In our latest interview, we caught up with Appleby to talk about how music has helped him find his happiness, bringing a new sound to the Chicago scene, his open and honest lyrics and much more. Indulge below and make sure to follow Appleby on social
Hey, I am Appleby! I am 27 and a musician.
You told us when we first met that you are originally from Miami, what brought you to Chicago and what about the Chicago music scene has made you stay?
I started off in Illinois initially in Steger, right by Indiana. It is really nothing but farm animals and ten people. Growing up I was really into tennis and started traveling the state by the age of 5, nation by 10, and world by 12. I had to make the decision to move down to Miami at the age of 12 because I was missing so much school here for traveling and practice. It made a lot more sense to move to a city where it is warm year round and where there are major tennis tournaments. Eventually I committed to a tennis academy in Boca Raton, but post that I moved back to Chicago to be closer to my mom.
Back here is when I started making music and instantly became addicted to it. I’ve stayed here ever since because there really is no hub here. There is no one central sound. There are the beacons of the Chicago sound like Chance and Saba, but then there are people like me who are transplants of that. Living in Chicago for the past year, I now get the scene. You make up your own rules and you do what you want within your space and musical style. Chicago is amazing because there are no expectations and it is open for you to be what you want.
In your pinned tweet on your Twitter page you say, “creating music has always been therapeutic. a way for me to process what’s happening in my head and heart. My project ‘Happiness’ produced by Elias Abid is a reflection of me finding my happy place.” Would you say music helped you find your happiness or music is the happy place?
I am the best version of myself in the creative space. In this space you are facing all the sides of you that you hide from everybody else and even yourself on a daily basis. You are getting to the root of happiness, sadness, and really all of the emotions because you are trying to figure out what you want from your music. I grow immensely in those moments because I open myself up to be vulnerable and it has become natural for me to want to be more honest than ever.
Your lyrics are so honest and real. I think that’s why you have people on Twitter telling you that you feed their soul, take them on an emotional journey, and make them imagine themselves sitting on a hill watching the sun rise with the love of their life that they haven’t even met yet. It’s these powerful feelings that really solidify an artist with their fan base. How do you get yourself to a place where you can be so open, honest, and genuine with your lyrics?
That’s my favorite ‘thing’ about all of this. I make music in my own little bubble and the therapeutic part is facing whatever I have or currently am experiencing. When I release my music I intend for it to be therapy and relatable for others so when you get comments like that you realize that it is connecting. You can forget about if your music is doing well and are you where you want to be because when comments like that are said you realize that it isn’t about the numbers.
I think by nature I am a very open person, but it really comes down to the moment I hear piano keys or guitar strings I start to get really sentimental. I can’t hide or fight those feelings and I try to not project an image that isn’t me. Just being honest with your music makes it easier on you overall. You never have to think about what is expected or overthink the image you are trying to project to people because at the end of the day it is just me doing what I love to do.
You used to refer to your style as “Dance Down” and you were the first to bring that style to Chicago. Artists find it hard enough to break into an already established genre in Chicago. What did it feel like to know you were bringing a whole new style to the Chicago music scene?
For me there are time periods where you don’t realize you are introducing something new. You are just collectively listening and learning so much from others that whenever you introduce music into one box there’s a realization that it is new because it has been collectively created from so many other sounds in a way no one has mixed them together before. Everything is original if you are pulling from your influences without trying to directly copy them.
You famously said, “I stole my mom’s maiden name. I didn’t show my face online. I do now.” Let’s break that down. First off, I know you are very close with your mom and even had an audience at one of your shows tell them they love her. What is the significance behind using her maiden name as your stage name?
Quitting tennis was an extremely hard decision, but I had burned out and I didn’t want to risk getting to a point where I’d hate the sport I’ve loved my whole life. With that though comes a huge part of your identity. Tennis for so long helped define who I was and was how people around me recognized who I was. For the four years post-tennis and pre-music there was a lot of self discovery in trying to figure out what comes next. I started to experience all these radical feelings because before I woke up every day and had a set schedule revolved around tennis, but now without that I felt like I had no purpose.
In that time period everything felt like a blur. I experienced moments of really deep depression, but when I decided that music was the thing I was going to do I was trying to think of a name. The first thing I thought about was that I needed a name I thought was going to be cool and I would still like in 20 years. You can’t walk a name back after it has been solidified. Secondly, none of my friends or family knew I was starting this musical journey. It was my own personal path at the time. At the same time, I wanted to incorporate my family because I am so close to them. I wanted a name that would keep them in mind and carry them with me. I chose our family name because 20 years from now that name is still going to mean so much to me. It was also a name that could keep me grounded. No matter how big the name itself gets, it is rooted in my own family and it keeps me in line because if I ever mess up, I am not just messing up my name, I am screwing with my whole family’s name.
