April 28--Being a musician isn't always easy. In the early years, you pay to play -- not literally, but you certainly don't make enough money to quit your day job.
And when he takes a job, Hythum El-sayyad, 23, makes it clear to prospective employers. If he is scheduled to work when he has a gig, he'll quit.
El-sayyad is a member of Apollo Quad, an alternative hip-hop band that started here in Bloomington with fellow townies Steve Alwine, 23; Eric Ottinger, 20; and Ian Ottinger, 23.
"Steve met Hythum through a mutual friend," Eric Ottinger explained.
"I've known Eric since he was 3," Alwine said.
All the band members have played in a variety of bands covering different genres. But it was when Alwine and El-sayyad met that the hip-hop band formed in 2009.
The genesis of the band seemed to be a catalyst for the band members to strive with more energy than before to succeed.
"It was never as serious before," said drummer Eric Ottinger.
Hip-hop's hard road
The band has found that not all people are open to listening to their music when they hear the words hip-hop alternative.
"Our genre is really hard," El-sayyad said.
With this unique genre, rap fans are confused when the guitars and drum are on stage. And rock fans can sometimes be turned off at the idea of rap. But listening to a few songs has changed doubters into fans.
"As time went on, people were like, 'They're good. Who cares what genre they are,'" El-sayyad said.
And venues will often turn away the band because they believe some of the negative stereotypes of hip-hop. The band members once attempted to play at a club where the previous night a hip-hop concert had caused a lot of problems for the owner. But the band members don't give up and continue to push their music.
"We have a really good message. We're not gangsters," El-sayyad said.
The band has played a few venues in Bloomington mostly at The Video Saloon.
"It's probably our favorite place in town to play. He's excited to have us there," Alwine said of Vid owner Mike Black.
"You don't feel like a burden," added Eric Ottinger.
Plus, Alwine said Black trusts him to run his own sound, which means a lot to the guitarist since he can "do what I like to do with the sound."
Alwine and the Ottinger brothers grew up in the same area in Bloomington. They often listened to the same music and soon were taking musical lessons. And it didn't take long for them to become bandmates.
Through the local music scene, the members would occasionally play together or even against each other in band competitions.
As life-long residents of Bloomington, the band has decided it's time to move on. In August, they will move to Minneapolis where the hip-hop scene is "huge."
"I've just lived here my whole life," Alwine said.
As vast as the Bloomington music scene is, there doesn't seem to be a lot of opportunities and venues interested in a band known for hip-hop. And by being townies, the band members agree that it is hard to be taken seriously as musicians.
But they are serious and others have taken note.
The path to success
In 2010, the band opened for Snoop Dogg when he performed during Little 500. In 2012, the band won Rhino's Battle of the Bands, and placed second in New York radio station WRCN's Battle of the Bands.
Coming in second place was a major coup for Apollo Quad. The band lost by only 146 votes. Members of the winning band, Afterburn, are New York City firefighters.
"It was pretty close for our not being in the area," Alwine said. "It was tough."
The band recently played a couple of gigs in California including a show at Whiskey A-Go-Go. Of course, with little money, the band packed up a van and drove 31 hours straight to California with Eric Ottinger sick with pneumonia. With lots of peanut butter sandwiches and determination, the band performed both shows and deemed the trip a success.
"It was definitely a different atmosphere," Eric Ottinger said.
In the end, that trip solidified their move to Minneapolis.
Paying to play
The guys are accustomed to the idea that making music doesn't mean making money at this early stage in the game.
"Making it -- it's a loaded phrase," Ottinger said.
Working day jobs to pay the bills and eat is a way of life -- a life they lead by choice in order to do what they love.
This weekend, the band performed at the Launch Music Conference in Lancaster, Penn. And in June, they will be showcasing at the California Music Industry Summit in Oakland, Calif. In both cases, the band had to pay a submission fee to even apply to perform at the event with no guarantee they would be asked to attend.
"It's a lot of money to make music," Ottinger said.
Despite the continual drain on cash, no one seems to mind paying the fees. For them, it is just another example of how determined they are to succeed. "It's not worth it if you don't love it," El-sayyad said.
Making a move
With the showcases coming right before the planned move to Minnesota, El-sayyad said it will give them an opportunity to gauge their success.
"It's a lot of bands in the same boat we're in," he said.
The band members all get along well with music writing running seamlessly. "Usually they'll come up with the music, and then I record it and write the lyrics on my own," El-sayyad said.
So the idea of moving and living together doesn't seem to be an issue. They know each other and feel confident they'll be able to work out any problems.
The band has been researching possible apartments -- hoping for one with a basement so Ottinger's drum practicing won't bother the neighbors.
"It's coming in the biggest summer of our lives," El-sayyad said of the move.
"It's overwhelming," Alwine admits.
But they all agree they need to give their music career a serious go.
"We have no other interests besides this," Ottinger said.
Musically, the band feels it has really grown and changed, admitting they can notice a change in their music from what they did last year. In a year, El-sayyad hopes the band will continue to grow musically and in popularity.
"I'd like to be a staple in the Minneapolis music scene," he said.
Continuing to make music and build a fan base is what fuels the move. They'll certainly miss family, friends and their old haunts, but the band members have found a certain synergy in the creative process of writing and performing their music.
"That's what I love about us. We'll never be background music," El-sayyad said.
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