Sure, there are plenty of people changing the face of hip-hop, but K.Flay is doing it on her own terms. Mentioning that she’s a white, female, and Stanford-educated rapper is inescapable, but she’s aware of that. Born Kristine Flaherty, she’s done her best to put image aside and lets her confessional, pop culture-savvy rhymes speak for themselves since her self-titled debut EP came out in 2010. Her latest release, the Eyes Shut EP, showcases tight songwriting over punchy productions--her own.
On stage, she’s the slacker who actually cares. On tour, she keeps a photo diary of innuendo-laden street signs. (Ann Arbor, Michigan is apparently home to a Hiscock Street.) In person, she’s laid-back and personable, and it’s easy to see how she’s developed a devoted online following. I caught up with K.Flay at the end of her recent tour with Colin Munroe.
So this is the end of the tour. How's it been?
It's been good, it's been really hot everywhere we've gone. A lot of Midwest dates, they've been having record heat. It's been warm, but it's been great. We've been to a lot of new cities. Some cities, like New York, we've obviously already played, so it's been a really good mix of that.
What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you?
I've had a lot of weird things. We've gotten some weird presents. They're all really nice, but just some random things. Like, I guess I had said to some dude that I liked McFlurrys, so he gave me a McDonalds gift certificate. They were super sweet, just kind of random things. I'm trying to think of what else weird happened. Probably not that much. I can't even remember. Is that sad? I can barely remember yesterday.
Where's the most unusual place you've been?
Oh, I know something weird that happened. We were in Mobile, AL stopped at a gas station. Basically a homeless guy was approaching this other dude on a motorcycle, and the guy on the motorcycle got off and pulled out a gun on this dude. At a Mobil or whatever, just a gas station. So that was pretty intense. But I have to say that Mobile was awesome, the people who came to the show were great, and it was a lot of fun. But that was pretty intense, everyone was really scared. We were just like, "Yeah, we need to get the fuck out of there."
How did you start doing the dirty street names thing?
I'm trying to remember the genesis of it. I think I was talking with my manager, who's my super good friend, and how it would be fun to find [these signs], because there's a Boner Street in Oakland, which is awesome. So we knew about that, and we were like, "Oh, wouldn't it be funny to just take pictures?" Just as a fun thing to do. It's been really cool, because I've gotten to see all these different parts of cities that if I just went straight to the venue, I wouldn't have gotten a chance to actually explore. Some of the streets have been in really fancy, nice areas, some have been total middle class, some have been impoverished areas of the city. So I've seen a lot of different neighborhoods, it's cool.
So do people just tell you about where these streets are?
Oh no, I look on a map. It's my task in the van, looking on my phone to find the street names. Because that way, sometimes you can find some that are more creative. A lot just have "wood" in them. That's a classic, that's standard. I just look on a map.
You produce your own tracks. Have you or would you ever produce for another artist?
Totally. I've done some remixes, which is probably about as close to producing as I've done this far. But right now I'm focused on finishing up my first full length. So once that's done and I've kind of got my own thing set in motion, yeah, definitely. I think it's always good and kind of refreshing to work with other people in a different way, because it expands your repertoire, too.
The rapper and beatmaker relationship has been talked about a lot, so it's interesting that you're self-sufficient in that way.
Yeah, it's definitely a different kind of thing. I think in a way, I might not know what I'm doing if I'm producing stuff for someone else, but that could be a good thing, you know? The fresh perspective. So we'll see, if you want to start a folk band, I'll produce it.
You've also talked about approaching your music from more of a rock background.
Yeah, I think with the touring stuff and the way I'm doing it, it feels like an old school rock band just touring the country, building it that way. For me, the live show has been a super important part of what I do, both just personally gratifying, and there's probably a reasonable amount of doubt when people hear about what I'm doing on paper. I feel like the live show's my chance to show them I don't totally suck.
You give a lot of music away for free. Is that mostly a realization that that's how things work now?
I think I'm at a point where the money that I make is really from the live shows and from merch, so my prerogative for putting music out for free is just so there [are] as few barriers to its consumption as there can be. I just kind of want to give as many people as possible a reason or a chance to check it out and eliminate all impediments. When something's free, it's harder to say no. Even giving an email address, if you want to, that's good. For this last EP, there [are] like four options on the site. You can buy it if you want to--and a lot of people have, actually, which is cool--you can tweet about it, you can post it on Facebook, you can give us your email, or you can just do nothing and just get it. You can do whatever you want.
It's about how much value you want to put on something.
Yeah, and also not even necessarily value, but empowering people to spread the word about something the way that they'd like to. I think that's been a bit lost. Old school music, you hear something, you can tell anybody you want in any way possible, now there are all these barriers with email addresses and Facebook and Twitter and stuff. Some people love posting shit on Twitter, so let them do it. Some people hate it, so don't make them.
Who are some new artists you're excited about?
I really like the Neighborhood, it's kind of indie rock with a little bit of a hip-hop flavor, or an R&B flavor. A friend of mine is actually producing the album right now, they're working on it. The EP's really good, you should check it out. I like the Neighborhood a lot, I like this band called Ava Luna. They're not really new, but I played a show with them a while back and I just really like what they do and their style. I really like that Joey Bada$$ mixtape, it's really good. I think he has a lot of potential. So those are some folks I've been listening to.
Maybe rap thrives more in the current environment because it's easier to push things out very quickly.
Undoubtedly. A big part of it is amassing this catalogue and establishing yourself as someone who can put things out. But I think the other byproduct of that is that the more stuff you do, on that level, the better you get. I think it works both ways. I know for sure that I've progressed a lot. I never listen to my own stuff, but if forced to, it's very unpleasant, the older it gets. Just worse and worse going back in time.
So basically you record it, you play it, and you're done?
Well, some of these songs I have to play live all of the time, so I hear them then. But yeah.
I'm from Palo Alto, so I have to ask what the best thing about the Bay Area is.
Oh man, that's so hard to say. I think the best thing about the Bay Area, probably overall, is the attitude of acceptance that pervades everything. I guess I should say openness, because it's openness to new ideas in whatever domain, whether it's technological or scientific or it's a cultural thing. There's so much mixing of ideas and people and cultures and styles out there, it's kind of unparalleled and there's a genuine collaborative spirit. That's the thing I like the best about the Bay, but the burritos are awesome, also. That's another bonus.
Yeah, that's something that's not so good over here. You're based in actual San Francisco, right?
I actually live up the street from here now. My mom still lives in Oakland, in my old house that I lived at. I still stay there. I don't really live anywhere, I'm floating in the sky right now. It's a feat of nature.
How did you end up moving to New York?
I was recording out here and was never back in San Francisco, so I decided to start paying rent here instead. I can stay for free in San Francisco, so now I've got two spots.
I'm guessing there's more studio space out here, too.
Yeah, definitely. There's a lot more recording that's going on.
So you're finishing up the album right now?
I've got a bit of it recorded, and over the next couple of months just finish it up.
Are you hoping to have that out next year?
Yeah, early next year.