K.Flay just got herself her first TV. She shows me a box, which is waiting propped up against the wall of her living room. It contains a flatscreen TV, which she found surprisingly cheap to acquire („not much more than a night out for dinner!“) and which is now waiting to be installed later the same day. After years of constant touring and often living in between places, K.Flay is getting homely. She just moved in, and she might even repaint the walls, she reveals to me.
The funny thing is tho, even through our conversation via Zoom, I can sense this amazing energy she radiates, which I originally got to know from her live shows. It’s even emphasized through the fact that it looks like she is not sitting but standing in front of her computer. Sometimes she talks very slow, emphasizing every word carefully, and then suddenly she speeds up, like her thoughts (we will be talking about thoughts a lot) are running away from her, until it almost sounds like she’s rapping. I catch myself thinking, that whenever K.Flay should be getting tired of making music (which I hope she never does), she should consider going into stand up.
But right now, K.Flay fortunately is all about making music. And even tho the pandemic taught her, as she is telling me, how to live with stillness and without constant distraction, her latest EP „Inside Voices“ is loud and energetic. It’s heavy and aggressive, honest and funny. She is giving a heartfelt „fuck you“ to a person who once hurt her, she is singing about the pain of always being told to be a good girl, about what it feels like to date a person who constantly wants to know your whereabouts (it’s like dating your dad, actually) and she is speaking out about the disrespect of always being called by the wrong surname. It’s Kristine, not Katherine by the way. Ready for some life lessons with K.Flay?
The last time I met you, it was Halloween 2019. You were playing a show in Berlin. A real show, with real people. Insane!
Yeah, I know! That was a fun show. That was a really fun tour, in general. I was beginning to really come into my own in a way, on tour. I don’t even mean the show, I mean as a human being living on a bus, you know. Figuring out, how do I do that. How do I take care of myself, how do I have adventures… it’s a strange way to live! The last two years of touring on the last record, I was starting to have that self awareness, so that I could really engage with the show. I was like really, really, present. Which, speaking about the pandemic, fuck yeah, I’m glad! Since then I had a year and a half or whatever with no shows. It was nice to be so engaged with the crowd and with the experience.
And the first time I met you, you didn’t even have a proper place to stay. When we met in 2019, you had just settled down in LA. And now…
Now I live in a house! I just moved in. Yeah I mean, what can I say, I’m growing up. I think I lived so much of my adult life in this constant liminal space. I’m in between cities, I’m in between places… there was a type of energy that was generated by that low level chaos, that was stimulating and productive to me. And then for whatever reason, and I think that’s what’s cool about life in general, what stimulates you changes. Like when you’re a child, certain things are very stimulating, and as an adult you’ll be like: this is fucking boring! You think this is exciting?! (laughs). I think it’s just so interesting, every stage of life there are these different experiences and different feelings, that generate inspiration and are compelling. For me, the last three, four years, what I have found stimulating and compelling is actually sitting with myself. Not having noise all the time. Not crashing at someone’s house. Not being out until three every night. What does it feel like to actually sit down and think? That in a way has been a new frontier, especially during quarantine of course. Which is all this time away from my ordinary forms of stimulation. That has been very productive for me, tho uncomfortable at times. I don’t know how it’s been for you, but I definitely had to just sit in my own discomfort and have no escape. That strangely enough has been very stimulating. It was a lot of self reflection and also the need to create my own noise, like musically and be very confrontational with this new music.
Oh yes! It’s a very confrontational EP. But it’s so interesting! Everybody’s reacting to this so differently. I know a couple of artists who used to make really energetic music and through this situation have become a lot more calm and introspective in their creative endeavor.
No, I went the other way (laughs). But I think there is something to that, which is… this period of time, for the last year plus I don’t drink, I don’t… well I never really did drugs, but I don’t have any substance that gets me out of my mind. So I didn’t have that. I didn’t have the live show. I didn’t have socializing, which I love, I’m very social. So all of my outlets per se were taken away and the only thing I had was making music. That really became the avenue for the catharsis, because I just didn’t have any other escape. I honestly felt like a teenager in their bedroom being like: how am I supposed to get out of this prison? In a way that teenagers listen to often aggressive, embracive music. I had the impulse to kind of make that.
I have to admit, I find it quite admirable how you obviously embraced sitting with yourself. I find it so hard. Did you use any specific techniques? Did you ever try meditation?
You know, I know I should meditate. I don’t. I read a lot of books and I do a lot of crossword puzzles. I don’t know if that qualifies, but to me it serves that purpose of meditation in a way where I’m not inside my own mind and thoughts. I’m engaged in this other mental and sort of spiritual activity. Not that doing crossword puzzles is spiritual… but it kind of is to me! I actually started even making my own crossword puzzles.
Yeah. I’m like fully out here.
That’s quite a nerd thing to do, to be honest.
I’m such a dork! You know it’s funny, people who meet me and who know me through my music are like: oh. You’re a fucking nerd! I really am. But honestly, I think I definitely found solace in those types of activities. I don’t know, I wasn’t like meditating, but I got more comfortable with things just being quiet. As you can see, I never even had a television – till about in three hours! There was a lot of sitting with my thoughts. I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of buddhist texts and things like that. Of course there’s a whole thread about that the actual source of misery isn’t pain, because pain is inevitable. Pain is part of life, for everyone. No matter how lucky you are, how rich you are or how pretty you are, whatever. Attempting to avoid it, which of course is futile, that’s where the misery comes in. The effort is doomed from the beginning. And I think that type of thinking has been very useful for me, especially during this period, where in different communities we’ve all been suffering. There’s been a lot of loss, a lot of grief, and it’s fucking painful. I’m gonna just sit with that and not try to run away. That will only lead to a true form of misery, that isn’t going to be helpful to me as a human or as a songwriter and as a musician.
