Interview: Omar Apollo on his 'Friends' EP, playing Laneway Festival + more.

Interview: Omar Apollo on his 'Friends' EP, playing Laneway Festival + more.

Listen to the first minute of Omar Apollo's 'Ashamed', the first song from his 'Friends' EP of last year, and you'll understand the Prince comparisons immediately. But by the time you get to the EP's title track, and the 'There For You' interlude, it's clear that the Mexican-American artist is much more than just that - with those songs highlighting his ability to transfer heartfelt emotions into song-form, set behind equally as emotive melodies.

He's set to start a run of shows throughout New Zealand and Australia as part of Laneway Festival - marking his first shows in this part of the world. Having spent much of last year busy on the American festival circuit (including Tyler, The Creator's own curated festival Camp Flog Gnaw), making his late night television debut on Seth Meyers, as well as releasing his 'Friends' EP which showcased his versatility and talented skills as an artist, Omar Apollo has an even bigger 2020 planned, with tour dates opening for Halsey, and working on new music with Kenny Beats (Vince Staples, Rico Nasty).

We caught up with Omar Apollo in Los Angeles last year to talk about his upcoming appearance at Laneway Festival, his 'Friends' EP, and more...

COUP DE MAIN: We're very excited we get to see you live this month at Laneway! Are you looking forward to bringing your show down to places in the world that you've never been before?
OMAR: Yeah, it's really a trip. Firstly, like, anywhere overseas. I'm just like, 'What?!'

CDM: For people who have not seen a live Omar Apollo show yet, what would you say the show is like?
OMAR: You're not gonna be standing still. You're gonna be moving, dancing, screaming, marching... You might get a nosebleed...

CDM: How was Lollapalooza? Did you get a chance to see anyone else live?
OMAR: Yeah, I saw (Sandy) Alex G. He's fucking incredible. He played a lot of new stuff. I was just really excited; I knew every lyric. Who else did I see? Boy Pablo is my friend, and Conan Gray. Right after my set I just changed shirts and then put on my sunglasses and a hat.

CDM: Nine months on after the release of 'Friends', do you have an answer yet to the question, "What are we supposed to do with our hearts?"
OMAR: Yeah, I think so. Now it's just, "What are we supposed to do?" We're just supposed to move on and let go.
CDM: Do you think there's a certain way to move on?
OMAR: Yeah, there is. I just kind of tell myself things, every time I feel myself starting to relapse about love.
CDM: Self-love is important!
OMAR: Yeah, even my mom told me that... like, I just booked a trip to Yosemite, I was like, 'I need to do something for myself.' Just do things for you. Going camping, stuff like that, you know?

CDM: I think there’s something so special about your melodies; they are so unique and indescribably smooth? How do you come up with melodies?
OMAR: I have to want to do it. So if someone was like, "Sing over this," I'm probably not feeling it, and then I can't. Even though they would like what I do, I don't like it; so I don't want to do it. For instance, if I'm playing some chords on the guitar and I get a little feeling in my stomach like little butterflies, then I'm excited. Then they [melodies] just start coming.
CDM: I love that it's a visceral feeling that you physically feel when you know you're going in the right direction.
OMAR: It's a real thing.

CDM: Is there a certain way you can know when you're in the mood for writing music? Are you normally writing in the same situation or scene? Or can you write anywhere you go?
OMAR: Most of the time when I'm in the mood to write music, I'm in no place to write music, which sucks. <laughs>
CDM: I've talked to people before who were like, 'I was in the middle of watching a movie and I had an idea for a song and I had to run out of the movie.'
OMAR: Yeah, that's happened to me! One time I woke up in the middle of the night, not even the middle of the night because I don't go to sleep until like midnight anyway, but I woke up at 4am and my friend was sleeping next to me. I got my phone and then I just go <sings melody>. He was like, "What are you doing?!" I was like, "Dude, I had this melody I got, it was in my dream!" That's the only time I've ever done that though.

CDM: There's a musician called Banks who often has poetry that comes to her in her dreams and then she wakes up and has to write it all down and it becomes a song. It's like a subconscious thing.
OMAR: That's why people like music, because it's subconscious. Say I write an entire song in twenty or thirty minutes, and then I look back and it's kind of blurry, I'm not thinking if any of it makes sense or anything, I'll probably change a few things, but I don't want to ruin it, or ruin the process just because I can't find something that doesn't rhyme. I don't want to ruin that flow; it's important.
CDM: Do you find you often go back and change much after finishing a song?
OMAR: No, that's what I was gonna say. Then after I'm done with it, I'm like, 'Oh, this whole thing makes sense.'
CDM: That's interesting. You're like, 'Oh, I didn't know what I was writing about.' And then you're like, 'Oh, this actually speaks to what I feel.'
OMAR: I hate when somebody is like... Say I'm writing with somebody, which isn't often, usually I'm writing by myself, but they're like, 'So what are we writing about?' I hate that. I want songs to be feelings. I have ideas, don't get me wrong, I write down words that inspire songs and stuff that I could just look at whenever, like a moodboard of lyrics. But I've never been like, 'I want to make a song about this or about this.' I come up with lines in my head, I write down stuff, but I literally hate it when someone's like, 'So what are we going to write about?' It's like, 'What the fuck, I don't know!' Like, let's let the music decide that. I could be making a beat that feels crazy - even crazier than what I'm writing about. You know what I mean? It changes! It's totally open. So that's my biggest pet peeve, and I don't like working with people that don't know how to compromise.

