“I’ve mostly created in my parents’ basement,” says the 33-year-old K.Flay about her preference of making music in unpretentious environments, like the modest subterranean floor of her parents’ Brooklyn and then Bay Area homes—also her obvious comfort zone. “It’s definitely not a professional environment in any way, (but), I wrote, recorded and produced everything down there.”
It’s no coincidence that, when working on her latest effort, Solutions, released by Night Street/Interscope Records on July 12, K.Flay made sure her recording spaces, albeit not her beloved basement, were appropriately comfy. She recorded part of it in Nashville, at a studio a friend built on his countryside property and the rest in Los Angeles, at producer Tommy English’s back house/studio.
“These studios are embedded in home environments, where there is a lack of pretentiousness,” says the Illinois native. “Everyone is different and everyone wants different things out of their creative environment. For me, what I aim to do is figure out how I can approximate the safety of my parents’ basement but add the creativeness and expertise of talented producers.”
From the sounds of Solutions, and the accolades it has received from music critics, it appears K.Flay’s modus operandi has worked. She “starts her third studio CD with the wonderfully autobiographical statement song “I Like Myself (Most of the Time)” and ends with a wistful tune about her father, “DNA,” wrote the Chicago Tribune. “In between, we get to celebrate all the gloriously different sides of an artist who resists getting boxed up in one genre,” writes The Guardian. The first single off her latest release, “Bad Vibes,” backed by a pop-rock, hip-hop sound, is a song about learning to let go of the negative things in your life.
Melodics Magazine caught up with K. Flay, right before she headed off on her “The Solutions Tour,” to learn about her journey to making her newest album. We dug into her artistic process, how necessity drove her to make her own beats and why she values collaboration. She also talks about what fans can expect from her soon-to-be-released microcast.
Melodics Magazine: You kind of stumbled upon music. For our readers that don’t know, how did you begin your career?
KF: Initially, it was sort of, goofing off. By the time I got to college, I was listening to stuff like the Beach Boys, the Talking Heads, the Beatles, that kind of stuff. And then, whatever was on the radio. But, I hadn’t consumed independent music, and then I was confronted with all of that. I was like, this is f**** up. I’m 18, 19-years-old, and I think I know everything. I got into an argument with someone at my dorm and was like, “Why is this on the radio? I could write something like this.” And his response was: you’ve never even written a song.
MM: How’d that first songwriting session turn out?
KF: I’ve always enjoyed crossword puzzles. Songwriting, in many ways, is kind of like word puzzles–there was something about that process that clicked with me right away.
MM: At what point did you become emotionally invested in music?
KF: I think it was my junior year of college. The agenda started to become, “Oh, this isn’t just a song, there is an element of self-discovery that I am getting in touch with.” And, that felt very exciting for me.
MM: You are a singer and a songwriter, but you are also a producer. How did you learn to make beats?
KF: At the beginning, I was self-contained. I produced, made my beats, sang, all out of necessity. I didn’t know people who could do it for me and, necessity is always a great instigator. All of my production stuff was self-taught, from watching YouTube tutorials and then meeting people on campus, where there was a very small recording studio for the engineering program there.
A good friend in college was in that program and he was the first person to show me Pro Tools. I learned what I know through trial and error. Sometimes, I watch sessions by trained engineers and they absolutely shred it. I’m not quite as good, but, I have a pretty good system.
MM: Three albums later, has your process for creating music changed at all?
KF: For me, the shift was really in the last two records, and it was finding producers that I could really become creative partners with. When I was producing my own stuff… there were elements of that process that I enjoyed. But it wasn’t the primary thing I enjoyed about making music.
MM: How does the collaborative process usually work for you?
KF: In the last record, every song was recorded in an apartment or a house. I think there is something to that. Everyone is different, everyone wants different things out of their creative environment. For me, what I aim to do is figure out how I can approximate the safety of my parents’ basement but add the creativeness and expertise of talented producers. I was initially hesitant to collaborate in a certain way. My thought was, I do my own stuff, I am a one-woman entity. But, I think, collaboration is incredibly powerful and, good things can happen.