Second part of that quote, I know you originally covered your face because you liked the way can control how you’re perceived when you keep something as simple as your face from the public’s view, but how has your life changed since revealing your identity?
I’ve covered my face in photos since I was a kid because it was honestly always fun for me. Photos to me are like “ooo everyone pose for this photo” and I’m out here having a good time and don’t want taking a photo to take away from that.
Choosing to hide my face was layered in a way that the soundscape I started with wasn’t necessarily my destination, but simply my entry point into the music world. Once people put music to a face they begin to perceive things and expect things. It is hard for them to allow you to grow or deviate from your original sound because they already have these set perceptions of who they think you are and what they think you should sound like. Hiding my face allowed me to not worry about my image or my brand, but just let the music speak for itself.
I have grown comfortable now with my face being out there and directly connected to my music. Since revealing my face, i’ve just become so much more comfortable.
Before you revealed your identity, you used to frequent karaoke bars to get used to performing. How do you think the unique experience of being able to practice performing at karaoke helped shape the performer you are today?
I am still a relative baby when it comes to performing as Appleby. Karaoke worked as a great tool for me to work on that side of myself. One, no one cares if you are good or bad. Two, no one is there for you. Karaoke allows you to be comfortable with failing and with nailing it and still having no one clap for you. You have to know how to handle yourself and people talking over you. It teaches you to read the energy of the room and challenge yourself to win over the room because no one is expecting anything of you.
On the topic of karaoke, I have to know, what was your go to karaoke song?
Ne-Yo’s So Sick
Your song “Pages” was used in the hit TV show “Grown-ish.” How did that opportunity present itself?
Haight brand has a team that works with TV and film and they had sent out the song to a couple of people. I got a call that they wanted to use it on the TV show “Grown-ish.” It is a great way to see how others are interpreting your music and how they think it fits in their realm of work, such as in a “Grown-ish” episode.
I personally think the coolest way to see your music as an artist is when it is used in someone else’s art and creation.
You’ve also come out with two music videos: one for “Young Lost Love” and one for “Lady Sunshine.” How involved were you in the creation of those videos? Were they the visions you had in mind when writing the songs?
I didn’t have any set visuals, but post the Happiness album, I have changed the way I approach writing. I have learned so much now about the post-production side of music. When I go into songwriting now, I write loglines or a little synopsis about what the song is about. That way I can stick to a “script” per say and guarantee that I’m not writing the same song or completely going off track from what the song is supposed to be. The synopsis also ensures that everything can already have a set visual I can present to others.
“Lady Sunshine” is being featured in an indie film coming out that features Jon Heder from Napoleon Dynamite. Kendall Goldberg the director of Lady Sunshine wanted to use the song in her film and was interested in making a music video for it. So that’s what we did. She created the concept and had a team of people that helped make the video possible. Which included a camera crew, hair and makeup, and an art director. Post-shooting Kendall went back to her scheduled promo. From there her and I worked remotely until we got the final version we were both happy with. Beyond the music video, it was also used in one of my buddy’s videos of a women going through every stage of her pregnancy. It truly amazes me all the different videos a song can work with that I have never thought of before.
“Young Lost Love” was a completely different experience. It was a shoestring budget and when we started talking about the cast, I had no idea how to go about that. Luckily my friend AJ is a casting director here in the city and she helped me hold auditions in her office. Once we had the cast in place, Stripmall (brother duo who directed the video) and I along with their sister got the video done in back to back shooting days. The first cut wasn’t what either of us thought it should look like and I got nervous. But they allowed me to come over and sit side by side in the editing process till we were all excited about the video. Everything was being done by us. We got it right and it turned out to be an emotional music video. My intention going in was never to create an emotional video but honor the emotions of the song itself. I believe the combination of how well it was shot, the cast, Victor and Savannah, nailing their scenes and my song created an emotional visual experience.
You have discussed your tough childhood and you have been through a lot, but you have been able to use music to help you process and overcome your experiences. What would be your advice to those still trying to find their form of therapy, such as music, to help them work through their problems?
For me, it is even greater than music. I am an only child and I have learned to internally interview myself my entire life. At the end of the day you can hide from your friends, you can hide from your family, but you can’t hide from yourself. I am constantly checking in with myself. There are times when you try to fake that you are happy and fine, but telling yourself that lie can only last so long. If you keep checking in with yourself you will find your source of therapy. It can be anything from doing the dishes to playing guitar. Make sure whatever it is, you are happy doing it when noone is watching and when everyone is watching. Don’t do it for the payoff, do it because it’s what makes you feel most like yourself.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy