After serving as the bass vocalist in Pentatonix for the last six years, Avi Kaplan is finding his own voice

By Jordan Runtagh
July 22, 2017 12:45 PM
Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

After serving as the bass vocalist in Pentatonix for the last six years, Avi Kaplan is finding his own voice.

In May, the 28-year-old told the world he was stepping back from whirlwind grind of the multi Grammy-winning a cappella group in order to get back in touch with his family—and himself. The breather yielded an EP in May, Sage and Stone, and also a bluegrass cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” with his new solo outfit, Avriel & the Sequoias, Their “folk Americana” tinged work draws from the acoustic singer-songwriters who first inspired Kaplan as a young nature boy growing up in Central California, near the Sequoia National Park that gave the group their name.

The music is different—as is the scarcity of his trademark basso profundo vocals—but Kaplan says his fans have embraced this more personal side.

“It’s been amazing,” he tells PEOPLE. “Leaving the group and putting out a new EP, I prepared myself for the worst—people either being really mad at me for leaving, or really weirded out that I was doing something totally different from what I was doing before. But with the fanbase that we have, they really do know who we are as individuals, and I think that’s why they’re such diehard fans. They really know me and where my heart’s at. So when my [solo] music came out, the most popular opinion was that it really felt like me. That’s all I could have asked for, regardless of how well it did or anything like that. All I wanted was for it to come off as true and honest, because that’s what it is for me. It’s honestly who I am.”

Like all good relationships, the Pentaonix’s connection with their fans is based on honesty. Kaplan announced his departure from the group with an emotional Facebook video featuring all of his bandmates, as well as a lengthy letter posted to social media in which he detailed his battle with anxiety.

“It’s definitely something I’ve struggled with for a long time,” he says now. “I know for me, music was the best drug for anxiety. So that’s why I wanted to write the music that I do, because it always suits my anxiety. It’s a huge part of my life, and being able to make music that can help people with their anxiety is a huge thing for me. And being honest about it is also really huge because when you’re growing up with anxiety you feel a little crazy. You feel like you’re a little different from everyone else, and I think it’s super important to be honest and let people know you’re not alone.”

Though putting the brakes on Pentatonix was undoubtedly an excruciating decision, Kaplan says that his choice helped put him on the path to healing. “Obviously it’s a big life change, but it’s something that I know was the right decision for me and for the group. There’s still some anxiety, but that’s just life, honestly. But it’s a lot of excitement and a lot of uncharted territory for me. I think it’s really going to force me to grow as a musician and as a human.”

In the last few months, he admits his anxiety has “absolutely” diminished as he reconnects with his loved ones and past. “I’m just about to head home and spend a week with my family, just writing and hanging out with them. It’s perfect, it’s what I always wanted. For six years I wasn’t able to be who I wanted to be for them.”

These days Kaplan plans to pursue the musical muse on his own terms.

“Being in Pentatonix, we basically toured year round, so it was tough to just get a break. But now that I do have my own breaks and I’m able to control them, touring is going to be really amazing. I always loved touring in Pentatonix; really the only reason it was tough was the pace and no breaks. But now that I have breaks, I really, really, really am excited for touring and writing new music. That’s the life of the artist.”