But again, I have to say to me embracing it that way seems really brave. I feel like these days you have a lot of people who try to get through with sheer escapism. I mean, I don’t have to tell you, you’re the artist here, but I don’t think that’s where art comes from.
No. No. Art comes from engagement, not escapism. Maybe the first time you escape, maybe that can yield some stuff, but I think beyond that, it has to be engaging with some form of honesty or truth internally. For me, this EP and this new music I’m working on across the year is really examining this difference between Kristine, the individual, the civilian and K.Flay. For many years, people would ask me what’s the difference and I was like: there is no difference. I’m just a nice, normal… okay, on the one hand that’s true. I think I’m a nice and respectful person in my professional life and I try to respect other people’s time and space. But these are very different people! K.Flay is where I say and express the darkness and the uncomfortable parts of my psyche. It’s where I actually allow the voice that is angry and confused and potentially hostile, it’s where I give that voice space. And that’s okay. For me so much about this period and this new music is accepting the fact that I can have uncomfortable thoughts – but they are just thoughts. You know, „all thoughts are created equal“. That’s sort of a meditation thing. A thought is a thought. And just because you have a thought, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person – it just means you’re a person! Because we’re having all sorts of thoughts all the time. Like, I’m normally a nice person but you have hurt me, and now I’m having the thought of „fuck you“ in my head. Right? That’s okay! I’m not coming out and hurting you, I’m not antagonizing you, I’m just having this thought. In many ways, me just having the thought and allowing the thought to happen, allows me to actually be a peaceful and gentle and a productive person in society. Just saying it! And onto the next thing. So for me this is kind of me saying: yeah, I’m having these thoughts. And it’s okay! And if you’re having these thoughts too, it’s also okay. The important thing is that we have catharsis, is that we just have a way to express it and a way to move forward. Sort of like Oasis: „Don’t look back in anger“ (laughs). If you can express it in a safe and productive manner, that’s when you’ve hacked the main frame. There’s peace in knowing being a human means there’s a ton of shit happening inside you all the time. Where things get really interesting is: which thoughts do you pay attention to? Which thoughts do you honor? Which thoughts do you enact? That’s where things get very complicated (laughs). But of course, first, to really even move forward, you have to acknowledge the thought.
I’m listening to you and I’m thinking what a gift it is to be able to express yourself through art. And the best thing is, even if things have become hard and complicated through the pandemic, the mere act of creating art can never be taken away from you.
Yeah, and it’s a good reminder that many things are out of our control. As human beings. There are certain things we can control and there are many, many things we cannot. If you can accept that chaos in the world and at the same time pursue a type of meaning and consistency in here, if you can pursue that, you can have a rich and valuable experience of the world, despite all that chaos. It can be really hard to feel that, because there’s lots of distraction, there are lots of ways to escape, there are a lot of trap doors. But it’s been really nice to have the outlet of physically making music. It’s like a magic trick. You have a thought and you can make it into a song – that’s fucking magic!
What I also thought when I heard the EP was – oh good, she kept her sense of humor.
Oh, I’m so glad (laughs). That’s the key here. To me tonally, it wasn’t even intentional, I just leaned into it, was having that sense of humor and having self awareness. I take what I do seriously in a way that I work very hard. And it matters to me. But I don’t take myself too seriously. And I think that’s a really important distinction. Because for me in dealing with my own development and trauma points, whatever, it’s just very important to have that levity, as I move forward. When I was a young kid, my mom and I were going through this hard time. One night it was pouring rain, we were moving into this friend’s house, my parents were going through a split up. We were both crying and my mom turned to me and she was like: we’re gonna laugh about this one day. And it was really wise and it stuck with us both. Because that felt like a very hopeless time and a very sad time. But her saying that broke this spell. I think having that sense of humor – and again, not humor as escapism, just being able to find that granular observity in whatever is occuring and having a sense of humor about it, that is so helpful. So I’m really glad that that shone through. „Dating My Dad“ to me has the most sense of humor. But every song I really wanted to inject that. Sonically it’s heavy. And lyrically, I think everything is heavy too. So I needed a wink. I’m winking at you.
You know, for a second I was thinking about starting the conversation by greeting you with „Hi, Katherine!“
Oh, I would have accepted the joke (laughs). That song started because people across the world have been mistakenly calling me Katherine for almost a decade now. That’s why I wrote the song. I think what’s bizarr about being misnamed is, that a name on the one hand is totally arbitrary. It has nothing to do with you. As long as you haven’t legally changed it, your parents gave you your name. Now you’re stuck with it. It’s random, you have nothing to do with it. So on the one hand, if someone calls you the wrong name, who the fuck cares? It’s negligible. But, of course, on the other hand, it’s not negligible. It’s who you are. And being misunderstood like that and not being seen accurately… even if it’s fucking arbitrary, it’s still you. So when someone spells your name wrong, or calls you the wrong name, or misgenders you, or pronounces your name incorrectly because you are not part of the dominant culture of whatever community you live in, it’s very undermining. And it’s very disturbing. And it feels like a fundamental misunderstanding. In some way it feels like the most basic way of disrespect (laughs). I mean, I cannot even emphasize to you how often I’m being called Katherine.
It’s so funny, it’s not even that similar!
I know! Do I have a dead twin somewhere named Katherine? Am I part of some fucking thriller novel that I’m not aware of?!