An hour before her sold-out set at the Bowery Ballroom, K. Flay (birth name Kristine Flaherty) is deeply inhaling from a humidifier that looks like a spaceship. Downstairs, groove-infused singer/rapper Daye Jack is quickly winning over a crowd of her fans and cinematic rockers Paper Route are preparing to take the stage with their energetic anthems in between him and headliner K. The crowd is in high spirits for a Monday, waiting for their hip-hop/alt-pop queen to perform songs from her first full-length, Life as a Dog, and her latest EP, Crush Me. Before she delivers her bass-shaking, rhythmic performance, we chat about podcasts and production.
I hear a lot of distortion and dissonance in your production. What effect do you think that has on your listeners? Why do you choose to produce your backing that way?
K. Flay: I think partially it’s a product of a lot of the music I like which tends to be a little more lo-fi, grungy sounding. I also think my singing voice is on the sweeter side, so it’s nice to have the balance. Otherwise, it could lean into sugary territory. It adds weight to the levity of my vocals.
Where did your appreciation for hip-hop come from?
KF: I grew up listening to a lot of rap as a kid. Once I got to college, I think that’s where that more intense listenership started to occur and I really, really started to get into a lot of indie rap, a lot of non-U.S. rap. I think what drew me to it and continues to draw me to it is the authenticity of narration. It’s a very confessional, storytelling mode. It isn’t always but a lot of the times it is and a lot of the people that I really look up to and love, that’s what they do – tell stories that are true to their lives. It’s a very first person experience. That was really compelling to me when music was becoming a part of my identity.
What kind of hip-hop brought you into the genre?
KF: I’ve always been a really big Outkast fan. I think for me it sounded so different when I was young. It was so itself. It was entirely singular. And really eccentric, but consistent and coherent because their voices remained the same throughout. That was a big group for me. Dizzee Rascal was also a big one for me. Again in that it was rhythms and cadences that just weren’t… American. It was a totally different starting point.
I feel like British rappers are able to fit more syllables into their verses.
KF: For sure, it’s a different meter. If you’re thinking of it in terms of poetry. It made me want to develop my own style.
What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
KF: Well, right now if I had to switch jobs I think I’d want to be a podcast producer. I love podcasts.
What’s your favorite?
KF: Well, hard to say. Different ones for different reasons. I really love Heavyweight. I love a lot of the Gimlet ones. I’m very nerdy about this stuff. There’s something about when storytelling is done really well. It’s so satisfying.
I’m a sucker for a well-layered soundscape.
KF: Yeah! There’s a new one called Homecoming that’s fictional – the sound design on that is amazing.
Ever listen to My Favorite Murder?
KF: I can’t do scary! I listened to Serial but that wasn’t as scary as it was …legal.
What would your podcast be about?
KF: I thought of an idea, maybe I shouldn’t put it on the Internet though.
K. Flay proceeds to pitch a brilliant podcast about class structure across the world, the details are withheld in case she decides to retire early from music and pursue it.
How do you balance hip-hop and alt-pop without being a cheesy rock-rapper?
KF: I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I feel like my roots aren’t super cheesy like that. I’m sure some stuff I’ve done is cheesy. I think a lot of that blending is just slight nuances. Shirking that paradigm of “well, the verse is this, that means the chorus has to come here. So I’m rapping here and singing here.” What I really did on the upcoming album is following a song’s lead. So if I begin writing a song with a riff, it’s probably gonna be a rock song. There’s always going to be elements of rhythm and schemes of rap in what I do. But maybe not overtly. I’m trying to identify the feel I’m going for and follow it without worrying about “here comes the verse, here comes the chorus.”
Since so much of your influence comes from hip-hop and distortion pop, who are you most excited about in those worlds right now?
KF: In hip-hop, I’m really into that dude BL6CK. I just saw him play out in L.A. It was a really good show. I really like that kind of stoner-y rap, that woozy and melodic rap. It has it’s own sort of rhythm. And then in the other category, we’re playing a festival with this band called Methyl Ethyl. I was browsing the lineup for this festival in Australia and was like oh, I wonder what they’re about. Now I’m obsessed. It’s so good.
Let’s talk about your most recent release, “Black Wave.” Is this off of an upcoming full-length or EP? Can you tell me a little bit more about your next project?
KF: It is off of an upcoming full-length that’s coming out April 7th. It’s called Every Where Is Some Where. It contains the four songs off of the EP and an additional eight. “Black Wave” is on that, and it’s on the punkier, heavier side of things. The album’s got a big range.
I heard a lot of range in the EP, so I can only imagine.
KF: Exactly, and those four songs were created around the same time. But it all was created in one period. So it feels consistent, but it has even more range.
Every Where Is Some Where is out April 7th via Night Street/Interscope Records.