For some people, success is a winning formula. For others like Angie Aparo, it's a hall pass. Aparo has worked with Clive Davis, penned Faith Hill's hit "Cry," and continues to work with big-name performers such as Hill's husband, Tim McGraw. In Aparo's free time he labors on his long-awaited sixth album — a sci-fi rock opera. When you've succeeded like Aparo has, why not go big?
"It's a fun and new challenge," says Aparo from his Atlanta home. "Like I'm just going to write another record? Whatever."
It's a singles world these days. Albums are almost as anachronistic as vinyl, prompting many artists to release music in smaller batches like EPs or 7-inches. Leave it to Aparo to up the creative ante by crafting a time-traveling, three-act story that will be released as an app using a new technology called "novel-song."
"I realized if it's not attached to a longer narrative, you have to almost create a movie if you want to make an album," he says. "That's kind of what I'm undertaking. It's basically a comic book musical that's a futuristic rock opera. It's challenged the heck out of me. I wake up every morning like I don't want to do anything else."
Over a year in the making, there's still more work to do. That's a disappointment for his fans, who've already waited almost seven years since Aparo's last release, 2006's Praise Be.
That album showcased Aparo's skill blending punchy, strangely idiosyncratic modern rock with big pop hooks and accessibility. From the jittery riffs and prog-rock production of "Gloria" to the slinky Springsteen-like anthem "Twisted Paradise" and the calypso-tinged folk-popper, "Killing for Jesus," Aparo knows how to cram plenty of drama and melody into an elegant three-minute package.
But in the wake of Praise Be, Aparo got distracted. He toyed with the internet, video, and various music delivery and distribution methods. That wanderlust led him to partner with two app companies for his new album.
"It's not that I didn't have anything to say. I just didn't see a reason to say it. I really had to take in the new climate of the modern listener and figure out why I am saying it," Aparo says. "I kind of love the crumbling of everything because it shakes loose the bullshit."
Of course, Aparo's old enough to remember when he was knee-deep in it. In the early 1990s, he played in Angie's Hope before chucking it all to tour as a one-man acoustic act. He recorded his self-released solo debut, Out of the Everywhere, in '96 and drove willy-nilly up and down the coast and throughout the Southeast.
"I really think that commitment is really when things happen," he says. "We were getting close to me getting a deal with Capricorn, and I couldn't take it anymore. So I was like, 'You know what, I'm just going to make the record.' I made it for $3,000. I didn't have a plan. I didn't care. I really was listening and reading all this Neil Young, and I was just like, 'I'm going to live the artist life.'"
Later, Aparo caught the attention of producer Matt Serletic (Celine Dion, Willie Nelson), who had heard Out of the Everywhere before running into the artist in a songwriter's circle at Smith's Olde Bar in Atlanta. Serletic gave Aparo an offer he couldn't refuse.
"He said, 'I'm going to just take you in to the labels and get to the top, get to the president. I'm going to take you in and we're just going to play guitar for them. We're not going to do showcases, we're not going to do a record," Aparo recalls.
They did it for a year and everyone passed. Serletic grew impatient. "Matt would tell them, 'Don't sign him because you're trying to get me, because I want you to push the shit out of this record,'" says Aparo. Serletic had recently produced Santana's Supernatural for Davis at Arista. "Finally, Matt was 'Fuck it, we're going to Clive,' and I was like, 'Hell yeah!'"
Davis greenlit the project, expressing affection for "Cry" and the single "Spaceship," which would crack the lower Top 40 before flaming out. Unfortunately, by the time The American came out in 2000, Davis was in the midst of a label power struggle that would result in him leaving to start his own label, J Records. The album didn't get a lot of support and didn't sell.
Not surprisingly, Aparo was dropped. His next three full-lengths were released on three different labels. However, there was good news. Faith Hill's cover of "Cry" opened the door for Aparo in Nashville, where he began penning songs for acts like Big & Rich, Miley Cyrus, and country-rapper Cowboy Troy. Last year, he wrote two tracks for McGraw's Emotional Traffic. The two artists continue to collaborate.
"It's very interesting because in a sense you're writing a character, so I've got to know what's going on with him," says Aparo, who speaks to McGraw every so often. "He's really loving mid-'70s Eagles right now. It's hitting him hard, and he's like, 'I want those tones and harmonies.'"
These days, Aparo is busier than ever, and he wants to keep pushing and exploring. "A manager will tell you, you need to focus. I tell them I'm bored to tears focusing," Aparo laughs. "It's just so amazing to have done all this. It kind of feels like dabbling because I only do it for a little bit, but I think art and music is so rich and I just love all forms of it."