CDM: You work a lot with Blake Slatkin, right?
OMAR: Yeah, so with Blake, I pretty much make/produce all the songs and write them. And then I bring them to him and then he adds stuff. But I usually do all the chords. On all the stuff we've done, I've done all the chords and the bass, all that shit. Because I'm still learning about song structure and stuff, and he's all about it; he knows song structure and he knows how I like to do things, so he just kind of tames my crazy process. He helps out so much. He puts different drum sounds in, and I'm like, 'Dude, this needs to sound heavier. I don't know how do it.'
CDM: Have you found you've learned a lot from working with him as well?
OMAR: Yeah, I've learned so much working with him. So much. A lot about still being able to do structure but also keeping the feeling of not being tied down, because a lot of my songs have structure but some of them just don't. 'Unbothered' and 'Ugotme' don't have structure, and neither does 'Trouble'. 'Erase' was completely unstructured and then we structured it. <laughs> I had a one and a half minute solo on 'Erase' and we took it out.
CDM: That's the type of thing you can put into a live show!
OMAR: Yeah, that's where I let out my craziness. Like, 'We should just add this, slow it down, and go half time.' We do trade-off guitar solos, me and my guitar player. We're like, 'Instead of making this a ballad, we should just make it punk!' <laughs>

CDM: Do you write lyrics with melodies in mind, or work on lyrics and melody as two separate aspects that eventually come together?
OMAR: Totally separate. I never have a melody without any music behind it. I really don't, except for that one time in the dream.

CDM: Was your cousin stoked to get a shout-out in ‘Kickback’?
OMAR: Yes! I called them right after I recorded it. I was like, 'Dude I shouted you out in a song!' He's like, 'What?!' And then I sent it to him and he was like, 'That is so crazy.' That's my dog; we grew up together, we both grew up in the same situation, but he had it a little worse than me.
CDM: You're the youngest of four right? What was it like growing up with a family like that?
OMAR: That's a small family compared to my dad and mom. My dad has sixteen brothers and sisters, my mum had fifteen or something like that - a big ass family. For me, it was cool because I kind of saw everyone's mistakes and just skipped levels.
CDM: I feel like you can learn a lot from other siblings.
OMAR: I was just like, 'You did that and it didn't work, so I'm not even going to try it.'
CDM: Parents are often way more relaxed with younger children because they've been through everything with the elder ones.
OMAR: They are! I was always into a bunch of shit, and they'd always be like, 'Omar doesn't know what he wants to do.' I'd be like, 'Yeah I don't, I'm twelve!'

CDM: Do you think your early dance and ballet performances helped shape the way you think about a live show now?
OMAR: Oh my gosh, yes! For the first year of performing, I didn't incorporate any dancing because I was not comfortable performing it. Then I just started, like, really putting on a show because I just knew how and because I'd been performing for so long. I was like, 'Why don't I dance when I sing? I'm an idiot.'
CDM: Sometimes it can be hard to dance and sing. It's multi-tasking!
OMAR: My voice sounds so out of breath sometimes! I'm like, "Fuck it, y'all see me spinning and running around," but I'm working on that now. I just got a vocal coach. It's so sick, honestly I needed it. I never had any formal training. So now I'm learning how to do everything; I just watched YouTube videos before then.
CDM: YouTube can teach you so much. It's crazy to think that thirty years ago without it, you wouldn't have been able to learn so much stuff.
OMAR: Even my dad, he's 62 and he's learning how to be a carpenter - he makes everything out of wood. He just watches YouTube videos and he's getting so good! He has a really big green thumb too, and he's always working on the yard and shit.
CDM: Do you go back home to see them much?
OMAR: Yeah, went back to see them, it was cool, and went to Red Lobster - my dad loves Red Lobster. Beyoncé shouted out Red Lobster in 'Formation'.

CDM: What was it about the song 'Friends' that made you want to name the EP after it?
OMAR: I think it was just the theme. It kind of summed up how it started and how it ended, you know?

CDM: The song delves into the idea of not being able to share how you truly feel with someone - why do you think that sharing emotions, especially ones that make you so vulnerable, is something that humans are so afraid to do sometimes?
OMAR: Because we were friends first too, and then, being vulnerable is probably the most transparent, scariest thing you could ever do. When I put out the song 'Friends', I remember getting so depressed--
CDM: Having the same fear about it?
OMAR: Yeah, I was. I wasn't ready for it to come out yet.
CDM: It's like you're sharing your whole life story with people.
OMAR: And like, I haven't even really shared it. That's the thing; there's still so much sadness I'm terrified of saying. 'Hey, for the album!' <laughs> You gotta keep some stuff to yourself. I have to keep little things to myself like little hobbies I have. It's just nice to keep a lot of things to yourself. Like when people ask, "What's your favourite thing to do?" Like, 'I don't want to tell you.'

