K.Flay says her new music is an introduction to the next chapter in her unfinished story.
Born in Illinois, Kristine Flaherty started rapping, writing songs and self-producing mixtapes while studying psychology and sociology at Stanford University. In 2014, she released her fan-funded debut album Life As A Dog, quickly gaining the attention of record executives and earning opening gigs for Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional as well as a coveted slot on Vans Warped Tour. Three years later, her major label follow-up Every Where Is Some Where earned the Los Angeles-based artist two Grammy nominations, including one for the standout track “Blood in the Cut.”
With a near decade spanning career under her belt, K.Flay is picking up where she left off and touring the U.S. But her journey is a little more complicated. In the fall of 2022, K.Flay was forced to pause her Inside Voices/Outside Voices tour due to an unexpected medical emergency. She later shared that she suffers from a rare condition called SSNHL (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss) and Labyrinthitis, resulting in partial hearing loss. Despite her personal struggles, K.Flay is back with new music and a new perspective, both personally and creatively.
K.Flay plays Skydeck on Broadway in Nashville May 24 with grandson. Tickets are available here.
A Q&A with K.Flay:
Marquis Munson: I want to go back a couple of years because earlier last year you released Inside Voices/Outside Voices, these two EP’s you combined into one project. What was the inspiration behind that record?
K.Flay: The inspiration behind that record was thinking about the ID and the super ego a little bit. The extremes of the psyche, the part of the brain that sensors and is attuned to the conventions and rules of society and the world that we live in. And then the other part of the brain and the human experience, which is like, ‘I’m mad, I want to scream, I’m hungry, I want to eat.’ It’s funny because I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think music has been historically for me and for a lot of people who listen and make music, it’s a place where that ID the sort of like, ‘I’m angry, I want to scream,’ where that voice has a safe place to be. For me, the record in large part was me getting comfortable a little bit more with saying some of those impolite things in a safe environment. I started working on the record in the thick of lockdown when everyone was going insane anyway. It felt connected to the experience of just being trapped in a box.
MM: You were scheduled to continue touring in the fall of that same year, but you had a medical emergency. I hate to take you back to that time, but can you walk me through everything that was going on around then? And I know that was physically grueling for you, but mentally, what was helping you get through that difficult time?
KF: Absolutely. I’m super open to talking about it. I think it’s kind of helpful and useful to talk about. This past fall, we had done our big U.S. Tour of Inside Voices/Outside Voices. We had an amazing show in Nashville. It was maybe the second or third show of the tour and it was such a good night. We played Basement East, and I had a lot of friends come through and it was just a great night. We’re getting ready to do some international dates. I woke up one morning and couldn’t hear out of my right ear. Turns out just randomly, just life. No reason at all had gone permanently deaf in my right ear. There were some physical consequences for that with my balance and equilibrium. I had to cancel the tour. I was doing a bunch of physical therapy to get back to normal. Two weeks before this happened, I had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. They’re not related, but just as an example of when this occurred, I was in good physical shape.
The psychological effect, which in retrospect was hugely impactful, I remember my manager and I were having a conversation one day and he was just like, ‘Hey, if you need to quit music, if we need to pivot and you want to do something totally different or like go back to school or whatever, that’s fine. Just let me know.’ So, the hearing loss provided this moment of this gut check. It’s like, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ And I think so rarely in our professional lives does something happen that really forces us to contend with do I want to really do this? You have an out, you have an easy out a little bit. For me, it was such an important inflection point of like, ‘No, I do want to do this. I don’t want to leave.’ It lit a new fire under my butt a little bit creatively. Strangely from a creative standpoint, it was an incredibly fruitful period once I got back on my feet.
MM: And you got back on your feet. I mean, this happened late last year and now we’re in the middle of 2023. You could have taken some time to sit back and reflect on everything. But you’re back on stage, back in front of your fans again. You’re performing again. So how do those moments feel for you when you’re performing on stage and you’re seeing your fans? What has the preparation for live performances been like for you?
KF: In terms of what it feels like to be up there, there’s just a different level of gratitude and appreciation. Because I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel or if I could do it. In many ways, I think I’ve been on this journey of how do I sit in the present moment? How do I sit with my discomfort? How do I accept the inevitability of suffering and not thrash against it? Just knowing that pain is a part of life and that’s okay. I feel like I’ve been on that journey and this tour and going through hearing loss and all the resulting stuff has been a serious exercise in it. I’ve come out the other side feeling this appreciation, a renewed appreciation, a renewed engagement, and a renewed just like ‘I’m here, I’m looking into your eyes. We’re both here.’ By some miracle of fate, we’ve all ended up in this room. Shows on the one hand seem inevitable, right? There’s shows every night. But they’re like these miracles. People buy tickets, the people on stage get it together to perform and figure out what to plug in. There are these miniature miracles and I think I’m really in touch with that.
