With back to back sold-out shows, two global tours in the books, a TV debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers—Omar Apollo is still too humble to say he’s made it. Born and raised in Indiana, where “shit don't happen to nobody out there,” we sat down with the 22-year-old who made it happen. Omar told This Generation how he met his crew (hint: being stoned at youth group), his no-excuses mantra with minimum wage shifts at both McDonalds and Guitar Center to boot, and why being a first-generation Mexican onstage is, in fact, political.
This interview took place between Omar and Tate at Café Gratitude Arts District in Los Angeles
Editor: Makena Gera
Starting off, let’s rewind way back. Growing up as a first-generation American, what was it like to deviate from the status quo and do your own thing?
There was pressure because all my older siblings went to college. I just wasn't like that. I never liked school.
My whole family is first gen… shit, my sister was born in Mexico. I can see why she wanted to set an example. When you're growing up in a really small town in Indiana, shit don't happen to nobody out there.
I always had a language barrier with my parents. I couldn't express how I was really, really feeling because I was educated in English. My parents were always working. So my sister took on a maternal role. Like she would be the one who I'd show my grades to, you know what I mean?
She would try to get me to go to school and shit, but I was like whatever dude. I mean, hey it worked, didn't it?
Was there a certain moment when you realized that you’d be able to support yourself doing music full-time?
I thought there would be a moment, like, "Oh, I made it." But I still don't feel like that.
I feel the same, I got the same friends. I mean a lot has changed, don’t get that wrong. I have a lot of realization moments where I'm like, “Fuck. I can just go to the store and buy shit now.” I mean, that's crazy. I can help out my parents and my family and friends, I can go on vacation, I can just do whatever now.
But I try not to sit there for too long because then you get in your head and start thinking you're the shit. And you know, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
How did you find the people that are on your team today?
I was getting a lot of emails, and I'm not a fan of reading, so I tweeted, “Uh, I need a manager." I got a few DMs, and then one of them ended up becoming my manager. He had already been talking to me, but I didn’t know he was trying to manage me.
Earlier he messaged me, "Yo, I got this show in New York at NYU. I can book you. You get paid a thousand bucks." A thousand bucks is.... that's a lot of money. So I was like, “Yeah dude, let's fucking go.”
We’re the same age, and he seemed to know what he was doing. He went to NYU, and a college education is better than what I got, so I was like, “Okay, sure.” He was giving me money to pay rent and stuff because I didn't have any at the time. When I'd have to go out of town he’d pay for it, and he bought me my first guitar amp.
My creative team is two of my best friends. They were just like, “Yo I want to help” and I was like, “Alright, cool.”
So now it’s me, Clayborne Bujorian, Aidan Cullen, Vincent Romero, and Dylan Shanks. We have a group chat where we just talk about what we're going to do next—flyers, photoshoots, videos, all that jazz.
Since you and Dylan started working together when you were in your teens, what has it been like to come up alongside your manager?
I like it because we're both learning. He's teaching me stuff and I'm teaching him stuff. Obviously, he's very business, I'm very musical. We bump heads a lot. But it's a good thing when you bump heads because it means you both care and you both are wanting the best.
I needed someone to annoy the fuck out of me, and that's what he does. At first, it sucked, we didn't know how to talk to each other, we were both really young, and both trying to get shit done. But now we have a pretty good relationship.
It was tough at first, but I'm happy it was because that kid's a fucking G. He gets shit done. If I had to do what he did, I wouldn't do it. It's just too much. But he can do it.
What does he do?
He books everything, plans everything, does all the meetings, talks to people about business shit. If he thinks that I’ll like someone, he’ll have us go get dinner or something. He knows me really well. He also deals with all the press stuff, all of the organizing, and planning. He makes it easy for me—all I really do is just make music.
What about the other people on your team?
There’s Clayborne Bujorian who does all of the graphics.
Vincent Romero does the vlogs and a lot of our photography for the flyers and stuff. Then Aidan directed the Trouble video and he also coordinates everything. He gets people in a room, gets people together, you know?
AWAL distributes my music, and they have a really cool team for visual marketing. They’re the people that show Dylan stuff. Like, "Yo, this would be cool to do." And we either do it or we don't. And Paradigm is my booking agency.
Who plays in your band now and how did you guys meet?
Oscar Santander, Manny Barajas, and Joey Medrano.
My mom used to have a youth group, and I met Manny there. He was really high—like stoned—and I was playing guitar and he was just staring at me. Then he asked, “You play guitar?” And I was like, “Yeah.” He just started coming over all the time and then our parents became really good friends.
Then I met Joey. I was maybe 15, at the time, and I skated with Joey every day in the summer for 4 years. We'd go to parties and just cause ruckus. Then one day when I was 18, I was like, “I want to start a band.” He was like, “Oh, I'm a drummer.” I'm like, “What? I didn’t know you drum.” That's how that happened.
Oscar was probably 17 or 18, and I was a fan of the music he put on Spotify. I really looked up to him as a guitar player and when my music started doing well, I was like, “You want to come on tour?” I had never met him before, he was in Houston, but he was Mexican so I knew he was cool.
That's how I met my band.
Do you remember your first show?
