- July 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH K.FLAY
The Gig: AWOLNATION with K.Flay at House of Blues Chicago // Friday, July 24, 2015
Drink of Choice: Hendrick’s and soda
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: So gin and soda as your drink of choice?
K.Flay: It depends, what I’m drinking now [Hendrick’s and Soda] is quite a throwback for me. I used to drink a lot of gin.
Kristen: I wish I could get on board with gin and I just can't.
K.Flay: I love gin. It's the inebriation that's what I like about it. But a standard night out at a bar, I’ll probably order Maker’s. I've been learning to like drink a lot of whiskey because…
Kristen: Does it help your voice?
K.Flay: No, no, no. Well it is, but I drink it because it's good warmth. When you're touring often you don’t have cups or ice or mixers. Whiskey is the one thing you can drink at any temperature.
Kristen: That is a good point.
K.Flay: And with or without mixers. It’s just one of those drinks. It’s kind of like the Dr. Martens of alcohol.
Kristen: I actually never thought about that before.
K.Flay: That's because you lead a civilized life.
Kristen: Nah, it’s just because mostly I'm drinking beer…
Kristen: Let's say you're in a bar: are you most likely to be manning the juke box, pouring drinks behind the bar or dancing in the middle of the room?
K.Flay: Depends on how much I've had to drink.
Kristen: We’ll say you’ve had a decent amount of whiskey.
K.Flay: If I've had nothing to drink, well I'd never be pouring the drinks, I mean I've never been a bartender so I shouldn't be trusted. I could pour a drink obviously, but not a good one. At the beginning of the night, I would likely be manning the juke box, but by the end of the night, I would be on the dance floor.
Kristen: I like your style. So, let's talk music. You just came out with a new video for “Can’t Sleep.” It was filmed in Bangkok. Tell me about how that happened.
K.Flay: Well, the director is good friend of mine. She has toured with us before. She's an awesome photographer and she shoot all types of parkour. She was already in Bangkok working on that, as was Jason, the guy in the video. They came up with the idea and talked to us. I was like, "That sounds crazy.” And if I don’t have to be in the video — even better! They basically filmed over 24-hour period in Bangkok — all through the night.
Kristen: It turned out awesome.
K.Flay: Thanks! It's always good to work with friends.
Kristen: You went to Stanford, where you were initially introduced to rap. How has your relationship with rap changed since you’ve progressed with writing and producing?
K.Flay: When I first got to California, I was listening so much really good hip hop. At the time, there was this thing called “hyphe” in the Bay. That was at an essential apex in the years I was in college. It was this hyper local, really interesting and bizarre rap scene, which I had never been exposed to before. I was also listening to a lot of indie music like Living Legends and Cyanide and Atmosphere and P.O.S. It was all such complex, interesting emotional stuff. And what I was wearing on the radio…it just wasn’t on the same level. That was really what sparked my relationship with rap. I still love it. For me, it was an entry point into music. And there are definitely still elements of it in what I do now.
Kristen: What’s your writing and creative process like?
K.Flay: I find it hard to just write in the ether. Music always comes first — usually a chord progression. Then I'll start coming up with the concept. If nothing comes or it doesn’t catch on quickly, that usually means it’s going to be a bad song.
Kristen: How long does it take you to know — or how long do you keep trying at something until you just know it’s not going to work?
K.Flay: A couple of hours.
Kristen: That’s pretty quick. For me, I'd say, "Okay, I'm going to give it two weeks," in which case I would produce nothing.
K.Flay: Right, right. And that's the problem. You start overthinking everything. I compare my process to getting dressed: If I make one change, then I go into a cycle of revision and it can become very detrimental. If I just pick what I'm going to wear and go with it then I'm out the door. I may not look good; but I'm out the door.
Kristen: I’ll do that, but I cannot look in the mirror before I leave. I just have to go.
K.Flay: A world without mirrors: can you imagine?
Kristen: What would it be like?
K.Flay: Probably tighter.
Kristen:What are you working on now?
K.Flay: I'm working on the next record, which is partially written, partially not written. When this tour ends, we have a few one-off shows and we're going overseas for a bit. And in between all of that, we're finishing the record.
Kristen: How does that feel: touring, recording, touring recording? Would you rather sit down and hammer it out all at once?
