In Search of Freedom with LA Songstress King avriel
Her name pays homage to a woman regarded as one of the most successful pharaohs of the 18th dynasty, but King avriel’s rise to the throne is not one in search of superiority. Whilst she places herself in a position of power it is not for individual gain. King avriel simply represents women as a whole, and it doesn’t stop there. In the last few months avriel has released a string of songs, including Paranormal Paradigm and Freedom, that touch on everything from online identity and false reality, to gender roles and oppression. She challenges everything that society, and the music industry, tells her that she should be, and does it all to the beat of her own drum. There’s no use trying to put King avriel into a box, because she is determined not to stay there.
We chat to the new King of LA about her love for female pop acts, the first time she heard The Love Below, how her name is a call for equality and why you should forget everything you think you can expect from King avriel. Jesse Kuss writes.
Your father is a classically trained guitarist and toured internationally with Reggae band Boom Shaka. How did this influence your relationship with music as a child?
I grew up in a musical household with tons of instruments around, music was always playing, and I went to lots of my dad’s shows when I was little. I also learned a lot about music theory and songwriting at a young age. Not sure I absorbed it all back then, but it definitely made it easier to learn once I was older and started taking theory classes in college.
I understand that the first album you bought was Butterfly by Mariah Carey. What other artists have had a strong impact on your music over the years?
I loved female pop acts — Destiny’s Child, Spice Girls, Christina Aguilera, Mariah (Carey), Whitney (Houston), etc. I went through adolescence in the early 2000's, so boy bands, alternative rock, and rap videos with all white parties on yachts were the norm. Lauryn Hill was really impactful to me too. Since I was classically trained as a pianist and violinist I loved classical music, and got into Jazz later into my teens. After I graduated high school I really started exploring different genres: classic rock, underground hip hop, indie stuff, etc. I remember the first time I heard The Love Below my life was changed forever. Something similar happened when Nostalgia Ultra and Overly Dedicated came out around the same time.
Originally you were releasing music under your full name Avriel Epps, more recently deciding to go by 'King avriel'; a name you have said is central to your identity and ideology. What is the meaning behind the name and why did you decide to change it?
I’m really inspired by bell hooks’ scholarship, so I lowercase the a in avriel to take emphasis away from myself, the individual, and capitalise the K in King to redirect said emphasis to the collective and the intellectual, feminist work I’m trying to do. I’m donning the King to show that all women can be kings, just like men can be kings — and one’s gender should not dictate how much power one should have. It’s a challenge to patriarchy, and a call for equality.
A very large part of what you write is autobiographical and you often describe very specific situations and events in your songs. Why is this kind of story telling so important to you as a songwriter?
I think that there is not enough value placed on the narratives of individuals. People want to hear about aggregates, data, and big picture stuff. They want things to be generalisable so they can understand society or groups as a whole, but there is a richness that you lose when you only focus on those things. And, oftentimes marginalised communities are overlooked and not included in that way of understanding things. I’m not interested in the mainstream or the birds eye view. I feel like we already know what’s going on there. I’m interested in the outlier, I’m interested in the lived experience, not just the statistic. So, that’s what I focus on in my songwriting.
You said that you had fallen out of love with music shortly after the release of Be Cool. What was missing then that has changed for you now?
I wasn’t in control then. I am now.
The release of Freedom was accompanied by an essay that you had written which referred to the necessity of empathy in fighting oppression. The essay also referenced your decision to challenge gender norms, a topic that you are obviously very passionate about. Why was it important for you to include the essay when releasing the song/ video?
Well, I think that the way I intellectualise my art is something unique I bring to the table. I spend a lot of time working through details and ruminating on the message I want to convey. There’s a lot of planning and thinking that goes into every piece that I create and I don’t want that to be lost on the listener. It’s heavy stuff, and it’s something that I wish some of my favourite artists would do because I know they’re packing meaning into their work like I am. I might not do it forever, but it’s been fun for these last few releases.
You have described your next project as a conceptual piece; what is the focus of the project and what can listeners expect from the content?
I don’t want to give too much away, but all I can say is that everything you’ve heard thus far is not a good representation of the project. What I’ve put out recently have been fun, throw-away tracks, but the project takes on a far more complex journey sonically and narrative-wise than what you’ve heard so far.
You produced and co-produced the majority of your project; was it important for you to be directly involved in the production? What has been the highlight of the project so far?
I mean, I’m a musician, so yeah I like to be involved in that. Sound supports the story in a very special way, so it’s important for all of the elements of the song from the last word in the hook to the cymbal crash at the end of the bridge to work together to convey the message. I think the highlight of the project so far has been learning how to record and mix all of my vocals. I spent a ton of alone time in my bedroom trying to perfect everything, and I really cherished that time.
You also model and act, having even lent your voice to a character in the cartoon TV series Hey Arnold! Do you have any plans to continue modelling/ acting or are you focused on spreading your message through music?
Who knows… If the opportunity presents itself and it feels right. I love being in front of the camera, but only for stories that I feel are important to tell.
What is the most important part of this journey for you?
I’ve learned so much about myself, and began healing from so many past traumas in the last two years leading up to this release. That growth was invaluable.
What Stimulates your Soul?
Watching/listening to people pour their entire beings into their life’s work inspires me.
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Photos: Lily Epps