Pick Up the Phone, It’s Omar Apollo and Ruel

The two popstars caught up from two ends of the planet to talk performing, songwriting and dangly earrings.

Omar Apollo and Ruel get on a call on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. Ruel is in Sydney, Australia in his home studio. It’s 11 AM, and he’s catching up with Apollo, in the studio as well, for whom it’s 4 PM in California. “My mate came up a couple hours to Sydney, he’s staying with me. We’re about to go for a surf at 12, which will be fun,” says Ruel.

Both young artists have had major releases since the pandemic hit—23-year-old Apollo dropped his debut album, Apolonio in October and Ruel, recently released his third EP, Bright Lights, Red Eyes a few days before his 18th birthday. In a sense, they’re both reimagining pop-stardom from their bedrooms, and grappling with success without the physical affirmation of fans.

While awaiting the days where they’ll be able to travel and tour, the boys have gotten comfortable with ordinary routines that a recording artist’s schedule usually does not offer. For the first time in four years, family dinners and home cooked meals are a nightly tradition in Ruel’s household. He’s even joined a soccer team in a local league, which would have been an impossible commitment this time last year. 

“Do they know you’re a successful musician?” asks Apollo.

“None of them have a clue who I am. It’s great.” answers Ruel.

Image credit: Julian Burgueño

Apollo, on his side of the world, has been biking, playing soccer with his cousins, practicing guitar a lot, swimming and driving around. “I used to be really active and work out every single day. Six months ago I was working out every day for two years. I’d eat really good but now I’m like, life’s too short. And I’ve found new passions during this quarantine. I love dressing and getting clothes and playing with synthesizers.”

V were lucky enough to be a fly on the wall while the singers caught up, as they bonded over feeling out of practice due to quarantine, shared their love for making music with a cinematic quality, the fashion accessories they’re currently into, as well as their collaboration on Apollo’s album, “Want U Around.”

ON PERFORMING

Ruel: I just did a show yesterday. A little test show for this live stream I’m doing on a rooftop in the middle of Sydney City. I haven’t performed in a while. Have you performed recently?

Omar: Yeah, I was pretty rusty. I over-rehearsed and it just fucked me up. I think I just crammed because I like to do everything last minute. Especially on “Want U Around,” it’s such a demanding song for my voice… By the way, I sing your part live too.

Ruel: That’s the same as me, because Cautious Clay did a verse on my album for the song, “Say It Over” and I was singing his part. I felt really weird.

Omar: The song is great but I basically threw my voice out because I had a new bassist and a new drummer, so I had to teach them everything, all the cues. And I spent more time doing that than actually rehearsing me singing the songs. After not singing for so long, I had to get all this muscle memory back.

Ruel: Yeah. I did two weeks of rehearsing once every three days leading up to the show and I was fine. I thought it was going to be easy since I’ve been singing these songs so much. After the first set, I was like, “Man, that was fun.” And after the second set, my voice was just gone completely. My stamina literally disappeared. When I was on tour, I was doing two shows a day because I was doing matinees last year.

Omar: You’d built an endurance.

Ruel: I could do two, three shows, fine. And I did one 45 minutes set and I was like, “Oh my God, I cannot sing anymore.” So I need to build that up again.

ON RECORDING

Image credit: Nate Guenther

Omar: I’ve been working on my new album and it’s pretty crazy. I’m actually proud of my music. Not that I wasn’t before, but I’m finally getting to a place where what’s in my mind is being made sonically exactly the way that I want it to be. 

Ruel: I’m still getting to that point. I’m almost there. I just need to get more into editing and just actually learn how to execute my ideas. I feel like I’m still trying to perfect that. So that’s great then that you’ve gotten to a point where you feel like every idea is coming how you want it to be.

Omar: Yeah. It’s so fun. I’m so satisfied, and every day is a little lighter. You just feel good.

Ruel: Is the new shit you’re making sonically similar to the album or are you going another way?

Omar: No. I started using synths and making this huge sound. What I’ve been doing is putting on movies while I make music and then trying to make something that accompanies the movie. Like seven movies a day, but I just let them play in the background. Ocean’s Eleven, The Revenant, Babel, that’s just some of them. Artsy movies like Space Odyssey 2001, Stanley Kubrick shit.

Ruel: I wanted to write an alternate ending of “Fight Club” music-wise. I remember watching “Fight Club” and that song by The Pixies, “Where Is My Mind?” was playing at the end. The buildings are falling down and I was like, “Fuck, I want to write a better song for that exact moment.” And then that day, I did something and it was one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I’m doing a bunch of shit like that. I think that’s a great way to write.

Image credit: Michelle Grace Hunder

Omar: Yeah, because for me, making music is so visual. I’ve always made songs based off of a feeling. There’s this song called “Father’s Song” on Purple Rain by Prince, and it’s just him playing the piano. It’s one of my favorite songs in the album even if he doesn’t even say anything, because I just could visually picture what was happening.

