R&B is an aesthetic that is everywhere right now, and within it, there’s a pocket of musicians who are pushing boundaries. Drake and Kendrick have placed story-telling in a whole new framework where champagne and fast cars come hand-in-hand with angst and ambivalence, self-doubt and anger. FKA twigs is shifting the way that we think about the genre, while Frank Ocean is flipping old attitudes on their head by being, well, lyrically frank, about his relationships with both men and women. All this combines to create a new climate; one where innovators flourish.
King avriel is perhaps the most fiercely intellectual of the bunch, though, and titling her debut project ‘thesis’, it’s not a charge that she shies away from. Citing Lorde in her extensive explanation to accompany her music video for ‘Freedom’, - the feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, rather than New Zealand’s latest pop sensation - she writes music that explores and challenges rigid ideas of gender, the patriarchy and “the rules and expectations of black hyper-masculinity,” amongst many other themes. Pair this explorative mind with a slick, irresistible, and thoroughly experimental take on R&B, and in short, King avriel is part of a larger movement that’s changing the game. In the run-up to the release of ‘thesis’, King avriel chatted more with DIY about the music that she loves, and the ideas that make her tick. Read ‘thesis” accompanying booklet here.
Lyrically ‘thesis’ reads like a diary. Why do you think music is the outlet that you tell your stories through?
Definitely. I use music as a way to process through what is happening/has happened in my life. It helps me better understand myself, those around me, and the society we’re all in. I think that’s what I’ve always used diaries for over the years, too. So, that’s probably why the music feels that way. The reason I use music, and not like prose or poetry, is because the melodies and chord progressions really evoke moods and inspire me to delve into certain parts of my memory. But, I definitely see myself branching out as a writer beyond music in the future — maybe novels or screenplays. Who knows.
You’re clearly very open about discussing your music and ideas with your fans – that’s obvious straight away from your tumblr. Is that openness really important to you?
Super important. I think another reason why I make music is to spark conversations around the stuff that I’m dealing with. I like talking with fans and journalists, because they challenge me to think about things that I may have overlooked; sometimes they provide perspectives that are really interesting, and make me reconsider my previously held beliefs. It’s so cool that I have access to all these brilliant minds across the internet who dig what I’m talking about in my lyrics, and want to continue the conversation with me once the songs are over.
"I never want to be someone who encourages things to stay the same."
Would you call ‘thesis’ an album, an EP, or something else entirely?
I would call it a project. It doesn’t feel formal enough for it to be an album, and it feels bigger to me than an EP. It was definitely an experiment of sorts, especially when I decided I was going to include the whole written component with the booklet that comes along with the music. I’ve never seen anyone do liner notes in that way before, so I figured it could either work really well or be a complete disaster. So, yeah, overall I just see it as my experimental project.
Why did you choose ‘thesis’ as the title? What is it a thesis on?
I call the project ‘thesis' because I see it as an analysis and commentary on my life thus far. It’s almost like an ethnographic research project; I’m telling these stories, and examining my life, but underneath the stories are these institutional critiques that challenge the environment I came up in. I started writing it during my junior year at UCLA and finished recording the week I graduated, and it really just felt like my final exam in life school. I feel I’ve lived a lot of life in a short amount of years, and to be able to look back on that with some clarity around what it all meant was really significant for me. That is essentially what’s at the heart of the project.
Why did you choose to rename yourself King avriel? Is it meant as a subversion of the gender binary?
Yeah that’s exactly what it is. I’ve always believed that difference and diversity is important and should be celebrated, but when we start attaching power to certain groups and stripping others of their power it becomes really problematic. I just want to challenge the idea that women come secondary to men. I believe in a future where everyone is equal, and we can all be kings regardless of gender.
What would you like the people who listen to ‘thesis’ to take away from it?
I want it to make people contemplate their own journeys. More importantly, I want it to empower people to tell their stories and truly listen to and find value in the experiences of others. In my fantasy world, it would make people more compassionate and empathetic in realizing that we’re all dealing with our own unique struggles no matter how put together we may seem on the outside.
Your music could easily be labelled as R&B, although like Frank Ocean and and Drake, it feels like you’re coming at the genre with an alternative tact. Why?
Progression and evolution is a natural and necessary part of life. I think to be alternative is to be on the cutting edge, or at least to be unafraid of taking the risks that may lead to progress. I never want to be someone who encourages things to stay the same. I always want to be a part of the group of people who are trying to push things forward and improve upon them.
"I definitely see myself branching out as a writer beyond music."
You are currently unsigned – do you think that gives you the space you need to be totally creative?
Probably. But, I can’t really say for sure… I knew I wanted to put my first project out independently, though, because I wanted to be the one that shapes my image, sound, and brand. It was important for me to set a precedent; however, I’m definitely excited to start working with more people now, so I can grow and reach a bigger audience.
Do you have any future projects in the pipeline after this?
I started writing my next project. I’ve been throwing around different concepts, but haven’t landed on anything concrete yet. I definitely want to do something completely different in terms of sound next time around though. I’m excited to show how much I’ve grown since completing 'thesis'.
King avriel's 'thesis' is out now.