First Look Friday Avriel 1
First Look Friday Avriel 1

First Look: Avriel - "Failed Messiah" + Exclusive Interview

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.\

Avriel is an exceptionally young and talented Cali based chanteuse who dropped "Failed Messiah" yesterday, another grand release just weeks after the spookily good  "Paranormal Paradigm." The impressive singer's broad vocal range is complemented by great restraint and an ability to seamlessly drive a track that's chock full of hazy strings and synths and extremely minimal production by Oakland's Miles Brandon (reminiscent of Frank Ocean's "Thinkin' Bout You" with just a bit more embellishment and a vocal track that's a tad heftier.)

We've heard Avriel's name before--about 3 years back when her youth and talent were even more of an exception, but after a few jams the line went quiet. Regardless of her age, these newest tracks prove she makes effortlessly soulful grooves comprised of all the best tonal fabrics of our era, which sets her so far aside from most artists that it's hard to even keep her in the picture. If this soul-stirring crooner keeps releasing these kinds of bonafide bedtime jams and at this rate, we'll never get the opportunity to brush her off again.

With a record due out later this year, we're getting morsels of what is shaping up to be a striking release from the West Coast's newest contribution to the non-genre urban contemporary music continuum. Peep the formidably delicate "Failed Messiah" below and scroll down for our First Look interview to get familiar with who King Avriel is, where she's coming from and what we can expect from her in the (very) near future...

OKP: Please introduce yourself for the folks who are just hearing your name from the brand new tracks ("Paranormal Paradigm" and "Failed Messiah") and your recent Stalley collabo "Island Hopping"--give us a little background on where you're coming from:

Avriel: Well, my name is Avriel sometimes people call me King Avriel, and I was born and raised in lots of different parts of L.A. I guess I've always thought of myself as a writer first and foremost. I was a preschool dropout, and made my mom stay home with me when I was a toddler because I wanted to learn to read and write story books like the ones she would read to me. Stories eventually turned into poems, which evolved into songs. My dad was a classically trained guitarist, and toured internationally with a reggae band, so music was always a big part of my house. I also acted as a kid, which is something like a rite of passage for all biracial kids who grow up in L.A., and that led me to meet a ton of people in the music industry. At 15, after I graduated from high school, I started working as a production intern at my first studio, and just kind of followed the opportunities from there.

OKP: You first lit up OKP's radar about 3 years ago with tracks like "Be Cool" and "Gave You Away" --then things were pretty quiet until the Stalley cameo on Savage Journey To The American Dream last year—what were you doing all that time?'

AV: I had fallen out of love with music shortly after "Be Cool" came out, and was craving new experiences outside of the entertainment world I grew up in. I earned a full academic scholarship to go to UCLA, and figured it would be stupid not to take it, so I went back to school to study communications with the intention of getting into advertising or marketing. Ironically, it was through taking an advertising internship in Chicago one summer that led me to working with Stalley. While I was in Chicago, I was introduced to Soundtrakk, who played my music for Stalley's team, and the rest is history I guess. I'm glad I got to finish school though, because I was able to come back into music with a renewed passion, a clarity of purpose, and a sense of confidence that I could really do this on my own terms and be successful. Now, music for me isn't just about making songs that sound cool, it's about using an art form to convey messages in ways that language alone fails to do. That's what I was missing before, and it's empowering to come back to the industry with this broadened perspective.

OKP: Not to start urban-contemporary beef where there is none, but the refrain of "Failed Messiah" --I would say no new friends but I've outgrown my old ones--seems like an obvious tribute or maybe a shot at Drake's "other" motto—which one is it? And can you expand on that line a bit? Is the song based on a particular friend (or fail)?

AV: It definitely wasn't a shot at Drake. I think Drake, and the characters he creates in his songs are important for many reasons. He provides nuance in hip-hop, and makes the black male story that's told through pop culture more complex. I applaud him for that. That aside, I feel where he's coming from! Capitalism breeds competition and insecurity, which makes it hard to trust people around you when you're moving up the socioeconomic ladder. But for me, it's been frustrating to watch my friends accept their circumstances and not strive for greatness. My experience in college literally changed my life, and when I came home after graduation all I wanted to do was help my friends have that same lifechanging experience. And it wasn't even like I wanted my friends to become more "educated," I just wanted them to leave their blocks for a while, meet people from different cultures, be exposed to new ways of thinking and acting, learn the history lessons they didn't teach us in our shitty public schools. But, you know, we would talk about these things, they would get all amped up about it, and then get scared or whatever, and make up excuses for why they couldn't do it. It was painful to watch that pattern of self-defeat and denial every time I would extend myself to help them out. But, on the other hand, I don't know everything, and I don't know what's best for others, so the song is also an admission of that. It's like I'm singing about my frustrations with my friends, but also being critical of the high horse I was on during that time. And, to answer the last part of your question: yes, the characters in the song are based on two of my friends. Ninety-nine percent of what I write is autobiographical.

OKP: Speaking of, do you personally feel Urban Contemporary is a real thing? Where do you see your sound—lots of space, lots of soul playing off cold synths and chopped vox—fitting into the spectrum of r&b, pop and electronic music?

AV: I know this isn't groundbreaking, but genres lose meaning every day. I only use them because some people are stuck in the old paradigm of confining and stratifying media; however, I feel that's going to phase out in the near future. I make music that I like and that gives me the opportunity to write what I want to write about. Sometimes that sounds like "EDM", sometimes that sounds like "R&B", sometimes it sounds more like "indie pop." Also, I hate when the word "urban" is used to categorize music, because it's usually synonymous with "black" or the occasional non-black person who "sounds black." Let's be real, American music is black music. There isn't a single popular genre today that doesn't have its roots in the black musical tradition. So, to categorize music performed today mainly by black artists as "urban" is kind of silly to me. In my opinion, urban would be better used to categorize ALL of the music made in an urban area or city… so like basically everything except Bon Iver's projects (hopefully, someone will read into the sarcasm there). I'm all for people trying to describe sounds in order to introduce music to others, but it should never be so easy for someone to sum up your music with one or two words. If it is that easy, pick something else to do. I feel like we don't need anymore artists who are playing it safe, and not trying to push boundaries or blur lines.

OKP: We hear there's a new full-length project in the works, what (and when) can we expect in terms of future releases? Can we expect that "Paranormal" and "Messiah" are a good template of the sound and vision for the whole project?

AV: Both of the songs I've released so far aren't going to be on the project. I have a few more songs that didn't make it onto the project that I'll be releasing in the coming weeks. The project is a conceptual piece that requires all of the parts of it to be experienced together for the full effect. It's the first time I've ever felt proud of my music. I worked with a bunch of different producers on it, and got to produce parts of it myself. So, the sound of the project doesn't stay in one place at all -- I tried to create a sonic journey that gave room for the lyrical narrative to shine and be the unifying element.

OKP: Whats next for King Avriel overall?

This was the first year I ever accomplished all of my new years resolutions! So, I'm in the process of planning for next year. I definitely can't wait to produce a performance art piece to go along with the project after it's released, and then travel with that. I've also promised myself that I would learn how to code, and invest in my first piece of real estate next year, so I've got a lot of work ahead of me. I'm excited.