Interview: K. Flay

By Alison Tracy

June 16, 2015

K.Flay is different. She is a Stanford University graduate with a musical career that initially began as a joke between friends, then steadily grew into something she genuinely enjoyed. Being 29, she grew up in the MTV era with exposure to various types of music, which have become heavy influences on the musically inclined. K.Flay has been called genreless by many, and if you listen to her music, you can hear a euphonious marriage of influences and styles that many artists struggle to achieve.

It takes talent to make dubstep actually enjoyable and turn that “I hate everyone and nobody can help” vibe into catchy, almost bubbly hooks. Her music hops happily from indie confessionals to dirty Danny Brown hip hop effortlessly, leaving her music feeling like a journal that is as multifaceted as an actual personality. Listening to an album such as K.Flay’s own “Life as Dog” is a true musical experience.

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CLTure had the chance to sit down with her for a few minutes between rehearsals and talk to the singer prior to her upcoming Charlotte show at Neighborhood Theater on June 21st. It was hard to condense the conversation to only a few minutes, as K.Flay is truly as expressive and engaging in person as many of her lyrics are.

CLTure: It has been frequently said that your music is genreless; was this an organic progression for you or were you influenced to push your boundaries by anyone?

K.Flay: I think it probably has its origins in my musical beginnings in that. I didn’t really come up in a scene where I was in bands with a bunch of people [who] make a similar type of music, so I sort of started the process without a map, and I think that in many ways—both interesting, good, and sometimes frustrating—that has led to a style of music that feels free to jump in between different styles and genres without that seeming, at least internally to me, strange. I think that’s a big part of it. And you know, once I started touring and putting music out in a more concerted fashion, I think I found that the response from people listening was really cool in that people were gravitating towards different elements of the music, and it sort of created a broader fanbase. Some people found out about the music through more of a hip hop channel, and other people through a more indie channel, or electronic. So it’s been kind of a cool, weird amalgamation of tastes and people that spurred me on. But to be honest, when I sit down to make music there’s no pre-conceived “this should be this kind of a song”; I feel pretty free to do whatever and let the coffee guide me.

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CLTure: Have you faced any challenges with trying to market your music through traditional means? Is it more freeing to not be easily labeled? Or does that put up unique roadblocks for you?

KF: I think on the whole it’s certainly more liberating. I was on a major label for a couple of years, and the in-between genres was highly problematic in that context. When you’re embedded in some mechanism that’s very much geared towards certain radio formats, things that have worked in the past, plugging those different artists and those bands into that system when it’s not clear which direction a project is going in; I think it becomes not a very good situation, at least in my experience. There wasn’t a clear way to push the project forward, so in that respect it can be. It can become kind of a head scratch moment for some people and institutions in that way. But on the daily level—and touring level—it’s very cool because I’ve been able to tour with all kinds of bands. We did Warped Tour last summer, which is obviously more on the rock side, and I’ve done indie-rap tours and electronic things. So from that standpoint, it’s cool, because it feels like there aren’t a ton of boundaries, but for the more traditional formats and things, it can be a conundrum.

CLTure: Are there any artists out there right now that toe the line like you do that you’re interested in working with? Or is there anyone that you’re listening to all the time?

KF: Oh, well, there’s many people I’m listening to all the time. I don’t know if they have the same problems as I do. With regards to the first part of that, I’ve always felt that, and the comparison definitely comes up, with Kid Cudi, you know just because there is a definite alternative component to what he does, and he’s put out just straight indie rock/alternative records. I think just in terms of content as well, it being kind of like emotionally and emotional confessional music. I look to him as someone I really respect and feel like he’s done an awesome job of existing in several different worlds at the same time. He’s in—whether it’s remixed stuff or features—a lot of electronic stuff that I think is really compelling, too. People that I’m listening to at the moment?  I feel like I’ve mentioned this in the past couple conversations, but it’s just because I’m sort obsessed with him. It’s this guy named Lorentz. He’s like Swedish, and he raps…it’s a little bit of everything, and it kind of has like a Drake feel, in terms of production. It’s sort of down tempo, kind of moody.

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CLTure: With your lyrical content, it’s really honest and open, and it just seems like you’re not scared to put things out there. Is it hard for you to sit down and write things that personal or does it come naturally to your personality?

KF: I’ll say it’s very easy to write them; it’s harder to release them. It’s definitely in my personality, I’m pretty straightforward with things, and if I’m feeling something I feel like I need to tell someone, which I probably don’t need to. So that can be problematic at times. The hard part isn’t so much expressing myself in a very insular or isolated context where no one has to hear or see anything I’ve done, but it when it comes to the point of recording it, and releasing it, and showing it to people, letting people sort of interpret it or letting people that are a part of those songs kind of know that they are. Because there is this weird vulnerability when you put something out and the person that it’s about will know. Because maybe they feel like you’re not that important to them, and then you went and wrote a song about them. So there’s something utterly humiliating about that; I don’t know if that’s the wrong word. Yeah, I find that to be the harder part, that public honesty. Once you get used to it, it gets easier with every release.

CLTure: You’ve lived in a lot of major cities; do you have a favorite?

KF: New York caters more to the extremes of my personalities. It’s a great place to really work hard, and like hustle and never see the light of day. But it’s also great to stay out forever, and wake up feeling like shit every morning. Whereas, I feel like California is like the land of the intermediate for me; it’s much more balanced. My family—my parents are in the Bay Area—lives outside of San Francisco. My brother and sister live on the East Coast. The weird thing is everybody is kind of moving from NY to LA, most of my music friends, just because New York is so expensive, kind of prohibitively so. I feel like I’ve reached this point where I’m bouncing around so much, I’m almost scared to live somewhere [permanently], it feels like too much of a commitment.

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CLTure: What is next for you in regards to your music?

KF: The most immediate—and primary focus—is the summer tour. Actually after this, I have to jump right back into rehearsal; we start tomorrow and [the tour] goes through August. It’s kind of a mix of some headline shows; some I’m opening up for AWOLNATION, and some of them I’m opening up for Third Eye Blind. It’ll be a cool mix of some big shows, and some intimate club shows, which will be awesome.  And I’ve been [touring] for the last eight months or so. We’ve been touring pretty consistently in support of the record since it came out last summer, but in the break times, I’ve been writing and working on new stuff. So when this tour finishes, that’s the plan. I have to lock myself away and finish some of that, which will then come out in some way, to be determined.  Definitely new stuff on the way, and some collaboration and feature stuff will be coming out throughout this year as well. The balance of being on the road and writing, they help bolster one another. I’m excited to have a tiny bit of a break to spend on writing and finishing up this new batch of material.

Catch K. Flay on Sunday June 21st at Neighborhood Theatre.

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