There isn’t an artist who can seamlessly bounce from genre to genre quite like singer, songwriter, rapper and musical-mitochondria, K.Flay.
Whether it’s sprinkles of alt-R&B, or gooey pop melodies that remain timeless – nothing is off-limits, or done half-heartedly. It’s an ethos that’s become the core of her brand new EP, Inside Voices. A sprawling exercise in exploring every genre under the sun – while remaining grounded in punky, connective tissue
In light of this smash out release, Happy got the incredible chance to chat with K.Flay about alter-egos, feeling feelings, and connecting with Inside Voices.
HAPPY: I wanted to ask you about your two latest releases TGIF and Four Letter Words, I absolutely love the energy in them. Obviously, all of your songs have so much energy and punch to them but I really felt like these had another layer of aggression, I felt so powerful listening to them
K.FLAY: I’m really glad that came through, that was sort of the guiding principle for me with this new EP – was to really channel that side of myself. It’s [her EP] called Inside Voices and I think for me, the voices in my head that I’m often silencing or censoring because I am general, as a citizen, Kristine, I am very well mannered and quiet, wait in line and I don’t break the rules. So, there’s elements of my personality, as a person just in the world, that really, really silence those angry, loud, perhaps disturbing voices that are going on in my head and what I wanted to explore, obviously thematically but sonically aswell with this EP, was ‘Well, what does it feel like if I just…say it?’
HAPPY: It’s like K-Flay is your alter-ego where you can just let it all out and express it all
K.FLAY: Yeah! And I think I’ve always done that but there was something about this…and maybe it’s just that I’m an adult now and I actually have some clarity on my identity and who I am, and my purpose here and I do think I’ve been really considering what is this delineation between Kristin and K-Flay and how do I actually make it bigger. You know, for a long time I was kind of like ‘Oh there’s not much difference, K-Flay is just me’, but actually, there is a difference, there’s a big difference and I kind of lead into that.
HAPPY: That’s so cool, do you feel like you’ve done that more in these two latest songs than you have previously, like in Solutions (2019)?
K.FLAY: Definitely, for sure. You know I think this kind of darker, more brooding appeared a little bit more on the record before that, Everywhere is Somewhere (2018). Solutions was kind of like this, more unique experiment into like optimism, cautious optimism, and I think I wrote that record in the midst of the Trump presidency here, where it felt like for me, just to get, to kind of cope with what was happening, that I needed to hold onto some of that optimism.
This new EP was made during the pandemic, we’re all trapped in our little cages, and my response to that was, ‘Well, I’m gonna let the beast loose’. (chuckles)
HAPPY: *laughs* I’m so glad you did! With Solutions I got big Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs! vibes, I know you’re influenced by them a lot, and you’ve said before, like Dizzee Rascal, Kid Cudi, I got those really positive, happy, boppy, very poppy sounds, which is great I think it’s awesome that you dipped into different musical sounds and styles just for your own development as an artist and to realise what felt very natural to you at the time too.
I think it’s such a cool marker of not only your personal experiences and your personal life but how you were reacting to your external environment too. I just thought that made for an interesting difference between Solutions and what you’ve recently done now. I’ve added them to my ‘Powerful Bitch’ playlist.
K.FLAY: Yeah, fuck yeah, let’s go! Well, you know, to your point about albums changing I’ve been thinking a lot and obviously I’ve been doing press around this EP and so I’ve been doing more self-reflection than I ordinarily would do. I was talking to somebody the other day about Beck, who is one of my big influences in a number of ways, but one of the things I love about him is that each record is just its own thing, he really embraces a sound and an energy and then moves on to the next thing. I think just as a listener … *audio cut out* I’m a big fan of Beck and… each record living in its own tonal universe and I think as a listener, I enjoy that, I like when bands and artists do that, I don’t really love just one vibe, I like that kind of diverse energy. So, for me it’s exciting with each record it’s a new opportunity to embrace like, “What is the pressure of the environment making me feel compelled to say or do?”.
HAPPY: Yeah, and it’s hard to even step out of your own subconscious and reflect on that and be like “I am reacting to the environment I am in”. Some people don’t even realise they’re doing that, but the fact you can step out and be like “Alright, well, what do I actually want to make? What am I reacting to?” and you’re questioning those choices. There are so many layers you could go into in your own mind to really unpack all those things.
HAPPY: Have there been any past or recent specific personal experiences or external, like your environment, that have sort of really shapes TGIF and Four Letter Words?
K.FLAY: Oh, I mean. I think TGIF is a good one to start with. I began writing that at the end of the Trump presidency here in the United States, so right before the pandemic hit, basically, a couple weeks or something. I think there has been a lot of dialogue at least amongst my peers and communities about capitalism and its roots in misogyny and racism and xenophobia and a bunch of other really bad things and how as an artist I can say, ‘Oh man this system! Fuck the system!’, but it’s also like…I live in the system, you know, how do I get out of this thing, how the fuck do I get out? I think that’s just a conundrum anytime you are considering a form of revolution, whether its just a personal revolution, like ‘Hey, I’m gonna change myself’ or it’s a massive societal revolution or its forms of activism and change, whatever, but how do you burn down the house where you’re living, effectively?
