Some artists come in like an asteroid, disrupting the world with a colossal shake and leaving their dust in every corner. K.Flay seemed to come from nowhere when her smash hit “Blood In The Cut” dominated airwaves thanks to the artist’s raw vocals over an addicting bass line that’s hopefully helping usher in the next era of rock n’ roll dominance. Surprisingly, K.Flay comes from a very different background than the sound that imbues her second studio album, Every Where Is Some Where. Her initial foray into music was sparked by wanting to challenge the trite and negative conventions adopted by a large portion of the hip hop scene at the time in the form of parodies. Along the way, she discovered that she actually enjoyed the process of creating and writing music, and began to record and experiment with her own messages to broadcast.
Her father played guitar, and she herself was an avid reader so the ingredients for making music were untapped within her until that initial nudge pushed her into exploring the possibilities deeper. On stage, K.Flay is a natural at performing in front of the crowd because her energy impacts the room like a joyous ringleader above a chorus ranging in ages from teens to grown adults. Her music has that youthful enthusiasm vibrating with each syllable, but a learnedness behind the lyrics born from a sharp mind. We sat down with K.Flay ahead of her album release to discuss releasing her first album with little to no input, learning to find and trust in her voice, and the importance of politics.
You didn’t dip your toe into music until your sophomore year of college, but from your lyricism it seems like you’ve always had a hand in writing. Am I close, or completely off the mark?
I think I always had a love for language in a way. As a kid, I was a super avid reader. I never did creative writing but I think in terms of just my academic life as a young person, I was really, really fascinated by a lot of elements of language. Growing up, my dad was super obsessed with crossword puzzles and made me learn how to do The New York Times puzzles with him when I was very young. The Sunday Times always has some really great wordplay so I think there were a lot of things in my life that were orienting me towards language. Not necessarily in a creative or lyrical capacity, but it feels like that was probably percolating in my brain.
Since you read a lot, what writers did you find yourself most drawn to back then and today?
As a kid, a lot of what I read was what we read in school. I branched off of that in a lot of ways. As I've gotten older and had the ability to read things on my own, a lot of the authors that I'm drawn to have a pretty non-florid kind of prose. I'm a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson. I don't know if you've read any of her stuff, but I think she's able to convey quite a bit. There's a conciseness to it and I like that. I've always been drawn to stark beauty, which is a helpful way to approach songwriting because there aren't that many words. You don't have a ton of space to say whatever you're gonna say. I'm a big fan of hers. Growing up, I really liked a lot of William Faulker. I think what I liked about him too is that so much of his work is about the shifting of the narrative perspective and you never know, or you have to work to know, who's narrating the story, who's authoring this perspective or this opinion. I think I found that really compelling and it's gone on to inform a lot for me because the power of the narrator is pretty intense, in a great way.
Since you started, you’ve proven yourself in the music world over a variety of genres. How did you teach yourself over those formative years? Did you go through video tutorials, get help from a friend, or was it just experimenting song by song?
It was definitely the latter. I came into music sort of haphazardly and the way that I learned about it was through a very unguided trial and error, both in terms of what I was listening to and what I was making. I didn't have a ton of guidelines or expectations. I have a lot of friends who came up in a scene where's it's like, "Okay, we all do this garage surf rock and this is the kind of guitar tone that is part of that. This is the songwriting perspective, these are the things we talk about, these are the kind of venues we play at." I never had that. As a consequence, I think I felt really free to experiment with anything and everything. Even though I started in a more rap/hip-hop capacity, I never felt in any way restricted by that. And then when I wanted to start singing more and I was starting to learn how to... You know, it's kind of funny because you have to learn how to use your voice. I mean, I know that sounds extremely obvious but I didn't know how to use or change or manipulate my vocals chords to do different things. That's come with time but I feel like a huge part of it has been a lot of experimentation, and a lot of experimentation without expectation... which can be scary at times but it's also, if you're up for it, a pretty exciting thing.
Speaking of scary, there was a lot of stress around your first record. You released it independently and you didn’t really pass it around much to get input before putting it out into the world. How does that compare to the treatment towards this record, both in the recording process and with mentally putting it out there?
