SIMGE is gearing up for this weekend’s Governors Ball set to take place on Randall’s Island (tix still available here) by shining a spotlight on some of our favorite artists on the rise playing the festival. We recently caught up with rapper/producer Kristine Flaherty, better known by her stage moniker K. Flay, and discussed what shaped her unique brand of personal, cerebral hip hop and her plans moving forward.
You boast dual psychology and sociology degrees from Stanford. How does your education influence your music?
I first started making music at Stanford, so in that sense, my education has had a huge influence. But aside from that, my experiences in college helped me to become a better writer & a better thinker & probably a better worker in general. I’m pretty good at staying up late and finishing things.
How do you feel about the recent clashes between “real” and “radio” hip-hop?
I think there’s always going to be a certain degree of tension between ‘mainstream’ & ‘underground’ music, but in my eyes, it’s a good thing. What’s widely popular – in any domain, really – never moves forward without pressure from grassroots communities. And with the influence of online channels, it feels like what makes it to the radio can still be surprising and weird.
You grew up in Chicago not unlike fellow rapper/producer Kanye West. How did being raised in the Windy City shape your taste?
I actually grew up outside of Chicago, in a suburb 30 minutes away. But the music scene in the city was definitely a big influence. My dad listened to a lot of blues guitarists, so I was exposed to that kind of stuff from a young age. As I got a little older, the Chicago indie rock scene was crazy – you had artists like the Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill & Wilco coming out of the city. And after that it was Common & Kanye & The Cool Kids. So all that music was simmering in my brain.
Your lyrical content differs from a lot of modern material possession obsessed MC’s. How important is it for you to keep your music relatable?
Well, mainly I just don’t like buying stuff, so it would be strange for me to write music about having expensive things. I write about what I see in my own life, more on an emotional/conceptual level than anything else. Doubt, apathy, confusion – those are the topics that interest me as a lyricist. I’m not an unhappy person at all, but I channel a lot of dark emotionality into my songs.
You play some guitar during your shows. How do you see your live instrumentation developing going forward?
Right now my live set up is actually guitar-free – it’s me with a bunch of audio/midi controllers and a floor tom & my drummer, Nick, on his own kit. For now, I think the two person show is perfect. There’s a rawness to it, but it still sounds big. As things progress, I’d like to add the guitar back in, as well as some other electronic stuff.
On last year’s “I Stopped Caring In ‘96” you labeled yourself an “outsider”. Do you still feel that way?
I do, although less than I used to. That mix-tape came about after a long stint of touring solo – being on stage & traveling alone will make you crazy after a while. It might be a bit self-indulgent, but I think everyone feels like an outsider sometimes.
You operate within a genre that features a lot of collaboration. Have you ever thought about whom, if anyone, you’d like to work with?
There’s a ton of people I’d love to collaborate with in some way or another, especially in the electronic world. Felix Cartal & I linked up a bit ago and have been working on a bunch of new, weird stuff. I’m really excited for people to hear it. The synthesizers will blow your face off.
What led you to the decision to give away your music for free on your website?
At this point in my career, my main priority is getting as many people as possible to check out the music. And listeners are more inclined to give something a chance if it’s free. I’m hoping that fans who’ve gotten the music online will come to a show and support the project that way. Or send me cookies.
You’ve played a couple festivals including this weekend’s Governors Ball. How do you approach a crowd like that?
For a festival, it’s all about the energy you bring to the stage & about facilitating a good time for a crowd of people who probably have no idea who you are. SO I WILL BE DOING BACKFLIPS.
What’s next for K. Flay? Is a full length release possibly on the horizon?
Right now I’m in the midst of a summer tour in support of my latest EP, ‘Eyes Shut’, but after that, I’ll be locking myself in the studio to record material for a full-length. So yes, LP is definitely on the horizon, sitting on a lawn chair, getting a tan.
Be sure to catch K. Flay on the Honda Stage at 11:45am and check out all of her music available for free here