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Interview: K. Flay

This past weekend I attended the Riptide Music Festival located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The festival was a 2-day long affair, running November 23rd-November 24th and had performances from over 20 artists of which included 2 headliners: The Killers and The 1975. The festival was right on Fort Lauderdale Beach making it the perfect combo of sand, sun and live music. What could’ve made this weekend any better? For me, being able to sit down and chat with one of my favorite artists, K. Flay, put the cherry on top of this already perfect weekend. After initially seeing her back on Warped Tour 2014, I have been anxiously waiting until I could finally see her perform live again and her set did not disappoint. 

K. Flay’s high energy set included songs from her newest album, Solutions, as well as a few of her older bops. The crowd could not stop jamming and I think it’s safe to say that if someone out there didn’t know of her before the show, they are definitely adding her to their Spotify playlists now. 

If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to her new album, Solutions, and her micro-cast “What Am I Doing Here?” (new episodes every week). You can check out the interview below: 

What inspired you to start doing your micro-cast “What Am I Doing Here?” alongside of your music? 

Well, I’m a big fan of produced audio content. I’ve been listening to public radio and podcasts for a long time and I love it and a bunch of people at the label knows that. So, this opportunity came up basically to create a series specifically for smart assistants (Alexas, Google Homes) and they just thought of me because they know I love podcasts. So, it’s been really fun and I think in many ways this job, for me, is about writing and performing music (of course) but in a more profound sense, it’s like manipulating my voice and telling a story in a bigger way. So, I think this is just kind of another avenue and this felt like a really good first step with no pressure, just like I can do whatever I want and see how it turns out. It’s kind of like this experiment that just fell into my lap and it’s been really fun. 

Is that why you decided to do the podcast in the particular way that you do it? Having it be more live rather than scripted and in the studio. 

I think to me what’s interesting is I was trying to think about my life and my perspective and what’s interesting about it or what might be interesting to other people. I think a big part of it, and I find myself truly asking the question, (what am I doing here?) fairly constantly and I live this life that is super itinerant, I’m in disgusting and then beautiful places within the span of maybe 15 minutes. And I get to travel and interact with all these people from all over the world from totally different walks of life and so I think there is something, to me, that feels really kind of cool and unique about that and what I have endeavored to do with this is to give people that sense of place. Last week’s episode we did in Graz, Austria which I doubt you or anyone will probably ever go to Graz if they are in Austria and so like we just recorded it like man on the street—like you can hear the trollies going in the background just to give a sense of place just because I think more than like a scripted monologue or pre-planned questions. Like even when I interview people it’s all just off the cuff and just be with them. 

What is your pre-show ritual? 

We have a 1-hour pre-show ritual, which has changed over the years but right now we have a playlist of songs that get played before every show and my band is basically ready to kill me I think (lol) they are ready to mutiny. But it’s almost like this Pavlovian thing of, I hear that first song and I’m like “OK we’re playing a show” and I think it’s so important just in the same way that people have a routine before going to work. I do think it’s important at least for me to have a routine that sets the stage like “alright, I’m gonna do the show, I know how to do the show and I’m gonna get in that energetic place” because I think the trick (and what I’ve thought a lot about) like some bands play chill shows, quiet shows and that’s a whole different kind of prep experience, I don’t know what that’s like but my show is a lot of energy, a lot of movement and a lot of me being both energetic and vulnerable. It’s like, how do I get myself ready to do that? So. we’ve got a playlist, I do vocal warmups, I drink some tea, sometimes we do a song or two acoustically backstage just to get in the mood and then we do a little chant (my drummer, guitarist and I) and then we do the show. 

What message do you want fans/listeners to take away from your newest album Solutions? 

I think the biggest thing is a sense of relief. I think we are in this moment right now culturally as a world and as a planet where we are just inundated with things and it feels, at least to me and people I’ve talked to, incredibly overwhelming and oppressive and like, I’ve had more people tell me I don’t know how to live kind of like, I don’t know how to get through this just like life as it is. Like how is it gonna turn out? I’ve had more people express that sentiment to me in the last year or two than I think ever before. I think we are living in a moment where the future feels uncertain, and I know it always feels uncertain but I think for a lot of reasons right now it feels really uncertain and I feel like a lot of people feel disconnected from their leaders and that can be a very disorienting and a very troubling state of affairs and so when I was making this record I was like “fuck, I need some relief from this”. And I think music serves many different purposes but that was kind of the overarching spirit in a lot of ways and the songs I didn’t put on the album were songs that didn’t have that same kind of hopefulness. I certainly felt like the song “Good News” sort of might be the thesis statement of the record in a lot of ways which is just like, you have these visions of just driving off in a car and starting new and not needing anything. 

