James Apollo on ‘Angelorum,’ Studio Fires and Going Incognito

James-Apollo

James Apollo had intended to make his new album “Angelorum” just once. Then the studio where he was recording burned down.

The singer, songwriter and bandleader had returned to his old neighborhood in Minneapolis to record with Twin Cities friends and producer Mark Stockert at Stockert’s Underwood Recording Studio. They weren’t quite finished when Apollo left for a string of live dates, but he and his collaborators were excited, he tells Listen, Dammit.

“Everything went so well,” Apollo says by phone from Seattle. “Everybody’s got that smile and that nod.”

Cue the flames, and the anger and frustration of losing so much work he was enthusiastic about. “We record all analog, it’s all tape, there’s no backups of anything,” Apollo says. “So we didn’t know for a while what happened. Turned out some stuff was lost, some songs were just water-damaged.

After salvaging what they could, Apollo, Stockert and Co. reconvened in Tucker Martine’s studio in Oregon for another go, resulting in the nine songs on “Angelorum.” “We did them once in Minneapolis, and we did them differently in Portland,” Apollo says. “If they were apples-to-apples, who knows? We only got the second ones.”

All the same, the second ones comprise a taut, soulful rock album, full of strong melodic hooks and tight grooves that showcase a writer and performer who should have a higher profile than he does. While “Angelorum” is his latest, Apollo has been releasing albums as a solo artist since 2007 (and he played in touring punk bands before that), which means, among other things, that he has a lot of pretty awesome stories. “I don’t write tour journals, I write soldier diaries, because it has almost nothing to do with music,” Apollo says, laughing. “It’s all about the crazy experiences you have meeting people on this thing.”

Here are three facts we learned about life on the road:

1. Don’t be late to gigs. In fact, the more time you allow yourself to arrive, the easier it will be to find a place to park near the club. “Where I used to argue with bums about parking spaces, now we show up way earlier for soundcheck,” Apollo says.

2. Touring leaves plenty of time to explore, if you’re brave enough. “You show up in a town you’ve never been to, you soundcheck and then you have two or three hours to explore the town,” Apollo says. “And what do we know about the part of town rock clubs are usually in?” Um, they are the nicest parts? Apollo just laughs.

3. It often helps to blend in. Once when a previous band’s van broke down in Worcester, Mass., Apollo and his bandmates decided they needed to act like locals, lest the mechanic gouge them on repairs. “All we knew to say was ‘starter’ and ‘car,'” Apollo says, which presents ample opportunity to sound like you’re mocking the guys from “Car Talk.” Still, they must have done OK: Apollo remembers the repairs costing a mere $30, though it took four days. Sometimes blending in has a more literal meaning: disguises. “Everybody will outfit themselves at a nearby gas station, which works great in rural Wisconsin. You can get a cap with a cartoon character on it and a really big flannel shirt and go sit in a bar,” Apollo says. “I’ve definitely walked past bandmates without them recognizing me.”

“Angelorum” came out June 3. Listen to “Neverland” below:

Neverland

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