K.Flay: I feel like touring gives me broader writing. If I were writing all the time, I don't know how much I could actually write. I feel like touring and writing reinforce one another. Obviously, when you're touring you need to have written some shit. And when you're touring, you’re accumulating experiences and ideas, and coming into contact with music every night. It gives me energy: being in a different place every night, meeting tons of new people, hearing stories, having adventures. And it doesn't have to be debauchery. But something to get me out of my comfort zone is very good, and it allows me to write and think about myself in the world in ways that make for a good song. Well, hopefully a good song.
Kristen: On this stretch of the tour, what has been an adventure that has had an effect on you?
K.Flay: This year up until this tour, I feel like I’m reaching a sense of peace with myself in certain ways. Self-acceptance. I just turned 30. Most of the people I really, really respect—authors or musicians or actors—did the things that I really love when they were in their 30s. There has definitely been a lot of self-discovery and making interesting things along the way, but overall, I think there’s a greater understanding of yourself when you hit your 30s. People have asked me, “Damn! 30 — how are you feeling about it?” And say, “I feel great.” I'm looking forward to figuring my shit out and being focused about what I want to do.
Kristen: What's one major thing outside of music that you want to accomplish in the next year?
K.Flay: I'd like to do more writing that's not music-writing. I do some of it I just don't release it. Not poetry. I think I'd be a terrible poet. Poetry is its own crazy ass world.
Kristen: Do you have a favorite author?
K.Flay: Probably Margaret Atwood. She's got great short stories. Have you read “Happy Endings”?
Kristen: I actually haven’t. I know about it, but haven’t gotten around to picking it up yet.
K.Flay: You should read it. It's really short. I think I probably have it on my phone. I love Margaret Atwood because she's so prolific. I love prolific authors. I love Marilynne Robinson. She's not quite as prolific, but I love her stuff nonetheless. I love Jennifer Egan a lot.
Kristen: I like that you're going with the female writers, too. People tend to automatically call out the well-known male writers they know.
K.Flay: I didn't even think about it. But you’re right: the canon is biased.
Kristen: What did you study in college?
K.Flay: Psychology and sociology.
Kristen: So nothing with music. But do you think those helped you in the way you see things when you're writing?
K.Flay: Yeah, I think it does. Although back then I was so distanced from writing songs that I don't know how it might have affected me. I just know that I want to learn about the world. And I know that helps my writing in general. To me, good writing across all genres and mediums is about detail. And finding details that resonate. The greatest love songs have something specific about them that make them so great.
Kristen: Yeah, I think curiosity and detail are the two most important parts of being a creator. Curious people tend to observe more than people who aren’t curious. Speaking of observations…in observing Chicago, what’s your favorite thing about this city?
K.Flay: I like the vibe here. The Midwest was such a nice place to grow up in. People are just nice, friendly, humble, unassuming… I like that in a place. I grew up here, but my family eventually moved to Oakland; my brother and sister live on the East coast…I have aunts, uncles and cousins here but not nuclear family.
Kristen: Where do you live when you’re not touring?
K.Flay: I technically don't live anywhere. It’s strange. I left my last apartment over two years ago. I don't pay rent. My shit's in storage, I pay for storage but it's in New York. I lived in Brooklyn.
Kristen: That’s gotta be hard not having a home base.
K.Flay: Yeah, it's fucked up, I don't like it. I'm over it. It was just one of those things. I had a tour starting, my lease was up and I said, "You know, fuck it. I'll put my stuff in storage and deal with it later." I have not dealt with it.
K.Flay: I don't even know what's in that storage anymore. But I'm starting to stay in L.A. when I'm off tour. I like the west coast a lot. The terrain — and the vibe — in California is so varied.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
K.Flay: Last January when we got back from a tour, I rented a cabin and stayed alone in the woods. I went hiking and didn't talk to anyone for a whole weekend. It was fun.
Kristen: What prompted you to do that?
K.Flay: I don't know…I just felt like I needed to reconnect with nature or something. When you're in a van or a bus or whatever all day, playing shows, surrounded by people and lights, it’s nice to return to the physicality of things. At the end of the day, it’s nice to remember that you’re a body.
Kristen:For sure. I feel that way, too, and I’m not on tour for half of my life. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
K.Flay: Early on my parents used to say, "Don't curse the dark, light a candle." I feel like that's a pretty good one to live by. It reminds me that I’m in control and I guide my own journey. And along those same lines…I saw a sign when we were at a radio station a week ago or something that said, “Blame no one, expect nothing, do something.” I like that one, too. It’s a good reminder that you’re the one responsible for your own happiness.