Since I first saw you back on Warped Tour 2014 I’m curious, what’s it like watching yourself progress over time? Back then, did you expect to be where you are now? 

I’ve always wanted to progress and grow. I think it would be kind of weird in any job or world if you don’t want to expand and that doesn’t always mean that you get more money or accolades or fame. But I think in terms of what you do and the things you create, I wanted those to be bigger and better. So, reflecting back I think, I don’t know, it’s just cool to see because it feels really organic and it feels like everything happened naturally in terms of like, developing a real sense of self musically, which takes time. And as someone who didn’t make music as a teenager, I didn’t really have that formative period. I had that formative period in my twenties of like being like “what the hell am I doing? What do I want to say? How do I want to play a show?”. And Warped Tour was actually quite impactful in that regard because it did teach me a lot about what kind of music I want to make, how I want to be on stage and yeah it’s just really exciting. I feel very grateful and proud and I’ve had the same manager since day 1 and we are kind of like partners and teammates and I think that’s true for a lot of solo artists—your manager is kind of like a band mate. I’ve been playing with Josh and Will who play with me live for like four whatever years now. It feels nice to build something with other people. 

How old were you when you wrote/recorded your first song? When did it all click and you thought “yeah, music is what I want to do”? 

Well, I wrote my first song when I was 19. When did I reach the point of being like, music is what I wanna do? Probably when I was 23 or 24 which is when I was done with college. I was living in San Francisco and I was starting to play shows—I was starting to play shows like in the city you know, getting like opening gigs and I remember playing my first headline show in Oakland and it was that point where people who weren’t my friends were coming to the shows you know, not just the people who were obligated. There were strangers in the crowd and I just found myself really loving the experience and loving it in a really pure way and I don’t think this is true for everybody with music and sometimes that’s where things get cloudy and I think people fall in love with other parts of it and that can be its own trap. But, I really fell in love with being at the merch booth and talking to people and doing things for no reason besides that it was creative and fun in the face of like, boredom I could make something and in the face of sadness I could make something. I think those elements of being a musician I found really life giving and gratifying and then yeah, people just started asking me to do more shit and I just kept saying yes. 

What is your favorite song from Solutions? 

My favorite song on this record is, I think is “This Baby Don’t Cry”. Because it just feels like…I mean the funny part of the song and the reason I wrote it is I cry all the time, I cry frequently. And I think crying is really good and I don’t see anything wrong with it. But I think it’s like this thing that culturally it’s beaten out of us like crying is shameful, you have to go do it like in a bathroom and people aren’t very comfortable with other people crying and if you’re a little kid and you’re crying it’s like, “well that’s the fuckin’ end of that” (lol). So, that song always feels like a little reminder it’s like, oh yeah, the reason I’m on this stage right now is because like, I cry a lot, and I write about shit and other people wanted to hear it and now I get this cool opportunity. So, I think we all have that inside of us and tapping into our own sensitivity is really good because I definitely think being sensitive is kind of a superpower and it’s the reason that I think leaders and artists and whoever, just any regular people, are good at what they do. 

What is it like doing collaborations with so many different artists? Do they usually ask you to do it? Or do you contact them? 

Overall, I really like collaborating with people and again, as a solo artist, it’s kind of like a little moment of being in a band and I think what I enjoy about it too is everybody has a different orientation to song writing and to kind of the musical process and I like being outside of my comfort zone and working with people in that regard. And the collaborations I’ve done have happened in so many different ways. The only cold call one that happened was Tom Morello. He emailed me and was like “I heard your song in the car with my kids, could we get on the phone?” and I was like, what the fuck? And I called him and it turns out he’s also from Chicago and he knew where I grew up and he’s like one of the best dudes –he’s like total salt of the earth, a great guy. The other collaborations I’ve done have been sort of evolved out of a friendship and then for many, created a friendship. So, for instance the song I did with Robert DeLong, we knew each other a little bit like he had been at my house party the night before and that has since become a real friendship. And like Fidlar, who I have done a song with, I have been friends with Zac for 4 something years just as friends and then we were like, yeah why don’t we write something together. So, there have been different kind of evolutions of it and I have a few more collaborations coming out next year that I’m really stoked about that are kind of all mixes of those things. 

And in case anyone was ever curious (I know I was), if K. Flay could be any animal, she would be the chill and cool sea turtle. An excellent choice! I can’t thank K. Flay enough for sitting with me and talking with me. 

** Interview by Ashley Wayland **

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