"I'm obsessed with having dinner parties."
Turns out Kristine Flaherty -- K.Flay to her fans -- loves whipping up more than critically acclaimed hip-hop/indie-rock productions: "I love to cook. I’m gonna be cooking tonight. When I’m not making music, I’m doing that."
For a minute, you almost forget that this is the same woman who released both her fourth studio album, West Ghost, and her major label debut EP, What If It Is, in 2013, featuring not-so-lighthearted musings on the emptiness of casual sex ("No"); life in a morally ambiguous, material-obsessed world ("Appetite for Consumption" --sample lyric: "I need a car and a house and a phone/And some new shoes sewn by an 8-year-old"); and a pointed, biting rebuke to uber-famous socialites (and their friends) that dominate gossip rags and tabloid TV (the appropriately titled "Starf---er").
Of course, it’s not altogether shocking that K.Flay would want to spend her downtime occupied by a household activity plenty of us normal, non-rappers enjoy, but it just seems so…domestic. Has K.Flay lost her edge?
"I’m homeless," she adds a minute later. "I don’t live anywhere. I’ll be without a permanent address for about a year and a half, which sounds kind of insane as I vocalize that [laughs]. I’m in LA right now, though. I’m talking to you from the air mattress on which I sleep at my friend’s house."
Okay, consider the "edge" back.
K.Flay began rapping in 2004, and by the time RCA Records came calling last year, she had self-released four studio albums and two EPs, resulting in a massive, worldwide fan base. What initially began as a joke on the mainstream rap that dominated radio a decade ago has flourished into a unique, respected identity for the artist, one that incorporates elements of indie rock, gritty, hard-hitting hip-hop beats and a penchant for dark, unsettling, heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics that forego the typical rap game pompousness. It’s because of this that K.Flay has made, and continues to make, her mark on the music world.
Dustin Lothspeich: I read that you basically began rapping on a dare. Is that actually true?
K.Flay: Yeah, that did actually happen. I was in college, and I was not making music prior to that. I wasn’t even thinking about it. When I came to CA for school, there was a weird time in mainstream rap on the radio -- I feel like now we’re in a really good time, where there’s a lot of complex, emotional stuff that’s coming out of our hip-hop world -- but then, in terms of radio stuff, there wasn’t much, and I was kind of talkin’ s--- to my friend, and he basically challenged me to come up with something better. It was a sort of weird progression of events. I started doing it for fun, as a joke, but there was something that really captivated me about writing songs both from a lyrical standpoint and a production standpoint. It was this world that had previously been unknown to me, but it was really this process of discovery that was really cool for me to be having as a 19-, 20-year-old.
DL: Do you think writing from a more personal perspective explains why fans respond to you so positively?
KF: I think that’s definitely a part of it. I feel like a couple of years ago, I still had to figure out what kind of music I wanted to make, and for the most part, it is sort of confessional music, content that does have an honesty to it -- an emotional honesty -- because that’s what I like to listen to, for the most part. I think performing is very instructive -- in terms of when you feel good about going onstage and saying or doing -- and I really spent a lot of time on the road. I think it was the songs that I had written that felt kind of true to my experience (at least where I was at that moment), that I really like to play live.
DL: Your lyrics often deal with the issues of life in general, ignoring a lot of the braggadocio that comes with a lot of rap music. Do you feel like that separates you from a lot of other hip-hop artists?
KF: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I would sound like an idiot if I tried to do that [laughs]. It would come off as completely insane or totally bizarre. It’s probably a good thing that I never really tried that [laughs]. I think part of it is being a woman, a little bit. I think women are given license to be a little more emotional and vulnerable in general; in music as well. I think, in general, there’s more of an indie aesthetic to what I’m doing. Even with the production or musical component of things. I remember the first time I ever heard Atmosphere and really, for the first time, understanding there was this whole community of indie hip-hop that was really emotionally resonant but was also a touring, live-show based thing. It was the first time I realized it was actually possible to do. It helped me want to continue in that vein.
DL: Well, as you mentione, has being a female artist in a male-dominated hip-hop world made it harder on you or helped in a way?
KF: I think it’s probably a mix of both. Anytime there is something novel about you, demographically, regardless of what context it is, I think it’s easier sometimes to be able to have a little, tiny platform where you get some kind of attention -- just because it’s slightly more rare. I think, in that respect, people are perhaps a little more interested or intrigued. But I think sometimes there are obviously some assumptions people might make about a woman in hip-hop.
DL: So it's been a relatively pleasant journey?
KF: I’ve really enjoyed the experience the whole way through. Rap is a part of what I do, but especially the last year or two, there’s a lot more of an indie-rock component to the project, as well. Mostly it’s been good -- just because there’s basically no expectation. I feel like being a woman operating in the hip-hop world is kind of uncharted territory to some extent, in this day and age. I mean, I am a girl -- I can’t really change that. Well, I guess you can change that. I don’t want to change that [laughs].
DL: Your track "Less Than Zero" samples the xx. You recently covered Jake Bugg, and "Lost Kitten" by Metric last year. Is indie rock more inspiring to you than what’s going on in hip-hop right now?
KF: In college, I listened to a lot more rap than I do now. I’m in more of an indie-rock zone, so it might just be more of where I’m at in terms of what I’m listening to. I feel like I listen to hip-hop more, in thinking about rhythms and cadence and rhyme structure, and it inspires me in that way. In indie rock, it’s more about melody -- which I’m incorporating more and that I’ve been more cognizant of. I feel like the indie-rock side of life is compelling because I’m really considering that element in my music more so than ever.
DL: You’ve got a great singing voice. Have you thought of recording a more rock-oriented EP or LP at some point?
KF: My drummer and I sometimes talk about doing a weird side-project. I think about it sometimes. I don’t know if it’d necessarily be a K.Flay thing, but I think it’d be something that could be really fun. I don’t know. Who knows? If I drink enough beer one night, I might do it [laughs].
DL: Great musicians tend to evolve over time. Where do you see this going next?
KF: I’m still not totally sure. I’ve spent the last couple of months, on and off, recording and writing new material that I feel really good about. I think, thematically, it’s similar to what I’ve been doing, so that’s not really a drastic change, but sonically, it’s more melodic, it’s less rap-focused. For a while, I was more fixated on rapping very quickly and doing that a lot, which I think in some ways was more fun for me than it was for anybody else [laughs]. I feel less intrigued by that now. I’m more intrigued by storytelling in a song, in a way that sometimes uses rap as a mode. I’m placing fewer restrictions on how I should write a song and what the structure should be. As a consequence, I’ve been writing certain things where there’s singing in the verses and more rapping in the chorus, or vice-versa, or all singing or all rapping. It’s a little bit more of weaving in and out of the hip-hop universe. I’m really excited about it, actually. I’ll be playing a few new things that I’ve been working on that aren’t released yet, so it’ll be a really fun show. Hopefully it’ll evoke the new spirit of things.
K.Flay headlines the House of Blues on March 21. Air Dubai with Itch open. Tickets are $13 and are available here. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and is all-ages.