.’” The success he’s experienced thus far has only amplified his drive and given him more goals to chase. “I want to be a better singer, a better dancer, a better performer, a better writer, a better musician,” he says. “I think about those things every day.”
In following his dream, Apollo hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He remains close with his friends and family in Indiana, and his old pals Manny and Joey still back him on bass and drums, respectively. Whereas touring used to mean driving three hours to play house shows for no money in Bloomington, Apollo now headlines concerts around the world. But other than that, not much has changed.
“I want to be the person that you can rely on, to my friends and family,” he says. “Not have them be like, ‘Oh, he's too busy with work.’ I want to be able to drop something or make some time for other people, because that's the most important thing, relationships with friends and family. If you can't do that, there's not really much to life.”