Omar Apollo on His New ‘God Said No’ Album


Omar Apollo has always had the ability to paint “the scene of a song” he’s writing. In fact, his latest 14-song LP, the powerfully titled “God Said No,” makes the most of that approach, finding its sonic inspiration in “places and locations” – more specifically, its breeding grounds in the famously picturesque and tree-lined canal neighborhoods of Little Venice in London. “I was really inspired,” Apollo tells Variety of his temporary home. “Even something like a gust of wind, I could say, inspired a moment on this album.”

Said album follows 2022’s “Ivory,” which propelled Apollo’s career, landing him his first Grammy nomination and Billboard Hot 100 entry (“Evergreen” peaked at No. 51). He’s had little downtime since, supporting the record with a tour and releasing “Live for Me,” a four song EP that reads like diary pages from Apollo’s youth. That era tends to be an endless well of inspiration for Apollo, who in a song called “Ice Slippin,” writes about the moment he came out to his parents: “And you thought what you said / Would be for the best / Instead, it broke me down.”

The new record lifts from the more recent experiences – themes of success, heartbreak, love and existential contemplation – he’s had across the last year and a half. It follows “three to four different love interests, although most of it” is about one person, he says. “I was in love when I wrote most of this album. The best way I can explain how that sounds is that I have complicated feelings. I like to preserve the genuine connections I have and eventually, turn them into friendships. Because a genuine connection doesn’t just die. That can be hard.” 

In an interlude titled “Pedro,” Apollo enlists actor Pedro Pascal to recite a story about treating his “shattered” heart while still trying to enjoy his successes. He met the Chilean-American actor for something they were working on with the New York Times. When that fell through, the pair stayed friends but “ours is a light-hearted friendship,” Apollo explains. “So him recording this for me was asking for a lot… that’s why he ends the way he does. He obviously more than delivered.” 

Apollo’s parents also contributed to the album. Growing up in the Great Plains of Indiana, born to Catholic parents from Jalisco and Guadalajara, Mexico, Apollo had a lowkey childhood that consisted of going to church and school. Today, his parents occasionally join him on the international trips and tours that have enveloped his day-to-day life. His father’s laughter is heard on the song “Drifting,” while his mother’s voice closes the album on “Glow.”

“She was just telling me a story about how they used to make gorditas in Mexico and how her dad would make these huge wooden spoons and use leaves, the size of the ones that were on the ground, to make food,” he says. “I thought it was a beautiful way to end the album because when I recorded her voice for ‘Glow,’ we were actually laying underneath the tree that inspired ‘Plane Trees,’ in Versailles [in France]. The song feels like an ascent –  even though it closes the album, it feels like things are still going forward. I’m always imagining the future and kind of letting it go so being underneath that tree with my parents… I have always wanted to travel the world with them. No one’s worried about money. No one’s worried about anything and we were free to enjoy that moment together.” 

As for the instrumental makeup of “God Said No,” Apollo and his returning team of producers – Teo Halm, Carter Lang and Blake Slatkin – took inspiration from composer and ambient-music maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto. Undulating synths and electric piano figure prominently on the atmospheric album. “Edge of the Ocean,” by dream-pop trio Ivy, is sampled on “Drifting,” while synth pioneer Giorgio Moroder’s soundtrack for “Midnight Express” was the sonic fuel for “Less of You.” There’s plenty of hidden surprises, too, like John Mayer playing just a couple of notes on the jazzy “Done With You” simply because he couldn’t help but join in when he heard Apollo recording the song in a studio next door to him. 

While Apollo eagerly awaits for the world to get to know the world of “God Said No,” he’s also been thinking about his next ventures. “I’ve already kind of started pursuing making soundtracks and pairing my music with films,” he says. “Maybe when I’m 67 and not touring, I’ll focus all my time on making soundtracks — this next album is definitely in alignment with that goal.”

Apollo offers a hesitant “No comment” when asked about his participation in Luca Guadagnino’s next film, “Queer.” He’s been rumored to be involved musically; others theorize that he’ll be making his on-screen debut in the movie. Apollo downplays the acting rumors but opens up another area of speculation: “I’ve also definitely thought about screenwriting.”

“There’s a strong inner dialogue in my spirit, and my young gay life was so chaotic that there’s so much to write about,” he continues. “But I feel like I need a little more training and studying when it comes to [acting and screenwriting]. With music, I fixate on [a producer or artist] and go through their whole discography, so I plan to take a similar approach with film.”

He’s already done his homework on Guadagnino, whom he met through Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson. “I love the pacing of his films,” Apollo says of the Italian director. He sings high praises of the 2020 HBO show “We Are Who We Are,”(“That show is what made me love his work”) 2015’s “Bigger Splash” and “Challengers,” with its Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross-produced soundtrack.

“‘Challengers’ was like a slow but giant dopamine release… There’s something beautiful about how [Guadagnino] builds up to the big moments,” he says, adding, “Its a plus that Josh O’Connor is so hot.”

After spending much of this year playing international shows and music festivals, Apollo is launching a North American tour in July to support “God Said No.” However, since he’s always a couple steps ahead, Apollo can’t help but look for new ways to express his creativity off-stage.

“I’ve been doing music for almost 10 years, and only now am I feeling completely confident in my abilities,” he says. “I have so many ideas that I would love to actualize in film one day, but I’m not rushing the process.”

Source : Variety