By Jay Tilles
Just a few years ago, K.Flay — Kristine Meredith Flaherty to her friends and family — did not have pop-stardom on her to-do list. The Stanford student was shooting for a double major in psychology and sociology. Although her father was a great guitar player, Flaherty had never considered that music would end up being her passion, let alone her profession.
As chance would have it, Flaherty would find her talent in a rather unusual way. In an attempt to parody today’s hip-hop, the 19 year-old college student wrote her own ultra-misogynistic, curse word-laden tracks with the help of a neighbor. During the process she discovered how naturally rhyming came. Her passion for making music soon followed.
After a few years of building her audience one pair of ears at a time, K. Flay was snapped up by RCA, who, unfortunately, didn’t quite seem to know how to market the white female rapper with a penchant for alternative rock. Flaherty would later be dropped by the label. However, the now 31 year-old musician would soon be signed by Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds.
With the release of a 4-song EP titled Crush Me, the past few months have been full throttle for the would-be psychologist.
While you were signed to RCA, you reached new audiences, but it appears as though this relationship with Dan and Interscope could launch you into the stratosphere.
Opportunities sometimes come your way when you’re not totally prepared for them. You know, for me with RCA that was sort of the case. I had just started making music and didn’t totally have that sense of “true north’ on my compass and didn’t have a full understanding of where I wanted to be and how I wanted to do it. I feel quite lucky to have put this last record out on my own, understand what it takes to run a little indie label and I’ve done a lot of touring. I think it’s really prepared me for this next project and this partnership with Dan and Interscope. Everything just feels really good and natural and sort of like it’s happening at the right time. I’m actually really happy with the way things have gone.
What led Dan to signing you?
I had just finished touring off my last record, Life as a Dog, this past December. I was going to work with the husband of a friend of mine. He’s a musician and producer named J.T. Daly. He’s also the singer of a band called Paper Route. We’d been talking about working together for some time and finally got together right before Christmas on the outskirts of Nashville; in the countryside next to this cemetery out in the middle of nowhere. Our friend had built a studio out there. We started working on some songs and we finished up in three or four days and I called my manager and was like, “I think these are…good?” I think that was a really positive session. JT’s manager is a guy named Mac Reynolds, Dan’s brother. Mac played the stuff for Dan. This is all unbeknownst to me, I was just at home cooking ham at Christmas. Dan hit me up and said he’d like to talk. He and I then got to know each other and found out we have a very similar outlook on music, how to make music, how to treat people while you make music… His manager is his brother. My manager is my brother. We instantly connected on that level and we just hit it off. We had had a plan to release the new music independently and we had a tour booked but we sort of postponed that so we could partner up with Interscope.
You’ve said that when you started, you had little music knowledge. Who did you tap to help you produce your first songs in college?
I made my first song with a guy who lived downstairs from me… who made very deep trance music. But after that I just started producing everything myself. I spent years teaching myself all the major DAWs (digital audio workstations) and learning to engineer and mix. So, I didn’t have to rely on anyone else.
Did you just sit in your dorm room obsessing over Pro Tools?
It was cool… at my school they had a studio that was super nice with a full Pro Tools rig and you could book that out. So that was where I learned a bit more of the actual technical stuff. And no one wanted to take the midnight to 8 am slot, so I would take that and be there late at night. It was just trial and error—just learning with no sense of where I was headed—but I enjoyed the process of creation.
Were you a poet as a child?
Not at all.
So where did the rhymes come from?
I have no idea. I think it was just one of those things that was just latent within me, but I’ve never I’d never had a reason to open that door. But then I had, accidentally, a reason to open the door and it was like opening a floodgate. It was a situation where I felt, and I still do feel, that in every moment there’s so much to see and to say and describe. I’ve put out a bunch of material, mainly because I like making stuff. I feel really grateful that I stumbled upon music because I wonder how that energy would have been released otherwise.
What’s the story behind the EP’s lead single, “Blood In The Cut?”
I wrote that song over Christmastime in my mom and stepdad’s basement. You think about the things that can hurt you and damage you and this is a big part of any artistic endeavor—taking that thing that is having this effect on you, vocalizing that effect, inundating yourself with that emotion or that sentiment and then you’re able to own it. You feel like you’ve been cut open by something or someone… the lyrics just came out of nowhere. Needing more noise and more blood and whatever… and then it becomes your defiance and your celebration as opposed to your sadness and your subjugation. To me it’s like the starting point for the song was a bit of heartbreak and sonically it feels sort of celebratory and a little raw.. and a little happy to me as a song. And honestly, I didn’t think about it as I was writing it but then when I sat back—I wrote it really quickly—I sat back and I saw, “Ahh! I feel good now!” It was a very cathartic experience. I think ultimately, a lot of people, regardless of whether it’s a romantic thing or it could be any kind of force that is f—–g with you. I think you can hopefully relate to what that song’s about.
K. Flay hits the road in support of Crush Me beginning October 24th in San Diego, wrapping up November 22 in Philadelphia. Tickets are on sale now, minus her Los Angeles, Seattle and Brooklyn shows which are sold out.