Inside BottleRock 2016: K. Flay finds voice through adversity

K.Flay, BottleRock

K. Flay performs at BottleRock 2016.

Though the past few years were rocky for multi-genre musician K. Flay, they seem to have paid off. The Stanford graduate who dabbles in hip hop, pop, rock and R&B was signed to RCA Records, but was dropped after two EPs and masters to dozens more unreleased songs.

But the Chicago-born musician said the experience helped her find her voice as an artist. After parting with RCA, she independently released Life As a Dog, her debut solo album, in 2014. K. Flay said hours prior to her appearance at BottleRock that new projects are shaping up for 2016, including foreign and domestic touring later for this year, as well as forthcoming new material on an in-the-works follow up to Life.

Let’s start with “FML,” your first release since Life As a Dog. You’ve said that song expresses a duality.
K. Flay: Totally. It kind of goes back to a saying that I hate, but I’m going to say now, which is, “The closest thing to love is hate.” You know? But it is true. I think passion and intensity are at the core of both love and hate and you just flick it one way and then it becomes bad. So I feel like in a similar sense, a lot of the things that bring me joy and happiness and excitement are also things that bring me sadness and pain and regret. That was kind of where my headspace was at.

Before Life As a Dog, you were signed with RCA Records and parted ways after just two EPs. Has that experience made you gun-shy about returning to a label?
K. Flay: It did, in a certain sense. I think it made me gun-shy because I was on RCA right when I began making music, essentially. I just had no kind of internal identity compass. … It just felt like there wasn’t quite a due north developed. I was still figuring out what I wanted to do, what things felt right, what things didn’t. That was kind of a confusing experience for me. I’ve likened it to getting married to the wrong person when you’re young. It’s kind of like that. You don’t even end the relationship. There’s no kids, like it’s all good. It’s just a bad breakup. That’s kind of how it felt.

K.Flay, BottleRock, K. Flay

K. Flay backstage at BottleRock.

As far as your creative process, you do so many different genres, so many different styles, when you get an idea, how do you determine what direction you want to go?
K. Flay: I don’t think about it very much, I think, is the answer. [laughs]. I think, mostly, it’s dependent on my mood and just sort of my headspace that day, or sometimes even just what sort of musical phase I’m in. Right now, a lot of the new stuff is a lot more instruments, a little bit less kind of rap, hip hop stuff. I’m just kind of embracing that in-between genre thing and not really considering, “Is this too ‘this’ or is this not enough ‘this?’” And just kind of doing it. Getting back to that idea of a compass, I think that I’ve developed some kind of internal sense of what is going to be good or right for me, which maybe, I can’t even put into words, but I feel like I’m approximating that.

You went to Stanford and moved to New York, but now you’re in Los Angeles. Tell us about that.
K. Flay: I feel like there are these swings that happen, where New York kind of becomes a place where it’s cheap and people are living. … Now L.A. is getting fucking expensive, too, but I have kind of a hookup. I have a very nice deal, so I was like, “I should probably do this.” And everybody’s out there. The label’s out there. My manager’s out there. I have, like, one music friend left in New York. Like, everybody else moved.

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