K.Flay Takes A Dare and Turns It Into A Music Career
Story / Angie Piccirillo
Photos/ Kenneth Cappello
Stylist / Sean Knight
Stylist Assistant / India Madonna
Hair / Gio Campora @ The Wall Group
Makeup / Nikki DeRoest @ Celestine Agency
When you first see K.Flay on stage, she seems like some sort of Dark Horse alternate-universe-matrix version of Courtney Love — that is, if Courtney Love were cooler. When you meet K.Flay in-person, she’s not quite as dark, she’s actually a little sarcastic and laughs a lot — especially when you ask her if you should call her “K” or “Miss Flay.” And as she laughs, she’ll just say to call her “Kristine.”
Another thing that can’t go unnoticed, is her ability to come off as one of the most intelligent people you’ll probably ever encounter. Some of the words she uses in her normal speaking sentences may be words you’ve actually only seen in books once or twice — but don’t get it twisted, she’s not caught up in some elite typa lifestyle by any means. Though she has that elite education stuffed up the sleeve of her ripped black vintage t-shirt, she’s not some detached pop star writing songs about the fluffy shit in life. In fact, the level of sophistication her words bring to her lyrics, mixed with her super relatable topics are no doubt the things that draw millennials to her who need an edgier, perhaps deeper, fix than someone like Taylor Swift.
For this dark-horse-of-a-musician, she’s anything but typical in every way — running wild in unexplored pastures. Part of her story is that of being a student at Stanford University — a double major, NOT in music — who was dared to write a rap song after having a conversation about music in the genre being “formulaic and predictable.” But rather than leaving it at that, K.Flay says that dare was actually more about discovery than it was putting down the genre. “That conversation wasn’t about rap in general. It really came out of [the fact that] I moved to California for school when I was 18, for college, and was sort of immediately inundated with all of this indie rap that I had never heard before.” She says. “I had no idea that there was this kind of really vibrant intersection of poetry and rap and that it had this audience. I definitely had listened to [A Tribe Called Quest] and Outkast a lot growing up, which I loved, but I just wasn’t aware of the breadth of [the genre].”
While many people tend to “find themselves” when away at college, you can guarantee than no one you know has gone to college and found themselves a music career by accident. “I was having this kind of internal revolution, in terms of listening to music and music really becoming a part of me. I felt this disconnect between this really creative, progressive, compelling hip-hop that I was listening to — the conversation really stemmed from that, where I was [questioning], “Why is this [song] the radio?” [And] that led to a conversation where my friend was like, “You don’t know. You haven’t written a song.” Then really, just in such a meaningless way… I made a song.”
From that dare, spawned her first song, “Blingity Blang Blang,” but more importantly, a realization inside her to explore music more thoroughly. “People thought it was pretty funny. Just as a joke. [But] I think something clicked in my mind that I wasn’t aware of at the time.”
When you hear any of K.Flay’s songs today, the level of sophistication and rhythm of her lyrics is like winning a rap battle while reading Shakespeare. The level of artistry it takes to write those words and rattle them off as if it were nothing, was the click that somehow snapped into place.
On her earlier releases, K.Flay rides the line of alternative rock and rap — swaying back and forth, never committing to one or the other. It was with 2014’s “Life As A Dog,” that people started to take notice of just what K.Flay was all about — and her songs were no longer rap quips that people thought were funny, instead they realized she was poignant, relatable, and fucking talented.
Sonically pushing the envelope even further, she released the “Crush Me,” EP last year in 2016 — with singles like, “Blood In The Cut,” which made some feel she had breathed new life into 90’s grunge rock, practically replacing Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” as the ultimate angry chick rock anthem.
