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Q&A: Pentatonix Member Hails From Visalia, Ventures Into Folk Music


In 2011 the a cappella group Pentatonix won the third season of NBC's show "The Sing Off."  Avi Kaplan, a bass in the group, is from Visalia and recently decided that he will be leaving the group. He's also launched out on his own with a project called “Avriel & the Sequoias” and a new EP  called "Sage and Stone.” FM89's Ezra David Romero caught up with Kaplan on the station's program Valley Edition. 

How did you get involved with Pentatonix?

“I was asked to join the group when I was in college just kind of off of a whim. I joined the group and we auditioned for the show The Sing-Off. Then we won that show and then you know it just kept going and going and going. It was kind of a quick thing and you know I didn't really expect it to go how it went, but I definitely did it was crazy ride.”

What was that experience like?

“It’s been surreal. Doing something that that I love that you know that is really seen as a risk to the rest of the world, being a musician. To have it be successful and for people to love it and for people to love what you do and to appreciate what you put out there it's a really unbelievable feeling.”

Tell me about your history in Central California.

“I grew up in Visalia, California. I went to Mountain View Elementary School. I went to Divisadero Middle School and I went to Mount Whitney High School. I honestly loved growing up in Visalia. It was really amazing place to grow up and music was a huge part of the community. Every school that I went to music was very prevalent and very much encouraged and so I feel super blessed to have been a part of the community that was so encouraging and supportive of music. It's just a beautiful place to grow up. There's just miles and miles of beautiful farmland and Sequoia National Park is not far at all. I used to be there all the time just exploring. I honestly couldn't have loved growing up there more. I love that I'm from there, which is why I named my new solo project after the sequoias.”

Sequoia National Park is one of my favorite places on earth. There are big trees, places to cliff jump and great hikes. Tell me more about how this place shaped your new EP?

“If someone was to take a road trip from over the grapevine all the way up to the sequoias and they were to listen to my EP I think they would understand where all the music came from. I think it really fits the scenery of where I grew up. I just feel like nature inspires that type of raw acoustic super real type of folk music. It just feels right at home there it feels like the soundtrack you.”

The sound of your new music reminds me of the folk songs created here in the region, especially in Visalia. How has the Central California sound inspired you?

“When I was growing up folk music was always something that I fell in love with. My mom was a huge fan of the Sons of the San Joaquin. I loved listening to them.”

Tell me about the songs on your EP starting with “Sweet Adeline.”

“It’s a love song. It's the type of love song where it embodies that love that is something you can't deny and it just makes you unbelievably happy. It's the type of love where you don't care what happens with it you just want to be engulfed in it because it's so amazing it makes you so happy and that's kind of what I wanted to capture. It’s that new love. It's that unbelievable feeling of butterflies where you're walking around whistling because you’re so happy and so in love.”

The sound of your new project is so different than what you created with Pentatonix. What are you most looking forward to in this next season of your life?

“This is the type of music that I have always grown up with, the type of music that I’ve written all my life. So it's really amazing to be able to get back to my roots and to be able to sing my own words and to be able to express and emote things that are that are very, very dear to me. Lyrics are extensions of the soul and it's just so excited to be able to do that, to show people what I have to offer. I honestly couldn't be more excited for it really.”

What’s your song “Fields and Pier” all about?

“That song is a conversation between my past and present self. In my life I've been on a lot of journeys coming from Visalia, going to LA. Trying to be a musician in the world is not exactly easy and so it's a journey song and it's a conversation between my past and present self. It's kind of an encouragement to myself to keep going and keep fighting for my dreams you know.”

Talking about that divide and thinking about 10 years ago before Pentatonix did you ever think you were going to make it this big?

“Definitely not. I definitely didn't think that my life would end up the way that it did. If I were to go back 10 years and talk to my 18 year-old self about what is about to happen in the next 10 years I wouldn't believe it, not any part of it. It’s always been a dream of mine, but you know those are always dreams and always something you're fighting for. For them to actually come true and for you to be able to do create your own destiny is a really surreal thing.

Avi Kaplan’s EP “Sage and Stone” can be purchased online anywhere music is sold online. 

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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