Omar Apollo has always loved attention, and people have always hated him for it. Before he was a rising singer-songwriter based out of Los Angeles, he would post dance videos online “just because I thought it was tight,” he says. “A lot of people I looked up to were doing it at the time, so I was pretty into dancing for a while — I still am. People always had shit to say about it, and I was always like, ‘Whatever, dude.’”
It’s been a theme throughout his young career as a musician as well. The gorgeously soulful and multilayered vocals in his recordings make it hard to imagine now, but Apollo was not a natural-born singer. In fact, he endured taunts about his voice from friends, family, and acquaintances. “It was like trash for a minute,” he says of his early efforts as a vocalist.
But growing up in a small town in Indiana, he’d grown a thick skin, and he kept practicing.
“I didn’t give a fuck,” he says. “I was just doing what I wanted to do.”
At 21 years old, Apollo (real name Omar Velasco) has been receiving plenty of positive attention for his psych-folk and R&B songs. As a self-recorded musician, he uses his laptop to add electronic flourishes to otherwise sparse songs, such as the flute-like sound on “Friends,” which is actually his voice manipulated with delay and distortion. His penchant for messing around on the computer inevitably leads critics and journalists to describe him as “psychedelic,” but he says that’s a matter of opinion.
“I just think it sounds cool, but people are like, ‘Oh, this is psych,’” he says. “Making music is about taste. You listen to certain artists because you like their taste in the melodies they pick, their drum tones, their guitar tones. That’s just my taste — I just fuck with that shit. People rock you because of your taste, and it ain’t more than that.”
He dropped his sophomore EP, Friends, on April 10.
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Apollo is a first-generation U.S. citizen whose parents were born in Mexico and settled in Hobart, Indiana. He grew up listening to Mexican musicians such as Pedro Infante and Vicente Fernández, as well as R&B artists like Alicia Keys, and at the age of 12 began playing guitar. The first of his original songs followed a few years later. He worked on his rough vocals in English and Spanish by watching instructional videos on YouTube and recording himself.
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“I kind of figured out my own tone because I had my own microphone,” he says. “My brother fronted me for it. I was always able to hear my voice back in higher quality than a phone recording, so I was able to find what I liked. It was a big thing.”
Success came by way of many clicks on the songs he posted to SoundCloud and Spotify. He liked the attention, of course, but it turned out to be a double-edged sword. He’s recently been trying to avoid social media because he prefers tuning out the cacophony of negative voices that comes along with it.
“I’m trying to stay off Twitter because that shit’s stressing me out,” Apollo says. “It’s not healthy for somebody to be able to tell you exactly what they think about you at any time of day, you know what I mean? Humans aren’t supposed to have that much access. Say you hang out with your friends, then go home and find out one of your friends was hating on you. You’re like, ‘What the fuck? I’m kind of bothered’ — imagine that times however many people on Twitter there are. But you don’t have to look.”
Omar Apollo. 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 30, at Crescent Ballroom, 308 North Second Avenue; crescentphx.com. Sold out.