Apollo Bebop: Being Artists in Orange County + New Album 'Still Learnin''

Photo via Apollo Bebop

Photo via Apollo Bebop

What’re you doing in Orange County?

We are Apollo Bebop, hip-hop/jazz band from Santa Ana, CA and we are reintroducing jazz and raw energy back into mainstream culture to raise the bar back up to when talent and skill meant something. 

We’ve now seen you three times at The Coollab Project in Santa Ana, La Cave in Costa Mesa, and 1888 Center in Orange, so it is safe to say that you have a really strong and wide-reaching presence in Orange County. With this, you must have a pretty hectic schedule. How long did it take to create your debut studio album, Still Learnin', and what was the process like?

It took us a full year to complete the album. We had 12 songs in mind and cut about 3. Then we added one at the very last second. That track was “Cruz’n” and it happens to be one of the more popular tracks, coincidentally. The process was a bit frustrating because we didn’t use any loops and we tracked everything live in order to capture the essence on what we bring to the live shows. Now that the album is out, we are very happy that was pushed through and didn’t take any short cuts. 

You mentioned that the project is an “homage to the many challenges faced...and lessons learned in the process of creating this album.” What are the main ones that you think best characterize the album?

Along the way we learned that recording an album shouldn’t be rushed. Especially if you’re tracking it live. Nothing great happens overnight and as the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Also, we worked with a very good friend by the name of Deckdaddy who lives in Norway. He mixed the album and did a phenomenal job, but because of the time difference, it was hard to communicate which made the process even longer. Essentially, two big things we learned are (1) take your time and (2) the importance of working with people on a face to face basis.

For a TL;DR album discoverer, which one song should they listen to get the best picture of Still Learnin' and Apollo Bebop?

It’s honestly really hard to say. We label and brand ourselves as a “hip-hop/jazz band”, but really we’re more than that. For the backpack, boombap, old-school hip-hop heads we’ve got tracks like “Where am I Goin With This?” and “949” that are very lyrical and braggadocious, then we have tracks like “Come Over” and “Same Ol’ Thang” that cater more towards a casual hip-hop listener. Lastly, we’ve got tracks like “Leave Me Alone” and “Still Learnin’” and even “Where’d it Go?” from the previous EP, Sushi No Rubber, that breakaway from traditional hip-hop form and even blend some other genres and time signatures into the composition. We can confidently say that there is something for everyone and anyone on this album.

The track “949” expresses how you have a desire to put your city, Rancho Santa Margarita, on the map, and your group has certainly done a lot around O.C. and beyond to push this objective. Has it been difficult to progress as musicians/creatives in Orange County on a professional scale? Are there specific roadblocks?

It’s been hard because Orange County doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation for musical output, especially for hip-hop. And “949” isn’t necessarily even about putting a specific city on the map. The point is to prove that no matter where you’re from, if you love what you do, fight for your artistic expression and are authentic about it, then you should be able to earn your spot in that community. 

We know that all of you are relatively young in your music career, but what advice would you give a creative in Orange County?

We’d say just be your own, authentic self. Focus on the art and the money will come. And even if it doesn’t, at least you’ll still be happy doing what you’re doing. 

Community and collaboration are aspects that run very deeply in your mission with The Coollab Project and your continuing work with Santa Ana-artist Michael Ziobrowski a.k.a. XISTHEWEAPON on your album cover art. What role has the O.C. community played in shaping your music and artistry?

For this one we have to give a big and major shout out to our brother. The man, the myth, the legend. Allah’s Apprentice. He’s from Macon, GA, and he saw that there was a need, a hole, a creative void here in Orange County and he took what he was exposed to back home and came up with the concept of The Coollab. He taught us that community is everything, and because of him we have a place to call home and a place to express ourselves every single Thursday night. 

WYDORANGECOUNTY Quick Fire Questions

-Favorite place to hang in OC: The Coollab Open Mic

-Favorite music/creative spot in OC: The Coollab Open Mic

-Favorite eatery in OC: 4th Street Market

-Favorite songs right now: Expressive” by Slum Village, “We Find Love” by Daniel Caesar, “Edgar Allan Poe’d Up” by Smino, “Side Piece” by NxWorries

-Favorite movie right now: Get Out and Moonlight

Listen to Still Learnin' by Apollo Bebop below or purchase here.

Interview by Arthur Pham