Ruel: It’s satisfying hearing something progress when you’re listening. What I really love making now is cinematic stuff, because I’ve been really into ambient music as well. Like Brian Eno, Patrick Watson… I really like adding those elements into what I’m making at the moment and I just love cinematic songs where it feels like a soundtrack.

Omar: Have you heard the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack by Jon Brion? He’s literally a legend. He makes the most amazing piano music and soundtracks.

ON FASHION AND STYLE

Ruel: You’ve had crazy fits during quarantine. I’ve been looking at your Instagram. I’m jealous. I don’t have that knack for finding cool shit that isn’t thousands of dollars. Everything I find is irresponsibly expensive. Finding shoes is hard as well. The shoes you wear, I would never find in my size, and we’re the same height.

Omar: Bro we’re the same size.

Ruel: Are you 14?

Omar: Oh, no, I’m 13. I’m right at the cutoff. They usually don’t have my size, but a lot of companies run big, like Prada.

Ruel: I’m about to buy a pair of shoes in size 12 from Prada. And they’re going to be so tight.

Omar: You’re buying loafers?

Ruel: No, the socky sneakers.

Omar: Oh those are fire. I’m waiting on the Prada loafers. They said they’d call me. I love those. And Marni’s got some crazy loafers. I think Marni’s my favorite brand right now.

Ruel: I’ve been working with Depop recently, which is sick because they just do all the hard work for me. They just gather me the coolest shit they can find from sellers around the world. And then they’re just like, “here you go.” 

Omar: Oh really? That’s fire. That shirt’s dope.

Ruel: Thank you. They got me this vintage Givenchy, batwing purple shirt that I wore, that was crazy. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve worn.

Omar: Dressing up and then going into the studio is probably my favorite feeling. It just boosts your confidence. Especially since growing up, I had like two pairs of pants and had to wear the same shit every day when I was in high school and stuff. I’ve always wanted to dress how I feel. And now I’m in the position to do that and it just feels great. I can put on clothes and I feel so good and confident and ready to fucking kill the day.

Ruel: Yeah, man. Dressing up before going to the studio. You’re right.

Omar: You should do it, man. 

Ruel: I do. I always put on the craziest shit before I go to the studio. Something that I’d never wear out with my friends, something I’d never wear anywhere else. I just go to the studio in it. 

Omar: Yeah. Because all these successful lawyers or doctors or whatever, they dress really nice for their job. And this is my job. I want to dress nice.

Ruel: Going in a nice old white suit with heels.

Omar: I would love that. Wearing heels in the studio with my purse.

Image credit: Nate Guenther

Ruel: I’ve been trying to. I’ve been collecting purses. I’ve also been collecting more jewelry and stuff, which I love so much.

Omar: It’s so nice to have a purse because I hate pockets, especially when I have to sit down and everything in your pockets just hurts. Are you wearing pearls?

Ruel: Yeah. I actually made these. I wanna get real ones and pearl earrings.

Omar: I just got my ears re-pierced after I cut my hair. 

Ruel: I feel like I should do the other one, I’ve only got my left one done. 

Omar: Yeah, do it. I love it. It just adds swag to your head.

Ruel: Yeah. Those dangly ones as well. I’d love to just walk around with like dangly earrings.

Omar: I’ve performed with hoops, it’s so sick.

Ruel: Yeah. That really elevates an outfit.

ON THEIR COLLABORATION, “WANT U AROUND”

Image credit: Michelle Grace Hunder

Ruel: When you sent that to me, I was in isolation. I had just gotten to Melbourne and the whole city was locked down. I was in the shower and I got a text from you and I just put it on while I was in the shower. I was like, “Oh my God.” I put a towel on and ran out into the middle of the room where my whole team was, and I was just like, guys, listen to that guy. And he wants me to do something on it. Then I was so busy for that next month. I was filming every day, but I kept listening to it and thinking of ideas. I put down millions of melodies in my voice memos and I was like “nothing’s good enough to send in yet”. And then as soon as I got back to Sydney, I went into my studio and put down that little idea. I was just so stoked to be a part of it, man. I love that song so much.

Omar: Thank you, man. I’m happy. I feel like our tones matched really well. So I was like, I think he would sound really good on this song. We never said we’d make music or anything, but I just remember watching you live with my band and being like, “this man can sing.”

Ruel: That was at the Matty Healy bushfire relief show, at Laneway. That night was the first time I’d sung falsetto in a year because I lost it because of puberty. I didn’t even know you were there. You came into my green room in Adelaide and I was like, “Oh shit, you’re really tall as well.” Then we hung out in Perth.

Omar: Bro, my band were the biggest fans of you. They were like, bro, he’s so dope. You got to go see his set. 

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