CDM: Kind of tying into that, in ‘So Good’ you sing, “Took a couple months to get upset / Been avoiding the pain.” As well as being vulnerable, I feel like humans are really good at hiding their emotions. Why do you think that they feel a need to hide what they feel?
OMAR: Me personally? I don't know, I think that love is probably the scariest shit... I was talking to my mom about this. She said I give too much too quickly; I put my heart on my sleeve. And I'm just like, 'Damn, you're right.' Your heart can get worn out like that. I'm still learning. So that was kind of, like, from my heart already being damaged and I guess it took a couple months to get upset. You're not allowing yourself to feel it, which is the first step in getting over it. It's the stages - you're sad, and then you're mad.

CDM: You’ve said that you felt like ‘Friends’ was a "closure song". Do you find songwriting therapeutic for dealing with things in your life, and putting them into your music?
OMAR: I've said this before in another interview, but that song 'Unbothered' I have, I was totally bothered when I was making it, <laughs> but I needed to say that I wasn't, just to plant the seed.

CDM: ‘There For Me’ is one of my favourite tracks on the EP - it feels so honest.
OMAR: Oohhh! Me and Blake did that. We had just come back from some party in LA and we were just drinking. He had this guitalele, which is like a guitar and ukulele, and I just started playing the tune and he was like, 'Oop, we're tracking that.' I freestyled over it with autotune and I did pretty much the whole melody thing that night. Two weeks later he came over and we finished it. We did it so fast, and he produced it out. We added the drums and all that shit. That little harmony thing at the end, I was just singing and I was like, 'Let me just do a bunch of takes of harmonies,' and then he just picked his favourites and put them on the keyboard, like a vocal harmoniser thing, and started playing my voice. I've never done that! Like, the Omar keyboard, it was cool. That's how that started. It was so fast, and I remember writing it and I wasn't sure if I wanted it on there because I just didn't see it the way Blake did at first. I liked the beginning, but I didn't love my voice, but then after it got EQ'd and stuff I was like, 'Yeah, this is sick.' It's one of my favourites on there.

CDM: In ‘Trouble’ you open with a verse written to a younger version of yourself. What piece of advice would you give to a younger Omar now?
OMAR: Now, I wouldn't say shit. I think so many people tell me things. They're like, 'You don't want to do that, Omar.' But you're different to me; I might have a different experience. I need to experience it! I don't care if it's going to be terrible. Now I know, but I wouldn't have if I didn't do it! Fuck it dude, I'm twenty-two.
CDM: And now you have all this music to show for it.
OMAR: Exactly, that's my excuse every time.

CDM: In ‘Hearing Your Voice’ you sing, “Don't take back what's meant to be.” Do you believe in fate?
OMAR: To an extent. I feel like a lot of my life is fate, except for a few things. So a little bit, but not all the way because I feel like I have good control as well.

CDM: What's your favourite song that you've written so far?
OMAR: 'There For Me' and 'Trouble'. In 'There For Me', the lines, "I know you're holding some tears / They haunt your new memories / Don’t waste your life 'cause time is great," I love those. In the next verse I go off about how my life's changing, how I'm in a comfortable place financially, and it was cool because it was very quick. And then 'Trouble', if you were to take a picture of my soul and make it into a sound - at that moment in my life that song would be it. Right now, I think that 'Trouble' would be a little different, it'd be more like Daft Punk.

CDM: What have you been working on recently?
OMAR: Tons of music. When I came back from tour, I was like, in this zone. I had all the Voice Memos on my phone, and they all sound pretty fire back to back.
CDM: It's like the beginnings of what may be the album?
OMAR: Yeah, it's definitely started, which is cool to say. I've started working on it, it's nowhere near done, but I'm taking my time - that's the thing, because I've been rushed my whole career so far.

CDM: How have you felt living in LA since you moved here earlier this year compared to Indiana?
OMAR: I think I like it better, most of my friends are out here, or they're moving out here. So, it's like the family you choose.

CDM: What do you want people to take away from listening to your music?
OMAR: I was listening to a lot of Drake and I was like, 'Drake, I feel you.' I didn't when I was younger because I'd never really been in love like that, but now I listen to old Drake, and it makes me feel better because someone else is going through it. It's comforting. I don't feel alone, and that sounds funny but I'm serious, and I hope that people have the same thing with my music.

CDM: Lastly, at what age did you write your very first song ever and what was it about?
OMAR: I think I was like twelve, and my mom and dad were never home because they were always working. So I wrote it about my mom always being gone. <laughs> It was really sad. I might've been eleven. It's three or four notes. I was killing it, dude. My brother was in the room when I wrote it.
CDM: Did you perform it for her?
OMAR: Yeah, I did. I performed it for my friends a few times.


Omar Apollo's 'Friends' EP is out now - watch the 'Kickback' music video below...

He also plays Laneway Festival in NZ on January 27th - get tickets here.