Avriel Epps started from the bottom, literally. At the age of two, when she starred in an advert for Bumble Balls (the impossible-to-catch bouncy toys), then voiced Timberly Johansson in Hey Arnold! and, after a sharp growth spurt, entered the modeling industry.
“It taught me to stand up for myself,” she stresses, but it was acting that gave her a deeper education. “Once you can take on a life in a script and really understand that life as if it’s your own, then you can empathise with any person you run into on the subway, or in a bar.”
Those interpersonal skills have translated into the LA artist’s output so far, where leftfield R&B and neo-soul production lend a backing melody for a singing or rapping mouth, millimetres from your ear.
“Sonically, it’s progressive but accessible,” she offers. “But I don’t think the way it sounds is necessarily as important to me as what I’m saying. The biggest thing I’m trying to do is craft a narrative, tell stories…”
The tales King avriel tells often touch on issues of race and gender – topics that keep her Tumblr packed full of dialogues with fans. At school her thesis “looked at how our consumption of hip-hop music in social networks correlates with the way we view race and think about racial stereotypes,” while a recent video for (the Daughter-sampling) ‘Freedom’ explores and flips existing gender binaries.
On this, she explains: “One of the most important images for me was the posturing of the trans model, Nick, in relation to me wearing the Decepticon shirt.”
Aforementioned school essay to one side, Avriel’s second ‘Thesis’ is her forthcoming debut album with that title, a royally exciting prospect. “The narrative I’ve been setting up with the singles in the past few months really deepens, everything comes around full circle,” she glows.
Even down to the typography of her name, where she’s deliberately capitalised the ‘K’ but not the ‘a’, Avriel’s constantly trying to challenge the norm. Yet she’s not here to preach.
“I’ve done a lot of shitty things in my life, and I’ll probably do way more before I die,” she admits. “I’m just here to be honest. And self-aware.”
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WHAT: Minimal, vocal-driven R&B with a multi-layered narrative
FACT: She’s obsessed with architecture/design and financial planning blogs.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photo: Mike Hernandez