And I think for a variety of reasons that was weighing heavily on my mind and then covid hit and I was like, ‘Well now I really wanna burn down the house that I’m living in, because I’m in my apartment now all the time’. So, I think it compounded that sensibility which originally was rooted in more of a socio-political bend but I think it took on this new, I don’t even know, this new layer that was personal, which is, “We’re all trapped in a house that we want to destroy in certain ways”, and that house might just be our own body, you know? I think there’s many ways to extrapolate it. So TGIF kind of evolved in a cool way for me, where it started to take on more meanings. For Four Letter Words, obviously that song is rooted in a relationship and being like, ‘I’m pissed off, I’m hurt and I want to tell you that’, and normally I’m nice, normally I keep my cool and I don’t lose my temper, but right now, I don’t know what else to say and I think we talked about this a little a bit before, I’m very afraid of confrontation in my personal relationships, of course in my romantic relationships also, and so there have been many times were I’ve wanted to say that or express that and I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t feel the same, at some point! Even if…you could love that person deeply but you might also need to say… you know.
HAPPY: But I think that comes with caring about someone so much. If you do really have those strong feelings you’re going to feel everything. If you care about them you will express that to them and you will tell them. But at the same time I can see why you’d be worried about “burning the house down” with those relationships as well, it’s all so connected. And I guess the music is the perfect avenue to put it in a way that someone can get the message but they can also enjoy the message too and learn from it.
K.FLAY: Totally, and I think to that point, you make a great point about if something doesn’t matter to you, and you’re not passionate about it, you don’t care, you just leave, you don’t need to say anything. But one thing that I wanted to really do on this EP and with these two songs in particular was I want them to also feel fun, like they’re not taking themselves too seriously because at the end of the day, you have to sit back and laugh. Again, it’s this conundrum or paradox, like how do you destroy the thing you live in or this impulse we all have, it feels absurd in certain ways, and for me personally, it’s important to have a sense of levity and light-heartedness. I need to be able to take the piss, at least to some extent, otherwise, I’ll go insane.
HAPPY: I totally get that. You’ve got to find the humour in some things, no matter how frustrating or painful, or soul-crushing it can be, it’s like ‘It could be worse!’
K.FLAY: Oh my god, yeah! And I think another side note too, that I’ve been considering particularly in the pandemic is, as individuals but also as a society we need safe and fun avenues for catharsis, because everybody feels these passionate, possibly angry things and there are so many bad ways to challenge that. Violent, and vengeful and unproductive, let’s just blank unproductive ways, to manifest that. I think music is this beautiful way, like going to a live show is the best way to blow of steam, there’s nothing like it and I think as a society its very important that we really, celebrate that like, “Thank god we have music and art and sports”, and these things that help us channel the voices in our head that…unfortunately aren’t going to go away.
HAPPY: That’s so true. I think there are so many destructive ways that you could channel your anger and having those avenues that you feel passionate about, find humour in…Because feeling those things isn’t a foreign thing. I think if you treat it like, ‘Oh that’s a bad thing to feel bad things’, then that makes it worse…you know, shape it into a way so you can actually find the good in what you can learn about yourself in those situations too.
K.FLAY: I think you’re totally right. Stigmatising these inside voices is not productive because we all have them. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, shame I think is at the root of pretty much, 90 per cent of human suffering and acting out in some way and so I think it is important to normalise it but to also say, ‘Hey, you don’t need to take that and do something that is unproductive for you or your community or whatever, you can take that energy and make something amazing’.
HAPPY: Make it your superpower.
K.FLAY: Yes exactly, yes 100 per cent.
HAPPY: You said it was actually scary when you were recording Four Letter Words how you were reaching that breaking point when you were recording it because you were being so raw and so honest with what you were saying in the song. How important was it for you to just develop that and stick to that sound and push through that mindset even though it was quite scary to I guess incorporate in your music?
K.FLAY: I mean it was hugely important to just stay out of that comfort zone and I think that fundamentally that’s what you’re talking about here, what I kind of did was just stay in this place. At the end of the day you don’t have to put the song out, so let’s just see how it goes! I think sometimes there’s this urge to say, ‘Well, no, no, no, no, no, let’s do something different’, but its like, well let’s see it through and then we can decide. I think it is a pretty brash song but that’s the point and there’s no way to kind of nurture it and that was the realisation that I had to have, was like ‘We can’t really dilute something that’s in your face or it’s just nowhere’.
HAPPY: With your upcoming EP Inside Voices, are TGIF and Four Letter Words the taste test into the overall sound for the EP?
K.FLAY: Yeah, hell yeah!
Interviewer: Yay! That’s awesome, I’m so excited. I was thinking, “I hope she sticks with this kind of aggressive, and powerful and assertive voice”
K.FLAY: For sure!
Interviewer: Thank you so much for taking the time, honestly really enjoyed talking to you and hearing your insights. There was some really important stuff that came up and got me thinking too!
K.FLAY: Yeah no it’s awesome! Well, appreciate you listening and chatting and hopefully see you if I can ever travel again!
HAPPY: Yeah, I know! Good luck with the upcoming tour. I know that’s coming up so that’s exciting! And all the best, stay safe
K.FLAY: Thanks so much, thank you, you too!
HAPPY: Thank you, bye!
Inside Voices is now and available on all streaming platforms!
Interview by Alex Stefanovic!