K. Flay Interview: Rapper Talks New Album, Fan Power + Missy Elliott [EXCLUSIVE]
You may not have heard of K. Flay just yet, but the hip-hop artist has been working the underground scene for years, amassing a fan base so dedicated that they passionately helped fund her brand-new (and first!) full-length album, 'Life as a Dog'. In a recent conversation with PopCrush, the rapper was candid, opening up to us about her new record, her songwriting process and just how powerful (and meaningful) fans can be. Check it out below.
How did you get started in music?
I got started in music in college… kind of on a total whim. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about mainstream rap at the time, I was kind of just talking s--- and he sort of challenged me to write a song. From there, I started making music as a joke at first, but then, [when] I started really writing and making beats and learning how to play a live show, it became a huge part of my life. And I somehow I ended up here, and now I'm doing it all the time.
Were there are any female rappers or any other artists at the time that helped to inspire you?
I think on the rap side of life, I've always been inspired by and respected Missy Elliott for a long time. She's funny and created an image for herself that was non-sexualized, but was really interesting and really cool and really kind of avant-garde in a lot of ways. I've always been a fan of her. And a lot of stuff I listen to as of late is less kind of hip-hop and a little more indie, but… I'm a huge M.I.A. fan; I love Metric. There's a lot of different, unique, but strong female voices that I've kind of always been drawn to.
That's awesome. I totally agree about Missy Elliott.
Yeah dude, she's the s---.
Watch K. Flay's 'Making Life as a Dog' Video
Your first full-length album, 'Life as a Dog,' recently dropped -- and you funded it all through fans via a PledgeMusic campaign. How did that come about?
I was signed to a major label for a couple of years and I put out some EPs and some mix tapes, but I never put out a full-length. There's a variety of reasons for that, but definitely one of the impediments of the label was that I'm kind of a little bit genre-less: [My sound] is not totally hip-hop, and not totally indie, not electronic. I think there was a lot of internal [stress about] the direction the project should head in. So I'm kind of limbo over here, but I was able to get off the label in the fall. And then at the start of the new year, I was able, kind of in earnest, to begin writing songs -- I wasn't really sure what was going to happen. I just kind of decided to finish an album and put it out independently. We've been touring pretty consistently the past three years. There's definitely a base of people across the country that we've been seeing a couple of times a year, that I think got invested in the project. I was totally surprised and overwhelmed by the response. I really didn't know what to expect when we did this, but it's been really, really gratifying and kind of amazing experience on every level.
How did you react to the strong fan response?
I think just seeing the response was really -- any time you put something out into the world, especially when it's kind of a creative thing, you feel really vulnerable and feel kind of a lot of doubt and uncertainty, so it felt really psychologically bolstering to have people being excited about it, and literally investing their time and money into what I was putting out. So that really made me feel kind of empowered and more excited to release it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process?
Yeah! It's always a little bit different, but it pretty much follows this structure… whether I'm alone working on something or I'm in a room with a collaborator working on something, just getting some basic, melodic riffs and setting up a 16-bar loop, and then just really playing that ad nauseum until I have a melody or rhythm that is going to become the starting point for the lyrical component. And then I usually write most of the lyrics with a beat pretty much not fleshed out, and then when you've got the concept and sorted that out, then finishing the music.
Watch K. Flay's 'Thicker Than Dust' Video
What song on 'Life as a Dog' is the most personal to you?
You know, I think probably the most personal song is the last song… it's called 'Get it Right' and I actually wrote it in my parents' basement [laughs] which is actually a funny place to do things, although I do a lot of things there. This is one of the first things I wrote that ended up on the record. I was just starting to figure out what I was going to do post-label, and I had a conversation with somebody that was kind of frustrating to me, but I could also see the truth in what they were saying. The song is pretty transparent about my life and the life of the people that I'm close to. Just the idea that there are so many things about myself -- I think everybody feels this way -- that you just wish were better.
How did you decide the order of the songs on the record?
That was hard! I suck at it [laughs]. I think it helps that for this record, kind of conceptualizing the song order as a progression from darkness to light. That was sort of how we ended up structuring it. I ended up getting a lot of feedback from people too, because when you're so inside it it's hard to know what makes sense. A lot of people don't even listen to albums start to finish, but I do -- for sure. We wanted to do something that started out with some cynicism, a more kind of cynical perspective on things, [and then] morphing into a more hopeful and transcendent feeling.
Are there any pop artists you'd be interested in collaborating with? I feel like your sound would mesh really well with Lorde's.
Oh, yeah, totally! Yeah, I mean, she's awesome. There is definitely a pop component to the record, and a lot of the melodies that I'll write are more pop accessible. We toured with Icona Pop in the fall, and they're definitely in the pop world. It was a cool juxtaposition I guess, having a little bit more of the indie vibe [from us] and they're more electronic pop. I'm kind of down for whatever, I'm just excited to see what this record kind of brings for the future.
Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about you?
I've put out a fair amount of material before… I took components from my previous material, and hopefully the best elements of that, and incorporated this into my new record. I really hope that people check out my new record. I think it's a sincere representation of who I am as a person and a musician. Yeah, I'm just really excited! I hope people take a second to listen.