In terms of preparing, I prepared insanely. In fact, I think it’s behind me, my trampoline where I’m doing a lot of balance exercises. The result of all the preparations, I really feel strongly about this is the best I’ve ever been. Our first show back, my manager was like, ‘That was the best show you ever played.’ There’s a level of seriousness when things get challenged, and you’re just like, ‘You know what, I don’t take myself seriously, but I take what I do seriously.’ I feel that way more than ever.
MM: How does this tour feel being on this journey alongside Grandson who’s performing with you?
KF: Jordan has been one of my close friends for five years now. It’s just nice to be out here with someone who’s also been supportive and helpful with my hearing loss and this journey that I’ve been on. He and his girlfriend were over day three helping me walk. So, he’s borne witness to a lot of this and feels like a safe environment. Creatively we’ve collaborated in the past. We get to do that on stage, which is fun. It’s a real joy when you get to be out on the road with people that you really care about and whose tastes align with yours. It’s been great. I will say the show, I know I’m biased, but I think it’s a great night of music.
MM: I was reading an interview you did before your show in Birmingham, and you said that you like to be a part of the local scene in whatever city that you’re in. You’ve done some work in Nashville before, so how does it feel to be back in Nashville performing?
KF: It feels great. I made about half of my second and third record in Nashville and recorded them. It’s just a city where I have a lot of memories of creation. That’s its own type of feeling when you go back to the place where the idea started. Especially for my second record that was so important for me and my career. I recorded that out in the countryside over by Loveless Cafe in a large garage kind of thing. My collaborator, J.T. Daly, me and him would pack our groceries and be there 18 to 20 hours a day. It was a time in my career and my life when I was discovering a lot. For me, I feel like Nashville has been a place of musical discovery and exploration, so I love going back. I have a bunch of music friends, producers, songwriters, and performers who live in Nashville. I get to see a lot of people I care about when I come through town, which is also a bonus for me.
MM: What’s the one spot that you are like ‘Okay, we’re going to Nashville, so we have to go here?’
KF: Oh my gosh. That’s a good question. Is it weird to say my friend’s house?
MM: No, it’s not weird at all.
KF: I think my friend Emily’s house. I think is the place. I was texting her the other day. Her home has become this warm and wonderful place. Obviously, I could say like Dino’s or some place. I think especially when you’ve been touring for a while, when you get to go to a friend’s house, that feels like home. You get to have a coffee and sit down at someone’s dining room table, that’s the best feeling. So probably Emily’s house.
MM: You recently released your new single “Raw Raw,” and you said this song is the start of your next chapter. So how did the record come together, and could we expect a new album this year?
KF: That record came together in an unexpected way. I was at the studio with me and the band Joywave. Daniel, who is the lead singer, and he was there with Brad Hale, who had previously been part of the band Now, Now. We had a session booked in L.A. and we all sat in this room like, ‘What are we going to do today?’ Like, ‘What even is the point of this?’ We all have our own projects. I was like, “Well, I’m starting to work on something new,’ and we started working on the song. Originally the song was about this new relationship after having a bad breakup. I was like, ‘I can’t believe that I have to be vulnerable again. I can’t believe I have to take another chance and maybe I’m going to get my heart broken again.’ Like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe this. It’s hurting me. It’s scary.’ I think I played that little bass line in the song, and we started thinking about this as a group like, ‘What does it feel like to be vulnerable?’ It’s not soft, teddy bears and whatever. It’s scary, it’s gruesome, it’s tough. I just like this idea of thinking about vulnerability as something that skins you, it’s a scraped knee and it hurts. Then we did a little demo of that.
Then I went through hearing loss. Then I had this whole new feeling about vulnerability because I was like, ‘Now I really feel vulnerable.’ Now it’s not just falling in love again. It’s being out here, being out in loud places is hard for me. When you only have hearing in one ear you can’t locate sound unless you have a visual cue. When I’m in a venue, bar, or restaurant, it’s overwhelming. Especially at the beginning when my brain was still adjusting, it was scary. So, then I had this whole new lens to think about this. So finished the song, Jason Zuwito, who’s a past collaborator of mine and a friend, also worked on the track and produced it with us. It just came together, and it felt like a great first introduction to the next chapter. I can’t officially say but give me two weeks and then I’ll answer that second question.