For most casual fans of music, the forty-five minutes that a band spends on the stage is all they can see. However, when the guitar cases are closed and the venue’s floor is littered with empty beer cans and trash, most bands load their gear into the van and return back to their normal lives.
Mother Church Pew’s Off The Stage is a series that celebrates an artist’s path to where they are and the things they do behind the scenes to stay there.
For alt-country/frontier-rock trailblazer James Apollo, adventure is the key to a happy life; when he’s not touring the world with his troupe of players for his latest release, 2014’s Angelorum, or serving as a supporting musician for other artists, he’s doing everything in his power to become one with the wilderness.
“If I’m not out playing, I try to escape all semblance of society. I live off the grid out in the mountains whenever possible, like right now, the Cascade Mountains of the northwest. It’s a perfect place to leave anger behind. To leave the problems of mankind behind is a wonderful thing for me. It’s unapologetically gleeful,” he says.
Apollo involves himself in the rigors of Alpine mountain climbing, striving to live in the outdoors on the most rudimentary level. Last year, he set out to climb the tallest point in Central America, which happens to be a remote volcano in Guatemala. “Even trying to get there is the most amazing adventure. You’re deep in Mayan territory, then there’s the usual danger of climbing volcanos—avalanches, freezing to death—and where I was, there were bandits, banditos. So, you’re not worried about getting crushed by snowfall, you’re worried about getting dismembered by machetes,” he explains. “It’s frontier justice.” Fortunately, he came back with all of his limbs in tact.
His primal need for immersion in survivalist circumstances is rooted in struggle and tragedy; several years ago, while living in New York, Apollo was involved in a terrible motorcycle accident. Both of his legs were broken, rendering him fully disabled for months, and leaving him without the ability walk for a year. “City living became stressful and difficult, I couldn’t even climb the stairs to my apartment,” he recalls. “After I recovered, I moved out west, and I was able to walk again, and do all these things I hadn’t been able to do for so long. I needed to get my strength back, everything was so atrophied.” Apollo turned to nature, exploring the intricacies of creation, and testing his physical limits. “Eventually, all the things I took for granted that I could do before, I was blowing out of the water,” he adds. Physical challenge then became a way of life; “If you go to the biggest peaks in the world, they’re packed with all these people. I want to get away from the people and climb the craziest things no one wants to climb. I want to do climbs that nobody’s done,” he says with excitement in his confident voice. “It’s freedom from the rules, and you’re living completely by your own wits. Whether you live or die is based on what you choose to do; like if you do something that leads to your death, that was totally your decision. It’s very powerful.”
Of course, due to learning the proverbial ropes by trial and error, Apollo has found himself in life or death situations more often than not. “I’ve made many mistakes,” he admits. “There are three ways to go, you can fall off something, get crushed by something, or get lost and freeze to death. I’ve been involved in all three of those–but in those ‘I’m gonna die’ moments, I’ve never been more alive.”
Be sure to keep an eye on Apollo’s social media for updates about the release of his new live record this year, and his upcoming tour schedule–he promises that 2016 will bring many more adventures.