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Former Pentatonix member Avi Kaplan releases debut solo album 'Floating On A Dream'


AVI KAPLAN: (Singing) Heaven knows my name. It's written on my grave. But I don't want to go there today.


Avi Kaplan's won recognition and Grammys for his work in the acapella group, Pentatonix. With his first solo album, this baritone reveals his full range.


KAPLAN: (Singing) So while I'm alive, I'll try to get it right. I want to get it right.

SIMON: That's Avi Kaplan harmonizing with himself. The album is called "Floating On A Dream." And Avi Kaplan joins us from Nashville. Thanks so much for being with us.

KAPLAN: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So what did you think about singing with yourself?

KAPLAN: It was a lot of fun. I enjoy it. Yeah.

SIMON: Well, how is it different than working with a group?

KAPLAN: Well, you have total control, which is a great thing and also a challenge, because you have to make all of the decisions yourself, and all of it is on you. But it also allows for a lot of creative leeway. And really, I can do whatever I want creatively and artistically. So there are pros and cons to both. But I had a beautiful time recording this and singing with myself.

SIMON: You, I guess, left Pentatonix about five years ago - with plans for a solo career, or were you just looking around?

KAPLAN: You know, when I left, I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do. So I took some time, did some traveling, did some soul searching. And it led me to my solo career. And, you know, when I first started out in music, folk music was always the music that I sang and wrote and listened to. So it made sense for me to go back to my roots. And that's really where my heart pulled me.


KAPLAN: (Singing) The first place I go when I'm trying to hide away, to be left alone, but you always find me.

SIMON: The songs in "Floating On A Dream" can be evocative. And a lot of them seem to be about people that are kind of crossroads, like the track "First Place I Go." Is that a personal story you know?

KAPLAN: Definitely. It's a very, very personal story. I wrote it about my struggle with anxiety and depression. I feel like the first place I go in terms of my thought processes are worst-case scenarios. And that's really the last thing I need and really the last thing that anybody needs. But I wanted to write it in a way where it would be open-ended enough lyrically for people to put their own story to it.


KAPLAN: (Singing) The last thing I need is the first place I go. It's the first place I go, the first place I go.

SIMON: I wasn't surprised to learn you studied opera.

KAPLAN: Yes, yes. I studied opera, choral music, choral composition. I had a lot of fun singing in my upper register, stuff that people don't really hear very often.


KAPLAN: (Singing) The first place I, the first place I go...

SIMON: Does your upper register ever talk to your lower register? I mean, do they get along?

KAPLAN: They don't always get along. They definitely don't always get along. But it's been a really beautiful experience to be able to work on both more. As a soloist, you know, for so long I was working on only a very, very small aspect of my voice. And so to be able to explore and, you know, really refine my voice in those registers has been a really, really amazing experience.

SIMON: Let's ask you a little bit more about that. Sometimes in your baritone, there's a note almost in menace. I'm talking about the song "I'm Only Getting Started."


KAPLAN: (Singing) I'm only getting started. I'm only getting - oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Scrape gravel from the palm of my hands. Skin weathered from the wind and sand. From the valley where I used to live, I'm the storm heading over that ridge. Yeah, my bones don't lie.

SIMON: What's this song about?

KAPLAN: This song is about getting knocked down and using that pain that you feel when you get knocked down as fuel to get back up and get to where you want to go.

SIMON: So we have that personality on this album, and then somebody who is on the verge and on the kind of cusp of peace. This is the song - let me ask you about this - "All Is Well."


KAPLAN: (Singing) I dove into the dark. I swear I almost drowned. But I could see the stars looking up as I was sinking down. All is well. All is well. Heaven, hell, wherever I go, all is well in my soul.

SIMON: Boy, that's a beautiful song. But it really - it underscores that sometimes the path through peace lies through pain and suffering and sadness, doesn't it?

KAPLAN: When you go through hard times and you go through dark times, you think to yourself, why am I going through this? This is so hard. This is horrible, you know? And then once you get through it and you start feeling the sunshine again, you can look back and think to yourself, ah, that's what I learned. That's how I grew. That's why I needed to go through those things. Both Joy and I really, really wanted it to be an uplifting song because...

SIMON: Joy Williams, who - and Daniel Ellsworth who wrote it with you.

KAPLAN: Yes, yes. You know, it was something that we really, really wanted it to be hopeful. You know, in this day and age, world needs hope.


KAPLAN: (Singing) Heaven, hell, wherever I go. All is well in my soul. All is well.

SIMON: So you like this working on your own or with your many other different musical selves?

KAPLAN: I really, really do. You know, it feels like I've come back home, and it feels like I'm on the right path. To me, that is one of the most important things in my life, is for me to be on the right path, doing what I feel like I need to do on this earth. Yeah, it's been unbelievable.

SIMON: Avi Kaplan - his new album, "Floating On A Dream," out right now. Thanks so much for joining us.

KAPLAN: Thank you so much for having me.


KAPLAN: (Singing) Mama it's been far too long since I've been back home and we sang a song... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.