K.Flay Talks Keeping DIY Alive on a Major Label in our PV Q&A

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Interview by Scott T. Sterling

in person is a lot like her music: Smart, funny and kind of unexpected. Exuding a friendly and effortless cool despite the oppressive heat of a relatively quiet corner of this year’s Bonnaroo Festival, it’s easy to see how she’s come from her college days as a self-described “dipshit in the backyard” to a burgeoning music career that’s landed her a major label deal with RCA. Applying a digital DIY work ethic to whip-smart wordplay and indie aesthetics, her sound is both of the moment and totally her own. Ranging from confessional tone poems like “Mason Jar” from the free 2011 mixtape I Stopped Caring in ’96 to the Decemberists-sampling guitar jam “Stop, Focus” on this year’s Eyes Shut EP, K.Flay’s sonic range is vast. Even amidst the chaos of multiple DJ sets and live performances during the festival, K.Flay was nothing less than fresh to death when she stopped to kick it with PureVolume.

PureVolume: When did you get into the DJ game? Is that something new?
K.Flay: I’m just starting out. I can do it, I just never really did. But then I started getting more and more requests to DJ, and it’s always really fun. I play a mix of stuff. There’s a lot of electro-house, which is what I like the most. But I play a lot of hip-hop. It’s whatever I’m vibing on at the moment. It’s different, since I’m not a “real” DJ. I can’t scratch to the max or anything like that. It’s more about creating a mix of music and vibe that says something about me as an artist.
PV: You’ve already built a substantial fan base online and from touring. What’s your impression of K. Flay fans?
KF: The fans that I’ve made so far are really cool people. They’re down to see shows and engage in experiences outside of just blog chatter, which is great. Certainly with the Internet, you can get a lot of initial interest and for lack of a better word hype, but you have to back it up. You still have to pull a crowd and deliver a good show.
PV: As such a self-reliant artist, how is it working with more outside collaborators?
KF: On my last EP, I produced one of the five songs on my own. The other four were co-productions. But it was more in the vein of a classic rock producer, where I would take them my demo and they’d help me make it better. The songs evolved in more of an old-school way like that. I’ve tried just working with a beat that someone sends, and it ends up not sounding like me at all. I know that works for a lot of people, but I need something more organic.
PV: Despite all of the naysayers regarding the industry, it honestly seems to be a great time to be an emerging artist.
KF: It’s really cool. The thing that’s crazy about technology is how easily and cheaply you can make good music. It’s great, because it eliminates that initial barrier. I think it stimulates more creativity as a consequence when you feel like it’s all right there. It’s empowering. It’s why a lot of young people are just going for it right now.
PV: You’ve got a great ear for samples, from the xx to Zoo Kid to even the Black Eyed Peas.
KF: I love sampling. Logistically, it can be difficult sometimes. On my last EP, I have a sample of the Decemberists. I had a song I’d written about being in an altered state, and the idea of just doing everything later. I had the lyrics, melody and a beat, but it just wasn’t working. Around that time, my manager gave me a DVD of live performances from Bonnaroo a couple of years ago to watch on a flight. The Decemberists were on it, and they did a song called “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid.” I’d heard their stuff, but never seen them live, and they kind of shredded. I was actually really shocked by the raw energy of it. I heard the guitar riff in that song and immediately knew it would be perfect for the track I was writing, which turned into “Stop, Focus.”
PV: As an artist, always being open to inspiration must be vital.
KF: I think that’s the coolest way to do it. I put out a track for free recently on RCD LBL called “Life = Trap.” I had been listening to this electronic act called Elite Gymnastics. They just put out an EP with a couple of bonus tracks, and there was just something about one of those tracks. The tone of the drum loop was so great. I wasn’t planning to do a song or anything, but that day I was moved to write an entire song and release it just from hearing that Elite Gymnastics track. To me, sampling is like the musical version of literary allusions.
PV: After being so fiercely independent, you recently signed a deal with a major label, RCA. How is that going so far?
KF: It’s been really interesting. Going from being a completely DIY artist to having a bit of an infrastructure is a big change. They’ve been really cool about letting me do my thing. I think the reason a lot of the majors are taking to indie artists right now is because there’s something really viable about being a self-sustaining entity. Being able to see a little bit of the machinery behind some big records, there’s still so much amazing power in a major label. I’m just trying to stay true to what I do, but I definitely want as many people as possible to hear the music when it’s ready.
PV: When do you think your major label debut will be ready?
KF: It’s starting to get there. I’ve been kind of sporadically recording on the road. I’ll be finished with this round of touring at the end of July, which is when I’ll be sitting down to make the album. I’ll probably be working with a few different people. The plan is to have everything recorded in the fall. My problem is not creating, but editing it all down into one, cohesive statement. I have so much material at this point. I’m hoping to put out the album early next year, unless I have a nervous breakdown or something. But I don’t see that happening, so we’re good.
PV: How much did going to Stanford influence your music?
KF: It had a very large influence in the sense that I didn’t make music before I went to college. If I’d gone somewhere else for school, I don’t know if I’d even be doing this. I meet a lot of other artists, and so many of them have stories of growing up in musical households and playing guitar or whatever. Music was always their thing. That was not the case for me. I know Stanford has a rep for being a tech-heavy school being in Silicon Valley, but there’s actually a really big arts and humanities community there. It was a cool place to incubate as an artist. I would show up at parties and be that random girl who would rap. That was my garage band phase: Being a dipshit in the backyard.

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