While Kristine Flaherty – K.Flay as she’s known – recorded her first big release earlier this year, she was completely alone. In a basement. For a month.
And that was a great experience for her, she says.
The mixtape, I stopped caring in ’96, flies through atmospheric moods made of U.K. influenced hip-hop and singer-songwriting styling. It’s split into three parts, each exploring a different portion of her growth as a person.
“I’ve gone through a process in my life,” she said. “Of one, going through a void or lack of something, and that translates into feeling really overwhelmed. Then that slowly morphs into, ‘Well, I don’t care anymore.'”
You might have seen K.Flay around; she frequents the 21 bus when she’s home in the Western Addition, but you probably wouldn’t think twice if you have. She’s a friendly, unassuming brunette who likes reviewing books on YouTube and rocking Nike high-tops. (Before we spoke she had just finished cleaning her counters and taking out the trash.)
Or, you might have seen her onstage. She played this year’s Outside Lands and has had shows with Ludacris, 3OH!3, and Snoop Dogg.
Flaherty, who graduated from Stanford in 2007 with degrees in psychology and sociology, was in charge of every part of the record; from the beats, to chopping the samples, to every single lyric (and there are a lot of them).
It’s all a piece of K.Flay.
It sounds like recording alone allowed for a certain amount of honesty.
Oh, definitely. It’s like, there’s no one to laugh at you if you’re trying the most ridiculous idea, or whatever it may be. It’s only you. I think initially working on your own is really great because it allows you to just be really free, and not worry about how things are perceived, or if people are going to think you’re an idiot.
And once that becomes ingrained, at least for me, I think I’ll feel really comfortable to work with other people and still feel that same freedom.
Are you as introverted outside of your music production as you are within it?
I’m actually not! I don’t really like being alone much, which is bizarre, seeing as I pursued this task. I’m actually a very social person.
But yeah, it’s really important for me to have a base of friends and to be out and about. From a musical inspiration standpoint, even though I’m creating this music alone a lot of the inspiration comes from shared experiences.
I personally would run out of crap to say. It’s always good to be part of the misadventures of my friends. And we have many misadventures.
You sampled a fairly wide spectrum of songs (Black Eyed Peas, Gil Scott Heron, The Vines). Were they specifically picked out for each song, or did you just like the way they sounded?
A lot of those are just songs I’ve been listening to for one reason or another and might not have had a totally direct linguistic link to the song.
Actually the reason I even used [The Vines] was my roommates in San Francisco got Rock Band and “Get Free” is one of the songs on there and it’s super fun to play. So I had been playing it over and over and I was like “Damn, that’s a really good song.”
Some were a little unexpected, and I definitely worked on a lot of songs that I didn’t put on there. You know, samples I used that didn’t really inspire me or didn’t sound that cool.
How much of your lyrics are literal and how much is metaphor?
That’s an interesting one. I think people think I’m like addicted to drugs or something (she laughs). Which I’m totally not, I’m actually pretty well behaved person on the whole. But I’ve gone through an interesting transition.
And I think what has happened, as a consequence, is that I see myself as more of a fuck-up more than I probably am, and it’s that suggested image of myself that comes out in a lot of the stuff I write. I actually call my mother every day, I’ve never done drugs – I’ve smoked weed and I’ve drank – but I’ve never done anything else. I’m a pretty tame person.
I think no matter what when you’re writing songs, most people write about the extremes of their experiences. Even if it’s their reality, they focus on the things that engender conflict within themselves.
Some of it’s literal; a lot of it is not. But you could take me home to your mom and your parents would like me.
In a book review you said a common quality of all successful people is that they try really hard to just persevere. Is that your plan?
You know, the more I talk to people who are at a place I’d like to be at, whether its music or writing, or being a doctor or entrepreneur, sometimes you get lucky and right away something happens. But for most people, the common denominator of success is just working really hard. The harder you work the more opportunities you give yourself for success. The odds are just in your favor.
So I think you have to move forward with all your energy and all your might. And understand that certain setbacks or periods of drought will be followed by success if you continue.
Even successful musicians have had periods where people say they suck and no one likes them, even after they’ve had periods of great success. So I think it’s like you just gotta do you and try to stay motivated. Until, you know, you decide to stay home and make spaghetti all day.
So what keeps you motivated through those periods of drought?
I think for me it’s partially an inner desire to really make this happen and see how far I can take it. A challenge to myself. But an increasing part of it is there are people I really care about who believe in me. That’s also a really powerful thing.
Honestly, even after the most pressing of times, music has created adventures. And for me, I need to have adventures right now. Even if they’re the most depressing of adventures.