Yeah, it was terrifying. I didn't want to do it. Then I got addicted to it. My first time standing in front of a crowd was at an open mic in Chicago.
What was your first tour like? What were your expectations?
I never had expectations. I thought no one was going to come—I still feel like no one's going to come. It's a thing. My brain’s just like, “You ain’t shit, bro.”
On stage it's a different story—I'm confident as fuck. I love doing that shit. I love being dramatic, extra, flamboyant. If I was watching myself, I'd be like, “That guy's got it figured out.” But I only really channel that energy on stage.
How did you prepare for your first tour? Did you know what you were doing?
Nah we winged that shit. We wing everything.
Back in the day when I used to gig with my band, we'd have rehearsal but I wouldn't have endings for the songs. I'd just be like, “We're just going to feel it out. Whenever you feel like it's over, it's over.” This was super early when we’d just pull up to house parties with our amps and start playing. It was cool.
Do you do anything to keep healthy on tour?
I think it's more a mental thing. I really like sound meditation. And I cry a lot. I put on some sunglasses and a hoodie, and I do my thing.
As your fan base grows, how do you continue to stay grounded?
I keep to myself—I ain't worried about nobody. If you do, you start getting caught up in all this shit, and that shit can be too much. That’s when people start switching up I guess. I got my friends, I don't need new friends. I stay at the crib. Watch TV. I just got a nice ass TV in my room.
With this growing platform, do you feel like you have to be more cognizant of what you say, or put out there?
At the end of the day, I just have to remind myself like who gives a fuck. Who cares. I'm just saying… like I gotta go to sleep at night. I'm not trying to be worried about the internet, you know. Like, people saying whatever they got to say, "He sucks." Like alright. Sorry dude. A lot of my artist friends that I've spoken to have told me the same thing. Like who cares? Everyone's gonna move on.
I feel more important. Like I have some cool shit coming up, shit I want to do. I want to throw this show and then donate all the money to the families at the border. That's something I want to use my platform for.
You want to raise money for what’s going on, rather than just saying something about it.
100%. People are like, “Do you want to be political in your songs?” And I'm like, “What's that gonna do?” I want to throw a badass show and give all the money and make it a thing every year. All the artists will play for free—their traveling costs will be covered or whatever, but all the money will just go to what’s going on with immigration. That's what I want to do.
Do you ever think that just being yourself is a political protest?
A first-generation Mexican doing his damn thing on stage? Yeah, that's political.
A lot of your music has to do with heartbreak. What is it like writing about someone and knowing that they’re going to hear it?
It's fucking terrifying. It sucks. It’s so stupid. Especially when the songs are about longing for someone rather than like a good love song. If you listen to my shit, it's all sad—even So Good and Ashamed—they’re sad songs.
I’m getting over someone. And to get over it I’m telling myself that it was an obsession rather than what real love is. We never went out. I over-romanticize everything. That's just me.
I'm telling myself when I go to make these songs, “Shit. Well, I'm trying to get over this, I don't want to write. I don't even want to think about it. I don't want to make a song right now.” It's just so fresh. But I can’t write about anything else. I can’t write about other people, it doesn’t come out good. I have to write about what I’m feeling, that’s how it comes out good. It’s stupid, dude. I hate writing my feelings, while knowing that like, oh, this might come out.
Also, knowing that loads of other people will listen as well.
Everyone's like, “Who's doing this to Omar?” Like shut up. I don't know dude. Life's dumb.
I was definitely led on, it wasn't just like me from afar. The person apologized, so it's fine. It's just so dumb. But I mean, hey, if my romantic life was good then life would be perfect right now. And I don't think that's what the universe wants for me right now.
Sometimes I feel like in order for things to change you need a little…
Ha, yeah, you need to struggle.
Coming up, did you feel like you had any representation in the music sphere? Was there anyone who you felt like had been in your shoes, who you could look up to?
I had nobody. So I thought people wouldn't take me serious. That was a fear. I was like, “Well, there’s no one else was doing it and the people that are doing it don’t even claim that title.”
And now that you are that person for some people, is there any advice that you'd like to give them?
Hell yeah. Whatever art form, or whatever it is you want to do, you can do that shit. Don't be afraid to be yourself—if you're making music that's the only advice I can really give.
But there are tons of art forms, you know. Kids that want to be like directors and shit. Just focus on it, don’t worry about business shit. You want to be able to walk into a room and have something to offer. If you can't, then like walk out, don’t even…
Everyone wants to be something but they’re like, “Oh, I don't have this, or I don't have this.” Well, get good at what you can. Everyone’s got one friend that got a guitar. And you can find one online for 20 bucks. For me, I'd make $36 a day at McDonald's, that's how I got my shit. Nobody gave me money to do it, you know. Like shit...and I had to get a worker's permit. I wasn't old enough. I'm just saying shit can be done. The Internet exists. All these kids on their phones making money but not leaving their house. There are no more excuses.
Just get good at shit. Get good at something you like. That's all I could do. Work on whatever it is you want to do, whatever art form, or business, or whatever. Get really fucking good at it, and then it's just undeniable. People will just fuck with you. They're like, “Oh, you can do this? Well, I need this.” So, I mean, make yourself valuable, you know? That's all I can say.