K.Flay Talks Freedom of Expression and the Cultural Rifts That Plague Our Country
Defining artists in a genre is something record labels feel is imperative in order to properly market them as musicians. However, alt-rap-rock-singer-songwriter-indie artist K.Flay clearly isn’t interested in taking sides when it comes to genre-defining. She’s everywhere and nowhere all at once, which is a great segue to her latest album “Every Where is Some Where.” Released this past spring, the sophomore record shows the 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist at her most undefined. Filled with spats of rap, tinged with rock-guitar licks and topped with feathered pop vocals, K.Flay has crafted a real enigmatic gem of a follow-up to 2014’s rap-centric “Life as a Dog.” Her progression as an artist has caught the attention of Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds who has since booked her as a special guest on their upcoming “Evolve Tour,” which kicks off Sept. 26.
Ahead of the 31-date North American trek, K.Flay performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival to an excited crowd, and she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. After her set she sat down with Entertainment Voice to spill her thoughts on her mysterious sound and the cultural rifts that helped inspire her last record.
You’ve always been a notably genre-defying artist. How would you describe your artistic progression leading up to your most recent album “Every Where is Some Where?”
I think the main answer is that none of it has been really thought out in any way. My entire involvement in music has been completely unexpected. I feel like it’s a big somersault, like someone has just kind of pushed me down this weird hill and I’ve just kind of continued that momentum, and along the way, incorporated different things that inspire me. Part of the reason there’s some of that genre mixing is that when I grew up, I wasn’t emotionally connected to music, weirdly. I feel like the stereotype a teenager is in their room being like ‘No one understands me but this person,’ and I had none of that. I had no teenage angst, I’ve only had adult angst.
Which, can be kind of better.
It’s certainly a little bit less dramatic. I think that’s the main thing. So, for me when I first started getting into music I was super emotionally compelled by hip-hop, that first-person, confessional storytelling perspective. I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing. This is what I want to be involved with, and what I want to do.” And then I started listening to rock music and I was like, ‘Oh shit, this is fucking cool, it’s heavy as hell, you can like head bang at like 60 bpm!’ So, it’s all been like a part of the very natural and, I don’t want to say innocent, but sort of naïve discovery process. Me sort of going from one thing to the next is just me being excited about different things.
You’ve said that with your latest album “Every Where is Some Where” you made it a point to add more live instrumentation. How will this addition translate to your live performances?
Hard to say what will happen, but already we’re doing more stuff organically than has been in the past. It used to be just me and a drummer, basically I was running stuff on controllers, so I’m doing much less than that now. It is cool and fun to be technically engaged in something, and it kind of is less nerve racking because you’re looking at a keyboard, not people. But I think one of the things, as I started going to more and more shows, I realized that I liked that a front person is engaged and active and visibly moved by something. So that’s kind of what I’m trying to still figure out is that balance between being an engaged front person but also where do I fit. It’s still a work in progress.
Speaking of performing live, tell us about your recently announced 31-date tour with Imagine Dragons and Grouplove that kicks off Sept. 26.
I’ve played arena shows before but they’ve all been one-offs. I haven’t been on a proper arena tour. From a nerd-perspective, it’s a learning experience for our whole crew. How do we want to run the operation in that level and in that context? So, that’s the main thing that I’m excited about. Also, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s an opportunity to be in front of people that don’t know who I am, or maybe know one song and just give them some insight into my vibe and hopefully they listen to more songs and I trap them and I rope them in [laughs].
Your track “High Enough” recently remixed by RAC. What are your thoughts on his version of your lead single?
I love it! And I know André played two sets yesterday. Yeah, he and I are friends. I just did a track on his record called “Heartbreak Summer” and I was like ‘Hey, do you maybe want to mess with this?’ Obviously, I’m a huge fan of what he does so it was a very natural collaboration and I love it.
When I here about a remix, I imagine that they just find the track and are like let me just remix this.
Well, it depends, I think what’s interesting is like, the music industry is pretty small for the most part. If you’re not a shithead, you end up knowing a lot of people and getting along with them and collaborating in one capacity or another. I feel like a lot of those collaborations are way more casual than they seem. Its like we ran into each other, like you’ll be out at a bar and be like ‘We should hang some other time,’ and then you do, this is music version of that.
You’ve mentioned that literature has influenced your music over the years and particularly with “Every Where is Some Where.” That said, are you reading anything noteworthy at the moment?
I don’t know if it’s notable, but I’m reading a book called “The Paper Trail” about the history of paper, the genesis of paper in Ancient China. The underlying thesis of it is, how do the means of communication affect communication in and of itself, which is actually a cool question. I was talking about this with my drummer the other day at this very bizarre bar in Seattle called 13 Coins, which is a terrifying name. We were saying it’s crazy that language in and of itself constricts expression and defines expression. The words you have at your disposal are culturally created and influenced and that’s all you have. Then other cultures have other words and concepts and so there are words that just don’t exist, and ideas that just don’t exist in the English language.
It’s said that a portion of your last album was inspired by our current political/cultural mood. How important do you believe music is in a time like this?
I think it’s really important. I have no real negative consequence in my line of work for expressing my political perspective. My brother, for instance, who’s a lawyer, would have consequences. I think most people because they work in the context of an institution, there are consequences. And I feel like, because I have that freedom in a sense, it’s kind of imperative [to say something] when there are issues that are contentious, and when there are powerful people who are both hateful and incompetent, which I would say Donald Trump is. Trump is somebody who is just entirely unpredictable, and that’s its own kind of terrifying situation. I’m not going to get fired. I mean I said ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ on stage and nobody cares.
Do you feel a responsibility to be defiant in these circumstances?
I feel a responsibility to have educated myself and to say something that I believe in, and in this case it is defiance. Without getting into a very long thing, I think the primary issue of what’s going on in the U.S. is this complete disavow(ing) of privilege by white people and white men specifically. You can’t help how you’re born… but the privilege that you are given, for better or worse, is something that you need to take ownership of and need to be in touch with. There’s nothing wrong with understanding the way privilege functions in society and still being a good person. I think it’s about being cognoscente of that. Right now, I just feel like there’s a real rejection of that concept and it’s leading to a lot of all this white nationalist shit. To be honest with you, I don’t understand that feeling.