There was a slapdash nature to the first record because we were independent and I was about to be on Warped Tour, so we had to get a record out before that. It was certainly a labor of love on the creative side. In terms of putting it together and planning it, it came together really quickly. I've been recording [this record] and kind of preparing for everything over the course of a year. It's given me greater headspace to both write songs and feel creative and hopefully tap into more facets of my own interior life than I was able to do with Life As A Dog. I learned a lot of beautiful lessons. Not in the sense that anything was wrong with Life As A Dog. Every experience, hopefully, you learn something from it and you grow and you become better at what you do. I think the main thing that that record taught me was that when I'm authentic to myself, and when I'm honest about who I am and what I'm saying, and when I believe it, people appreciate that and connect with it. It also means too that when I'm playing live and when [I'm] promoting this stuff, I like doing that because I'm talking about things that feel very real and true to me. So I certainly carry that spirit into this record but had much more institutional support now that I'm back on a label to help a lot of the vision come to life. I'm grateful for that.
Out of the two, would you say you work better being able to sit with the songs and give them more attention, or being in a more mixtape-like position where you can record then immediately release it? Which is more of a comfortable place for you?
I think I achieved a nice balance with this album. There are a couple songs on it that I wrote and recorded five weeks ago so some of it is recently finished and written. I'm impulsive and impatient in these weird ways which I think is why I put out so much shit where I'm just like, "Ah, I did it! [Laughs.] Online [now]!" I like that about myself because I'm excited and you know I'm passionate. I feel happy to make stuff and those are good things but I do think it can be important, like you're alluding to, to have a moment to sit with it and to decide. You know, nothing feels stale. Nothing feels old to me that's on the record. Everything feels new still but I had more of a chance to curate it and to get some other trusted opinions. There's obviously many songs that are not on the album and [the additional time helped with] trying to figure what's a track sequence, what's an order, which songs serve the spirit of the record the best.
Some songs are quick to manifest while others take more time to form. What is one that went through a journey to become what's on the album today?
Probably the main journey song is the last song which is called "Slow March." Basically, the original idea for that started like a really rough idea in L.A. I went out to Nashville (I did about half the album in Tennessee) and JT, the producer I was working with out there, we started messing with it. I wrote verses and recorded, then I thought the verses could be better so I went back, I changed that. Usually once I hone in on something, like [when] the lyrics are set, everything's kind of settled I suppose in that way. And with this song, I ended up revising the lyrics, which I'm really happy about. I was strict with myself in a good way where I wanted to be as kind of precise and honest as I could be so we went back and we did that. We ended up getting a new mix on the song. It's the last track on the album and we knew from the start that it probably would be. It's sort of epic in this way and you know a lot of what I do isn't what I would call like epic. It's more like minimal, even though some of the stuff has heavier guitar parts and things like that. This song has a lot of sonic elements, a lot of instruments. I think the consequence of that [is] it took a minute to figure out how we were going to handle all that.
Tackling a new genre almost.
Yeah! It was weird having so much shit in the song. I'm used to like, okay, there's the twelve main elements. [In this,] there really were a lot of layers and so it was a learning experience in a good way.
When did you make the decision to title the record Every Where is Some Where? I read the meaning you posted online, but why did you decide to make that the phrase which carries the record forward?
I wrote those words on a sticky note on my computer like eight months ago. These things come into my mind. I think we're all doing it. I like the idea of what that meant to me which I know I kind of talked about in that statement you read. You know, just this idea of every place is both entirely singular and entirely arbitrary, and the only thing that determines that is your own story, your own narrative, your own process of making meaning. That's kind of beautiful. I think as human beings we're all just trying to write a story for ourselves in some sense. It's, I guess you can say, a futile endeavor in some ways. I think it's what guides us and what girds a life. As [this record] was coming together, every day I was singing these words on my screen and I was starting to feel like every song that I was really considering for this album was a version of that. You know, me taking an experience or a place or a feeling and crafting some kind of meaning out of that instead of it just being a fleeting moment. or a person who I don't think about anymore or who doesn't matter. Kind of refashioning that into something that is part of my story.
Outside of the songs, you’ve put jewelry together in a living room and have some pretty wicked socks available. Are there any plans to do more designing, maybe a second career path opening up?
