NAPA — Zach Grace, McKinley Kitts, Dylan Bauld and Kyle Hill amble into the Napa Valley Expo bingo hall fresh off an energetic early set at Bottlerock, laughing and joking with each other, four voices crashing over each other. The four members of flor are still on a performance high.
They are laughing and unguarded, which is a bit out of character for Grace, flor’s frontman-guitarist-keyboardist. Grace can be reserved at times. Even though he lives with Kitts, the guitarist, he doesn’t even allow his friend, roommate and bandmate to listen to a new song until he decides he’s ready. But on stage, he and his flor bandmates let loose.
What were they so animatedly talking about a minute earlier?
“How good we are!” Grace laughs, adding that on one song he forgot to add an effect to the keyboard, and the men were figuring out how it transpired. “I’m one hundred percent good at everything I do!”
Flor is composed of four Oregonians living in Los Angeles, holding on to who they became growing up in tiny Hood River, on the outskirts of Portland, while trying to use the energy of L.A. to propel them to success. In 2017, the band, released its debut full-length album, come out. you’re hiding, a collection of gauzy, vulnerable dream-pop.
Released by Fueled By Ramen (home to traditionally emo and pop-punk bands like Paramore and Panic! At the Disco), the record is a euphoric trip through Grace’s head. The band has a thing against capitalizing letters. The record, their song name, the band name—all lowercase. But the decision was made not for political reasons, but out of boredom. Eventually it stuck after flor had a few successes. Like a baseball player refusing to shave so long as he’s hitting, the uppercase letters have been banned.
The band formed in 2014, but Grace began playing with Bauld and Kitts when they were teens. With the addition of Hill, flor has toured with Halsey and Hayley Kiyoko. The last two years, flor has seen its largest growth, and not only in terms of fanbase and Spotify spins.
“We really like how we sound live now; it took a year or two of touring on this to realize we just really like being a rock band more than anything,” Grace said. “We’re not going to lose the dreamy aspects of flor because I think that’s what defines us. But we’re going to lean into drums and guitar, really driving the sound.”
We spoke to flor about that new sound, performance highs, football and political revolt.
RIFF: You are in L.A. now, but you introduce yourselves as a Portland band.
Zach Grace: We always want to be true to our roots. Portland is what shaped us. More specifically, Hood River, Oregon is where we all grew up together. It shaped our sound, it shaped how we approach life, it shaped how we approach music, so to say we’re from L.A. I think wouldn’t be very true to the sound or what our band’s all about. That’s a very artistic thing to say, I suppose.
I can definitely feel a little bit of the Northwest in your sound.
Grace: There’s a little bit of grunge, you know, a little bit of Seattle creeping down.
When did you move?
Grace: We’re coming up on five years. It was the right move, absolutely. You can only accomplish so much when you’re living in a small town. Even if we played every night at the local River City Saloon, we’d play to 10 people until 7,000 people have heard our music, and then what?
McKinley Kitts: A lot of our peers had gone [to L.A.], and there was this sense of ambition and artistic drive going on there. That’s where young people go to reinvent themselves in a new city. Whether it’s music, or acting, or art of any kind, it’s this influx of cool young people who want to do wild shit. … We went and we did exactly that.
Dylan Bauld: There’s a lot of things, when you grow up in a small town … that you’re not exposed to, as far as the music industry goes—good and bad. We all just needed to learn what the music industry was about. Because we were just playing music and hoping for the best.
Do you feel like you fit into L.A.?
Grace: That’s where it gets a little confusing. It feels like we fit in, but at the same time, we’re bringing a different energy than what you’re encountering down in L.A. There’s a little bit of that slacker Northwest vibe that we love. It’s what defines us. It’s what drives us. So when you pair that with the intensity of Los Angeles, I feel like it’s made us kind of special.
Kitts: We work harder than ever. L.A. pushes us to do that, but we’re still not the “L.A. hustler,” or “nice car” guys.
Bauld: Not yet.
Grace: If I could afford a nice car, I would have a nice car.
When the Blazers come to town, do you go to Lakers games?
It’s interesting how soccer has become so popular in Portland.
Bauld: It’s great to see soccer growing in the States and having Portland be one of the cities that sets the tone for the rest of the country.
Why are you guys anti-capitalization?
Grace: Because capitalism is a disease! [laughs]
Kitts: We believe in the triumph of the proletariat and the overthrowing of the bourgeois.
