K.Flay: The Performer Cover Story

How a Female Hip-Hop Artist Crashed The Biggest Stage in Punk

Life As A Dog is combination of infectious beats and meticulously crafted lyrical elements, so it is no surprise that the career of K.Flay (aka Kristine Flaherty) has taken off recently. Life As A Dog is the perfect blend of melodic rap and indie rock, layered with strong lyrics and melodies. The 29-year-old Stanford graduate, originally from Wilmette, Illinois, has released a handful of mix tapes and EPs leading up to the new full-length, but it wasn’t until the past month that she truly entered the mainstream radar. In our interview with Flaherty, she discussed Life As A Dog, her recording process and life on tour.

There has been a buzz surrounding K.Flay in the past few months. Members of the music industry, as well as fans, have been talking about how Flaherty began her music career in a college dorm room and funded her first album through PledgeMusic. When she began dabbling with music in college, she had no broader intention other than experimenting with making sounds, being a bit clever, and doing “this strange thing” we call being a musician. What started off as playing on campus and throughout the Bay Area became an emotional experience, and an integral part of who she was and who she wanted to be.

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Flaherty began by putting out music online and ended up signing with a major label; she was with them for a couple of years and put out two mix tapes and three EPs but was never able to release a full-length album. When she left the label, she started from scratch in a really exciting way. When Flaherty first started making music and performing the “ethos of the project was DIY, self-motivated, and believing that the person who’s going to care most about what you do and making sure it’s right, is yourself and your team.”

Flaherty’s recording process varies from song-to-song, but the most common thing that occurred on Life As A Dog was first working on a demo and constructing a basic structure, followed by creatively developing those ideas with her producer and co-producer, recording final vocals, and allowing time and opportunities for revisions.

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“There are stages to the recording process, and a methodology behind it all. Specifically regarding the first song of the album, I produced it on my own, did a demo, re-tracked the guitar, and that’s the version we went with.” On a technical note, to record the album, Flaherty used a Pro Tools HD rig in studio, an analog device when mixing, and an Mbox when recording on her own.

An infectious beat, catchy and relatable lyrics, strong musicianship plus great vocals and arrangements make an album great; Life As A Dog reflects all of these. The 11 tracks are all quite unique and leave you wanting more. The indie rock and melodic hip-hop feel comes through in the rhythmic verses, creating a strong balance that you can’t help but to rock and sway along to. While the lyrics deal with more serious content than K.Flay’s past work, it is most certainly something that most twenty-somethings can relate to.

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When Life As A Dog was released, it landed itself at number 14 on Billboard’s Rap Albums Chart. Flaherty had wanted to record a full-length record for quite some time, and finally seeing her name up there was validation. As an independent artist, she has been able to “re-center without any preconception of what it should sound like and what it should be” and has been able to create something that she is genuinely proud of.

Vans Warped Tour 2014 featured big name, heavy-hitting artists, including K.Flay. Joining the tour was unexpected, but she was genuinely happy to be part of it. She brought a scaled back team with her – just her drummer Nick Suhr, her merch person and herself: “We are a powerful trio,” she remarks.

Flaherty noted that the tour placed an emphasis on camaraderie, connecting with artists, and building relationships with other bands. “On a personal level, one thing that’s been really cool is that the record came out in the middle of Warped Tour, June 24th, so watching with each show as more people are singing along and knowing the lyrics, just because more people are having access to the record, has been cool,” says Flaherty.

While the tour is generally known for featuring punk and harder edged rock acts, Flaherty felt more than welcomed as a female hip-hop artist. “The tour is unique in the sense that every body waits in the same catering line, whether you are the singer in one band or you’re the merch person of another.” Flaherty emphasized that “it’s a very egalitarian thing and I think that it transcends across all the different bands and artists, so from the get-go it’s been a very welcoming environment, which is cool because when you initially and automatically feel like a part of something, you perform better.” This year’s tour occurred over 44 days at various venues and grounds and was truly a grueling experience, but Flaherty assures us that once you get into the swing of the routine, life on tour feels normal.

She offers these words of wisdom to other artists regarding life on tour: “You’ll find ways to stay connected to the normal world and how to maintain connections to individuals who aren’t with you every day in this suspended reality. Most importantly, make sure to surround yourself with a team of people that you are comfortable with and communicate well with. Touring is like a family road trip; it’s key to have a good sense of humor.”

While on tour, life is an emotional roller coaster but performing is most certainly the high point of the day. “I wake up excited every day just to have to opportunity to play a show and play music for people and to connect with people because I can remember times in my life when I couldn’t get a show,” she says. “Touring, on the whole, is 90% really awesome, 10% stressful, and only momentarily distressing.”

Follow on Twitter @kflay

photos by Wilson Lee

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