Omar Apollo On Finding Inspiration From Prince & Lenny Kravitz

The R&B chameleon's technicolour fantasy comes to life on Apolonio

Omar Apollo is bundled up in a cashmere sweater in Minneapolis when we reach him by phone. It’s his day off and he’s relaxing indoors, taking a break from watching Girlfriends and pondering what to eat for lunch as snow falls outside. He is decidedly chill considering he’s fresh off the release of his third EP Apolonio—his first with a major label. When it comes to preparing listeners for the nine funky tracks he just dropped, Apollo simply says he isn’t big on disclaimers. “I just like to let people listen,” he explains. 

This do-your-own-thing mentality is something the 23-year-old musical maverick has always embraced. It’s partly a result of being raised in cornfield-laden Indiana, where he strayed from the trodden path of going to university and getting a desk job. “It was really weird for everyone that I was making music,” he says. “But I was just like, fuck it.” He did give school a go for about two weeks, but quickly realized he was spending more time concocting beats in his room than studying. Music was something he needed to be doing, and he still can’t imagine doing anything else. “Nothing clicks as much as music does for me.”

If he sounds self-assured in his choice of career, it’s because music has always been a constant in his life. In his youth, he was fond of ripping tunes off of LimeWire for his MP4 player. The artists on heavy rotation included R&B and neo-soul heavyweights like Miguel, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu. Nowadays, his experience with music is less criminal and more kaleidoscopic.

While Apollo isn’t synesthetic, for him songs have colour. The EP’s cover art is symbolic of this. On it, he lounges in a vivid sea of purple cradling a guitar. “Apolonio has a lot of purples, and some greens. Colours have different moods,” he explains. One example is the second track, his wistful breakup song ‘Kamikaze’, which he says is blue. “It’s the feeling it gives me.” He also laughs at the EP’s nod to Lenny Kravitz’s Baptism album artwork, which he gleefully pointed out on Twitter: S/O LENNY KRAVITZ 4 THE ALBUM INSPO.” And while he has a lot of love for Kravitz, it’s Prince who wears the crown as one of his favourite artists.

Apollo never imagined he would go from recording lovelorn R&B-tinged songs in his bedroom, to preparing for a show at Prince’s estate, Paisley Park. He was initially nervous and felt a swell of imposter syndrome when he first got wind of the show. “It’s a lot to live up to,” he says. But he shakes it off with the sentiment that it’s where he is meant to be. “I’m here for a reason; I play music and that’s what I love doing.” His one regret is not knowing more of Prince’s music while growing up, as he’s become so inspired by him since his passing. “I was working in a sandwich shop in 2016 and the whole line was in shock that Prince had died,” he says. At the time he knew “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry,” but witnessing the reaction of everyone in the store prompted him to dive in and learn more about the iconic singer. 

“If I ever had met Prince, I’d just introduce myself and say ‘Thank you so much, I appreciate you so much.’ I’d be confident, because I like when people are confident with me,” he says. Much like Prince, Apollo is also something of a chameleon. he seamlessly transcends genres, toying with neo-soul, funk, R&B, often in English and sometimes Spanish. This playfulness is also evident in his colourful look, as he’s experimented a lot with hair dye and his tresses have cycled through hues of lavender and bright blue. There’s also his wardrobe of eclectic outfits, which include glittering jackets and flowing skirts. Growing up, Apollo says he liked to wear whatever he could find at the thrift store that looked cool. These days he’s really into loafers. “I can’t stop buying them,” he laughs. “I can wear them to church, you know, anywhere I just want to look nice.” He’ll top them off with one of his Comme des Garçons shirts and then feel ready to go.

After Paisley Park, Apollo will be looking even further ahead to the release of his first full-length album. “Last week I was in the studio all the time and I got a pretty good part of it done,” he says. Apollo also spent the last month in New York recording. If everything goes as planned, the album will be out next summer. 

In the meantime, listeners will have to tide themselves over with the livestream of the Paisley Park performance, which Apollo could not be more excited for. “I’m honoured and so blessed and fortunate to be playing music,” he says.