Interview: King avriel

king avrielOriginally published for The 405.

King avriel, aka Avriel Epps, has all the credentials to be the perfect major label pop star: she grew up in LA, her dad was in a reggae band, her sister was a professional dancer, she voiced Timberly in the popular Nickelodeon series Hey Arnold! and even had a brief stint as a model before eventually trying her hand at music. But Epps is not just another LA kid done good, she’s got a lot to say and she wants you to know it.

From a young age, Epps was immersed in the cut-throat world that is the entertainment industry in LA and she speaks candidly about her love/hate relationship with the city. “When I was in Hey Arnold!, I loved going to Nickelodeon studios, it was the most fun thing in the world,” she states excitedly. But when it comes to her experiences of the modelling industry, Epps doesn’t seem to have the same fond memories of it. “It was like “look you’ve either got to lose weight or you’ve got to stop modelling” and it happened around the same time that I really started working in some studios and I wasn’t getting the same kind of fulfilment from modelling as I was from making music.”

Epps’ deeply emotional and raw storytelling style of writing is one of her most endearing qualities as an artist. She is not afraid to show her vulnerability and bare her soul, something she says her father always encouraged her to do. “A part of me wants everybody to understand who I am. I think, on a really deep level, I kind of want to expose all of that stuff,” explains Epps. “I got to a point a couple of years ago where I was like I can’t strive to write pop songs, I can’t strive to write shit that’s going to be a hit. At this point, I really need to explore all my flaws and my contradictions and I need to put them all out there and face my fears of not being perfect and accept the fact that I’m a human being.”

Although she also writes short stories and poetry, amongst other things, Epps finds that she gravitates towards music because it allows her more freedom to express herself. “I definitely consider myself a writer more than I consider myself a musician but there is something about music where you can communicate things non-verbally. I try to do that with the melodies I write and with the kinds of production that I pick to make sure that there is meaning in all of the non-verbal stuff as well.”

With a degree in Mass-media Communications and Education from UCLA, Epps is a rare breed – a highly intelligent, and not in an annoying, pretentious kind of way – artist who really cares about the kind of messages she’s putting out in her music and how people interpret it. “Most artists intend for there to be a conversation around their work, it just depends on what lense we want to look at it,” says Epps. The video for her recent single, ‘Freedom’, was accompanied by a short essay on her Tumblr page, urging her fans to look deeper in to the meaning of it. The video, along with her recent name change from Avriel Epps to King avriel, aims to challenge gender boundaries, with the video giving particular reference to the transgender community. “It was intentional to get the point across in that moment but it was also intentional to set up this expectation of what kind of artist I am. One of my bigger agendas is to get people to think critically about the media that they’re consuming and to take that analytical stance on everything, not just my music video.”

Epps often uses her music to express her opinions about big issues like gender, race and equality but she also writes about really difficult and upsetting personal experiences. “I’m really just processing through my own shit,” states Epps. In ‘Prelude’, for example, she opens up about an abusive ex in an incredibly direct fashion, after being inspired by the Kendrick Lamar track, ‘Keyshia’s Song’. “I just really wanted to tell that story cause I spent so many years not talking about it and being really afraid and it still scares the shit out of me to talk about it but, at this point, I’m trying to do things that scare the shit out of me so that I can break through that fear and not let it cripple me.”

With a new project on the way in the next few months, which will feature her latest release‘Caricatures’, Epps has said that her upcoming material will be quite different from what we have heard from her so far. “The narrative will stay the same but the sound kind of travels and it gets out of this alt-R&B/electro thing that I was doing,” Epps explains. “I think it differs mostly just in terms of sound. The story stays the same but because I spent so much more time on the project, there’s much more attention to detail than in the last few songs.”

Asking about whether her name change from Avriel Epps to King avriel is a permanent thing or specifically just for this project, Epps responds: “I feel like I have changed, I’m not Avriel Epps or whoever that person was that was putting out music a few years ago so I think it’s appropriate for me to have a new name that embodies this new found empowerment that I have now.”

All hail King avriel.