Angie Aparo might very well be the greatest vocalist and songwriter you have never heard. He has written songs with or for Miley Cyrus, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (Hill won a Grammy for Aparo’s “Cry”). Aparo has toured with acts such as Matchbox 20 and has sung on tracks with Zac Brown. Yet while existing in a business that often measures success with a commercial yardstick, Aparo’s artistry is pure and independent—even through several musical and physical transformations.
To be fair, in certain circles, Aparo is a legend. And commercial success is something that has not entirely eluded him. In the mid-’90s, when a renaissance of singer-songwriters emerged in the South, names like Edwin McCain, Shawn Mullins and Butch Walker (of Marvelous 3) dominated the musical landscape. Yet while Aparo subscribed to their tribe, he was never entirely of their world — as a musician or a songwriter.
During a Keys Weekly interview, Edwin McCain once remarked that Aparo “is simply from another universe. When he plays, we all just stop in the moment and listen in awe.”
This Sunday, local musician Nick Norman and his Big Stage Productions will present Angie Aparo, at First Flight Island Restaurant and Brewery. For Norman, who has said he wants to create “a spiritual atmosphere with a congregational following,” Aparo’s performance could become the staple in Norman’s musical revival series.
“I once heard Angie play a few years back, and I just started crying, “said Norman. “I don’t know why. It’s just the power this guy has when he starts to sing and play.”
Today, Aparo lives in the moment. Following a severe stroke several years ago, Angie has fought from regaining his voice to recapturing the vocals that can literally make grown men break into tears. This week we caught up with the extraordinary singer songwriter to dig into his upcoming show in Key West, his road to recovery from his stroke, and all things that define (or cannot define) Angie Aparo.
KW: You played Key West many years ago at Irish Kevin’s. Have you been back since?
AA: I haven’t been back since, and I can’t wait to get back down there. I just fell in love with the place on my last trip. I’m a Hemingway freak, and last time, they let me crash at their place in the carriage house. It was an unreal experience.
KW: You will be playing in a smaller courtyard. Do you prepare differently for something like this, as opposed to a Fox Theater or larger venue?
AA: I sort of apply the Springsteen rule that it’s the same whether it’s 10,000 people or 100. I try to speak to everyone like it’s just one person and make it immediately intimate in some way. Back when my band was out doing festival stuff, all of those people were having individual experiences to the song. I look at it like they are listening collectively, but it’s personal. So the numbers don’t matter.
KW: For those in Key West who don’t know you, how would you describe your music?
AA: I write with a guitar and a piano. At the end of the day, I’m sort of an Americano, rock, folk-artist who explores and experiments with various rock sounds. I guess Neil Young is a great example of this as well.
KW: So would you say Neil Young is one of your biggest influences?
AA: You have to remember that singer-songwriters are not just songwriters, or just recording artists or just performing artists. Even with all of those art forms and even with the Beatles, Elton John and bands like Queen, I think the one that stretches the widest for me is Bowie. He is the one who found all of those sonic worlds, where it could be him and a guitar, or he had a saxophone or some crazy New Age sound or soul music. So anytime I was trying to dig into something different, you could almost always go to Bowie and listen to unbelievable and inventive formats.
KW: Is this because Bowie was not just a great performer, but wrote and performed just as you do?
AA: People forget that Bowie and a handful of others like Prince are singer-songwriters. You never think of them as songwriters. They are not bands but it’s interesting when you cast that image on them. You look at someone like Bowie or Peter Gabriel and you just remind yourself they are singer-songwriters. They do it all. They are still songwriters, but they can do all of these other things and explore and be free. My mother is prose writer, and she says it’s great when you realize that about another artist because they give you permission. I use that a lot because someone like Brian Wilson can get crazy, and I remind myself I can do the same.
“I’m a Jewish Buddhist who loves Jesus.”
KW: Edwin McCain once said you are one of the best singer songwriters he has ever witnessed. What do you say to something like that?
AA: Wow. I just kind of blush. Edwin has been so supportive of me. In a weird way, that is what he is to me. What do they call it? The mutual admiration society (laughing)? But that means a ton to me.
KW: You recently had a stroke that some said you would never fully recover from. Your determination throughout the recovery is well-documented. But how has that experience changed your outlook on music and on life?
AA: I’ve always sort of been in this spiritual space in my life. My favorite quote that defines me is, But when something like that happens it’s like ‘oh shit.’ It’s a heavier space. I realized nothing is that important any more. It’s not that it changes the way you write, you just don’t care about writing any more. All of these things you thought identified you and you suddenly realize they are not at the soul of yourself and the things that are important come to a whole new surface. I still love to write and love what I do. But I have a friend going through breast cancer and she says the same thing. All of these other things in life just don’t matter any more. There is nothing to worry about.
KW: So what are you working on today?
AA: When the stroke hit, I had a ton going on. I had an augmented realty app that should be completed by March. I also had a Netflix show in the works with Tim McGraw called American B-Side before everything fell apart. I mean, I couldn’t even talk for a while. But I just started listening to lot of Bowie and Queen and I got back and finished this record. By the way, have you seen the new Queen movie?
KW: I have not. I’m going tonight.
AA: It’s not a movie about Queen. It’s about Mary. It’s a love story. In fact, it’s one of the greatest love stories ever told.
Aparo might also be described as living one of the greatest stories ever told, from his incredible recovery to his remarkable presence onstage. And the intimate show at First Flight is sure to be a memorable night in the stories of all those attending. See you there.