On her newest album, “Every Where Is Some Where” particularly with the song, “Champagne,” it’s easy to hear that K.Flay is attempting to push herself. The rhythmic rapping we’ve heard in the past from her seems to reach speeds reminiscent of early Eminem on this new tune, layered over top a dissonant electric guitar — melding that sonic sway between rock and rap into a new nameless genre. “I happened to mention [the song] to JT Daly, who’s a producer that I did about half the record with. He loves hip-hop; he’s always been really drawn to that. He was like, “Dude, you need to rap on this song and you need to do GOOD. You need to be GOOD at it.” I fucking love rap and I love the possibilities of rhythm and structure. It’s such a boundless kind of domain in a lot of ways, especially because I like to speak quickly. I kind of just went balls out on it. I was like, ‘Let me push myself. Let me have every section have its own cadence. Let’s never return to something,’” she says. “One of the most influential records for me was Dizzee Rascal’s first album, ‘Boy in Da Corner.’ That’s largely just because his rhythm is bonkers. It’s insane. I could barely even understand it. I like that feeling. I wanted to try to do, I guess, my version of that.”
Whereas “Life as A Dog” leaned slightly more toward rap, K.Flay says the newest tunes are different this time around, both in sound and theme. “I feel like ‘Life as a Dog’ is so sad. This album has elements of that, but I wanted the songs to feel tonally varied. Because that’s kind of my headspace. I feel like I’m not just bummed out. I mean, I am bummed out, of course. Like everyone. But, the last record I wrote and recorded in three months. It really was this very short period of time, whereas this album I recorded across the span of a year. I kind of was able to access more emotions.”
Having combined forces with writers like Tommy English this time around, perhaps known for his rock sensibilities and amazing guitar playing (as K.Flay notes) — the new tunes have no doubt leaned into rock a bit further than the former. “I think there’s a rock sensibility that was not there before. I think from a songwriting perspective, I feel like it’s focused. I really wanted to push myself and not just settle for a first idea or be lazy. Sometimes first ideas are the best ideas. That’s not to say that didn’t happen. But [I wanted] to try to cover different territory.”
Perhaps another topic that a “typical” musician would avoid, is that of politics. Coming from a political family with both parents having attended Berkeley in the late 60’s/early 70’s, K.Flay isn’t shying away from letting her opinions about politics be known. With the song, “The President Has A Sex Tape,” K.Flay says the song came from a place of being purely appalled. “I just feel like this is such a bad thing that has happened. It’s kind of impossible not to speak on it, just as a person who’s out here in the world. I think it has less to do with the political parties and more to do with the fact that the President of the United States is a famous celebrity. I think I had this sense of just being appalled.” She adds, “I think, too, I feel like I have some well-formed opinions and the historical background knowledge to maybe have something at least intelligent to say about what’s happening. I probably should do that.”
Knowing that she has the impressionable ears of millennials, K.Flay knows that what she sings and raps about — her fans will undeniably listen to and react. “ I’m always so struck by the reasons people come to a show, because I think music is this really powerful way to connect yourself to other people. But I think it’s actually, in some way, a lens to see and understand yourself and sometimes even have greater compassion for yourself.”
And of course, rather than being that “typical” musician, K.Flay took to her poetic ways and started carrying a book of empty pages on tour — that she would invite her fans to write her messages and letters at each show, her way of finding compassion and connection. “I just thought, people [tell] me these stories and I thought it’d be really great if we could capture those in a more permanent, lasting fashion. Furthermore, everybody has a fucking cell phone. DM’ing me on Instagram is not interesting. That’s kind of just the norm. There’s something really human about wanting to write something down on a piece of paper and have somebody else see it. I think it certainly has been a reminder to me [to ask], “What is everybody going through here?” Everybody is in the middle of some shit. Everybody is having their own thing, and we’re all having it at the same time. I think it really just made me feel connected to people and [was] just a reminder to be compassionate and to listen.”
K.Flay on-stage seems intangible, with a level of talent and poise that is somehow only given to Rock Gods — but off stage, she’s the raspy-voiced honest girl who uses words like “furthermore” while nonchalantly talking about politics. She’s part Rock God and part Best Friend, and maybe that’s the reason why her fans relate to her…
As we finally reached the dreaded “genre” question, “Kristine” laughs as I tell her I describe her as “Bukowski Trap Rock,” to anyone who hasn’t heard it. In other words, “genius-level poetic rap rock that feels like she’s singing a song about your life.”
To which she just laughs, and says “I’ll take it.”