Grace: I don’t know when we ever took that stance, but yes, let’s do this!
We don’t capitalize our letters. It’s very aesthetically pleasing to see just like a straight line with no curves and dips. Every letter should be treated as equal! There’s no importance to what makes the first letter better than any other letter. [laughs].
Kitts: Early on, when we were pitching our music to blogs … we didn’t really get any responses. At one point, there was a conscious effort to … get more casual, and we dropped our capitalization and some grammar. Or maybe we got lazy. We actually got sick of sending those emails. We started getting responses to the emails that were poorly formatted.
Grace: There’s also a little bit of gamer culture tied into there, because when you’re typing to your friends in a game, you don’t have time to “shift key.”
Kitts: By “gamer,” he means video games.
So you don’t have a Monopoly circle, huh?
Kitts: We do play Settlers of Catan pretty often.
Your first record was about Zach’s self-doubt and insecurity. How does that compare to where you are right now.
Grace: I still battle with that a little bit, but I’m at a different place now. I believe myself enough, and I have a strong enough team around me. They believe in what we’re doing. If I just get out there and I make [music], and I share with the band, we’re going to make something special, and that’s what’s really cool. It’s a nice feeling.
Kitts: You’ve also been validated by the world.
Grace: Yes, that’s also true. We have 50 million streams now, which I think means that we wrote maybe one or two good songs.
Kitts: It’s not just people coming to the shows; it’s translating across the board. There’s some artists who will have a Spotify song pop off, and that’s cool, but they don’t do anything with it. We’ve been hustling on the road and building up a touring fanbase. … I think the world, and especially the United States, has really validated the record. And I think that helps with the next one.
Grace: It’s going to give me a different push. I will still question everything I do, still be introspective. I still won’t play my songs for people or even the band until I feel like it’s in a good place.
Even for your bandmates?
Kitts: I have to ask him! We live together, just me and Zach. He works privately in his bedroom, and I have to ask him to hear stuff that he’s working on. Like, “Dude! That sounds awesome through the door. Can we please work on that?”
Grace: I have no idea how to explain what goes through my head, why I can’t just be proud off the bat about what we’re doing.
For an introvert, you’re pretty darn good on stage.
Grace: Well, that’s where I’m comfortable. I get on stage, and all of a sudden, I’m not an introvert anymore. I don’t know where that power comes from.
Kitts: We see that with other artists, too. We’ll meet some unnamed artists, who off-stage will be kind of shy and maybe a little weird. That’s fine, but then they go on stage and they flip a switch. “We were just talking to that guy five minutes ago, and he couldn’t hold a conversation, and now he’s wild on stage.”
If this was the ‘80s, I’d ask if it was cocaine.
Kitts: I mean, shhhhh! [Everyone laughs for a solid 10 seconds]
Grace: I can’t describe the phenomenon, but something about the stage– if I was up there alone, I don’t think I would do it, but since I’m up there with these guys, I know what we’re doing is special. I know that I love what I’m doing. I love who I am when I’m up there. It makes it easy to get up there. That’s all of us are trying to do–have fun and put on a good show while we’re at it.
What types of songs are you making now, sonically and thematically?
Grace: We love the energy that you get when Kyle’s slamming on the drums, and when McKinley can have a screaming guitar tone. That just makes us happy.
Bauld: The [first] record was recorded when we weren’t playing a whole lot of shows, so we couldn’t grasp what moments would be really good live. As we kept playing the songs, we kept making these new moments within the live set, and we want to incorporate those types of things into the next record. We learned how to be a band, rather than just producers or writers.
Grace: Thematically, I’m overwhelmed by the state of the world today, so there’s going to be a little bit of that in it. Flor always tries to keep a positive spin on things, so the main thing is going to be a diamond in the rough mentality, and not even a diamond, but the dirt in the rough. Does that dirt also deserve to be appreciated just as much as anything else?
Kyle Hill: Quote of the day.
By the state of the world, do you mean it’s going to be angrier or more anxious?
Grace: Maybe anxious. I won’t ever try to approach music angrily. I’m obviously upset with certain things, but I think there are ways to approach [them]. Outrage is a good thing, and it’s important, but I don’t know that it’s how flor will ever tackle [songs].
Kitts: Maybe on a personal level, we’ll burn shit down, but the record will be a little more tactful.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.