MM: Would you collaborate behind-the-scenes with other artists?
KF: I’m starting to see in my creative life, that I can do more writing with other artists on their records. I’m starting to understand my role, not just as an artist, but how I can be part of the support staff. And, I love it, honestly. I’ve been enjoying it so much. When it’s done, and when you do it well, it is really just about making space for somebody to be unabashedly honest and creative.
MM: There aren’t many female producers, especially not in hip-hop. Do you consider yourself a role model?
KF: What’s interesting is I haven’t worked with many female producers. I do understand there is an element of my experience and what I do that, for young women, especially young women starting in music, that can be slightly role-model-ish. I do see the importance in that as far as looking out into the world and looking for representation.
MM: How did you find your sound for Solutions?
KF: The initial inspiration point was LCD Soundsystem’s record This is Happening. It felt like very excellent lyricism along with those kind of drum machine sounds. That felt compelling to me. I certainly do not think Solutions is anything like that record. But spiritually, that was the first thing – the first song on the record, the synthesizer, that was an LCD-inspired synth. And, there is more synthesizer presence on this album.
MM: What else inspired you on this album?
KF: The other kind of inspiration was tempo in a lot of ways. Most of the songs have a fluid tempo to them. There is one ballad on the record, but I wanted the songs to feel like uptempo, I guess. On the last record, there were lots of moments of intentional darkness. That is not the place I am at and not what I wanted to put out into the world right now. [Editor’s Note: K. Flay dates musician Miya Folick and has been open about being in a dark place before their relationship.]
MM: Let’s break down two of your tracks on Solutions—”Sister” and “This Baby Don’t Cry.” On “Sister” you worked with Joel Little, who worked with Taylor Swift and Lorde and on “This Baby Don’t Cry,” you worked with Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons and Tommy English, who worked with you on your last Grammy-nominated album. When you made those songs, were you guys working all in digital or was it analog?
KF: On “Sister,” the guitar is analog, and some of the synthesizers are as well—we used a live prophet on that track.
On “This Baby Don’t Cry,” I’m pretty sure the whole song is analog instruments. I played bass, Tommy played guitar, the claps and the drums are live samples. Honestly, at first, I found the rhythm of the clapping pattern to be slightly brain-melting. It took me like a full five minutes to get it fully implanted in my brain
MM: What’s your preference—drum pads or real drums?
KF: On “Sister,” the drums were programmed. On “This Baby Don’t Cry,” we used live drum samples and Tommy and I sampled the hand-clapping for that song as well.
MM: What were Dan Reynolds’ contributions to “This Baby Don’t Cry?”
KF: Dan had the initial idea to make it a punky, riff-driven song. I was almost at the end of the album writing process, and that felt like a spirit and a vibe I was missing. He played that riff on bass and right away I started writing lyrics.
MM: Overall the track has a very 80s feel to it, what was the inspiration behind that?
KF: The inspiration for the track was really just to keep it as basic but as impactful as possible. How do we use the fewest number of instruments but still make the song feel huge? We went through a few different versions of the song—all of which contained more sonic and melodic elements than the version you hear today. But we ended up feeling like the best version was the simplest. That felt like the brave move. To strip layers away.
MM: Just as your tour approaches, you launched your own microcast, “What Am I Doing Here,” which is a shorter form podcast. Tell us more.
KF: There are millions of Alexa and Google Homes in the world right now, and no one is creating content for that medium. For me, what’s exciting about making anything is when there are no rules. This is a similar situation. I love produced content like podcasts and radio. This is kind of the new frontier in that world because no one has really explored it. What I want to do and the premise of the show is, I’m often not home, so, how can I bring that experience of where I am and what I am doing here into someone’s home space? That is really exciting for me and really the inspiration for it.