I'm trying to make a podcast! My second career is that I'm trying to become a podcast producer and that's actually kind of a real job.
About what? Music, or are you going to do something totally different, like a history series?
I don't know how deep you are in podcast life but there's a few produced series. There's one called Heavyweight that I love that's about human experience so something a little more along those lines. But I'm a huge podcast fan. It would just be cool to be a part of making that.
On Instagram, you did a "Malfoy dance" during a shoot… so I have to ask, are you a Slytherin?
I think I'm probably Ravenclaw based on numerous things. I'd obviously like to be Gryffindor just because that's the number one, that's the one you want to be, but I feel like I'm probably Ravenclaw.
You’re very politically outspoken. You've worn your “Immigrants Welcome” shirt and sweatshirt repeatedly, took part in the Women’s March, and have a song slamming Donald Trump. What's the importance of being outspoken on these issues to you?
It's an interesting moment right now because a lot of people, a lot of my peers and people a bit younger than me, they spent their formative, teenage and their early to mid-20s years with Barack Obama as President. I think there was this idea among a lot of people, myself included, that, "Okay, cool, we're moving forward. We're becoming a more inclusive society and a more inclusive nation." The election of Donald Trump has been an appalling indication that that's not entirely the case. I think it's important no matter what, and this extends far beyond politics, to never settle for complacency. Complacency is when bad shit happens. [It's] when you're not questioning authority. I mean this on both sides of the political spectrum. You should always be questioning what's happening and questioning the status quo and wondering, "[Why] am I doing these things? Am I behaving in this way because I believe in it or is this kind of a top-down, hegemonic thing that's going on?" I feel very strongly that our political leaders should be informed, tolerant, inclusive and progressive in a broad sense. I mean that in terms of culture and, of course, their policies but in a larger way.
We have a president who embodies none of that. To see the people in my life who are not white men be affected psychologically in a very real way in terms of coming into this country, it's just so upsetting as a person who values diversity in and of itself. The combining of different experiences, that's what yields better shit. That's how we improve as a broad group of human beings and I just feel incredibly troubled by it. It's like we have a fucking talk show host as our president. It's so incomprehensible to me in so many ways. I know that a lot of the people listening to my music are young and are gonna be the people who need to vote and to feel empowered and to feel like they're fighting for something. Sometimes you don't know to fight until there's something to fight for and I feel like we're at that moment right now.
Totally agreed. Let's end on a positive note before we wrap up. What's the biggest highlight you've had since you started your career?
I don't know if this seems like a cheesy answer, but I have really enjoyed it all. I'm not a real status type person. I have the same friends that I've always had. Nothing in my life is any different. Anytime I feel like I've made my parents proud, or my brother or my sister, my friends, when they come to me and I can tell that they're proud of me... the best feeling is knowing that the people who care about me, and knew me since I was a baby, are excited for me and believe in what I'm doing. Honestly, that's what makes me the happiest. They're really excited about this record and what I'm up to. It makes me feel like [I'm] brimming with a very primal joy or something like that.
What are some personal challenges you've had while making this record?
I think I have the constant personal challenge of needing balance. I find that it often eludes me. I'm really good at either staying up two days straight working and feeling insane and drinking coffee, or being on a regimented schedule and I'm running five miles a day. I have trouble with these in-betweens and I find it really easy to immerse myself intensely in something which maybe isn't the problem. I don't really know. Sometimes I feel like it is. I don't know what the answer is but I do think that search for balance is.
Lastly, you have a phone number that fans could call in and leave messages on. What are some of the coolest or most heartfelt messages that you've heard on there?
I am waiting until the record comes out to listen to them so I'm listening to all of them next week. We have an eight hour session scheduled. I haven't heard any of them yet. I know people have been leaving them, and I've been doing a bunch of recording, I'm recording other stuff and uploading it to the phone lines. The phone line's like this thing that's just going to continue to evolve and be a place for this more substantive interaction but TBD on the voicemails. I'm going to be listening next week.
- Two weeks later, via email... -
The messages have been incredible – some are weird and stream of consciousness, some are super personal and dark. A few people actually strung their stories across multiple voicemails. And what's cool is that the phone line will continue to evolve as the year goes on!