Father really does know best.
Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Angie Aparo spent the majority of the 1990s playing in a variety of bands but getting nowhere. All he needed was some fatherly advice to set him straight.
“I had been writing most of the material for them, and it seemed like I was constantly at the mercy of whatever’s going on in the band,” Aparo said recently. “They would get something going on in Atlanta and a couple of other markets, things would be hot and then someone would quit. After two of those episodes, I decided to go on my own.”
Aparo had reached his lowest point; he was quickly approaching his 30s and there was no vocation, other than music, to fall back on.
“I was talking to my dad about it,” Aparo said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you go find those reasons you started doing it in the first place?’ He was right. Though it seemed like I was going backwards, I started doing open-mike nights at clubs. These clubs in Atlanta were like, ‘Angie, we’ll book you if you just want to play.’ Those open mikes are more for auditioning people, and I was like, ‘No, I need to just do this. I need to start over.’ It was a total reinvention of myself.”
Good thing, otherwise Aparo never would have met Grammy-winning producer Matt Serletic (Matchbox 20, Santana, Aerosmith, Collective Soul), never would have cut an album as bold and atmospheric as “The American” (due March 7 on Melisma/Arista) and never would have turned heads with his first single, “Spaceship,” a surrealistic examination of spirituality and technology.
After his soul-searching in the mid-1990s, with an acoustic guitar in hand, Aparo went from club to club, from Atlanta to New York and all points between. It was just the kind of learning experience he needed.
“At that point, I put out a CD called ‘Out of the Everywhere,’ which was sort of a folk-driven thing,” he said. “I was supporting that and playing the East Coast solo with an acoustic guitar, living out of my Honda. I did it strictly out of economics because it was so impossible to support a band up North.
“I did a few things up there earlier where I was carrying a guy who played a B-3 (organ). We were a duo, an acoustic guitar and a Hammond. It was really cool, but we needed a truck obviously to tow stuff. You’d almost have to find someone to drive around the block while you played your set because you couldn’t park it. You play in Manhattan, and you can barely park a car, much less than a 20-foot truck. In that respect, being solo four or five years was good for me because I got to actually play more, had more options to do things.”
Then came his chance meeting with Serletic.
“There was a friend of mine I was sharing a house with in Atlanta,” Aparo said. “He’s an incredible guitar player, and he got an audition for Matchbox 20. He didn’t get the gig, but he handed my CD to Matt.
“Matt was actually so busy that I don’t think he was looking for anything at that point. Matchbox 20 had cut their first record and they were finding guys for the live thing. Matt actually thought I was a girl. I used a falsetto on that record, a real (Jeff) Buckley-like high voice.
“Probably a year went by and the CD didn’t strike him much, but then he saw me play at the Cotton Club in Atlanta. Seeing me live put it all together for him. We started talking about a month after that, and that was three years ago. It’s been a long haul.”
Aparo had a batch of penetrating songs, exploring personal, social and political topics, such as deforestation (“Green Into Gold”) and how self-serving politicians have manipulated Martin Luther King Day (“Memphis City Rain”).
Now all he had to do was polish his sound. Serletic, who won a Grammy last week for producing Santana’s “Smooth” collaboration with Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas, was the perfect choice.
“I was so into records that I don’t think are being made now, that are more broad and not afraid to have a string quartet on this and a full orchestra on that, a rock band on this, a piano song,” Aparo said. “Those were the records I always loved. I remember asking Matt, ‘What do you think this should be?’ I don’t know if it’s his philosophy overall for producing, he was like, ‘You know what, I don’t know what it should be, but I do know what it shouldn’t be.’ That’s cool, because as soon as you think you know what you want it to be, you eliminate everything it could be. It made sense.
“You have an added advantage as a singer-songwriter in that there’s not an innate sound to a band. When you’re a band, there’s a sound you pretty much have, but solo you can go in so many directions which is real fun. With Matt, you can do it.”
The greatest example of that experimentation is on “Spaceship.” Aparo speaks through a tiny microphone normally used for blues harps, giving his voice a haunting, futuristic quality. Then, sans the special effects, his voice soars beautifully through the chorus (“When you get tired of satellite flyers/And fame has let you down/Under the wire and over the moon/I’m around”), amid multiple layers of harmonies.
Is it hard to duplicate live?
“We spent a lot of time and energy sampling stuff off the record, so my keyboard player has all the samples at his fingertips,” Aparo said. “We’re pretty much pulling off the record. Vocally, it’s harder to pull it off, because I wanted heavy, lush kind of vocals. There’s tons of vocals and harmonies I did on there.”
Momentum is building for “Spaceship.” Where it lands, nobody knows, especially not Aparo.
“I almost hate to think about it,” he said. “I think it takes you off your mark to predict how it’ll do. You turn into a marketing experiment rather than a serious artist. I’m focusing more toward how I perform, toward communicating. That’s why you pay people percentages, so they can worry about sales and airplay for you.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Aside from the ones I bought out of peer pressure, the first one that really meant anything to me was U2’s ‘War.’ God, that’s an unbelievable album. It gives me chills when I think about it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “This is kind of weird … Gino Vannelli. My parents took me to that concert, and my dad fell asleep. It was perfect.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “I’m usually not a contemporary CD buyer. I’m really more of an archive type guy, so I go and buy something like (Neil Young’s) ‘Harvest’ more for a historical perspective. But I actually bought Beck’s ‘Mutations’ a few weeks ago. I love Beck. He’s an amazing artist.”
BWF (before we forget): “The American” way to find Angie Aparo on the Web is @ www.angieaparo.com.