When we first saw K. Flay in 2007, she was Kristen Flaherty, a Stanford senior closing out the last few months of her college career. Back then, K. Flay was an oddity, a female student-slash-rapper whose only claim to fame was a cameo on a free college mix and random campus shows. Oftentimes those college performances, like the one we saw her at, were a trek, where she’d proceed to rap to anyone–like students studying at a coffee shop–that would lend half a second to listen.
Fast forward a couple years, and K. Flay is still an oddity, albeit one that has channeled musical intuition into a genuine pursuit. She’s found a niche at a time where the rap landscape has shifted to include the likes of college-educated lyricists like Das Racist and Chiddy Bang, all with a do-it-yourself approach that has her rapping over handpicked samples and self-instrumentation. Returning to The Bay for Noise Pop 2011, K. Flay is fresh off a UK tour and is set to release new material this spring. We talked with the Stanford alum before her Wednesday show at the Independent about her life before touring, Anglican dance battles and her role in launching the phenomenon known as Bieberfever.
Treeswingers: My first memory of you at a show came during Admit Weekend in 2007 when you gave a small performance at the COHO. It was my first time at Stanford, and that weekend was a blur—so many activities and events with Stanford trying to basically sell itself to potential students. How have you changed since then as a musician and a person?
K. Flay: Musically, it’s really been about my vision for the project and the sound. When you saw me at that show in 2007 (which is crazy, by the way!) I was basically a college kid, messing around with tracks, playing shows when I could. Since then, I made the decision to devote myself to music, to focus my energy on becoming a better writer and performer. As a person, I think I’ve become more patient and resourceful. I’ve also gotten significantly weirder.
T: Some of us are Stanford seniors and are heading into the real world next year. What have you done in the last four years since you graduated? I envision some sort of musical soul-searching quest…
K: Well, for a while I was teaching GRE and SAT classes and tutoring kids for things like AP US History tests and driving to Burlingame a lot. Dude I freaking RAN SOME SHIT in Burlingame. At the same time, though, I was starting to realize how much I cared about music. And not just as a way to make people laugh or tap feet or whatever, but because I felt like I had a perspective and an aesthetic I needed to explore.
T: College rap seems to be a bigger and bigger these days. Of course you have idiots like Tom Hanks’ son. But at the same time you have groups like Das Racist and yourself–rappers with college educations who are promoting hip hop with smart lyrics and cultural commentary. Is there an appreciation for this new incarnation of rap?
K: You know, it’s cool because we’re at a point where hip-hop is such an insanely diverse genre–both in terms of the people creating it and those consuming it. The great thing about college kids is that they are some of the most open and hungry people when it comes to music. And I think listeners (myself included) like to be challenged. Conventional party jams don’t need Kafka references, but a lot of jams are cooler if they have them.
T: “Two Weak” samples Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” which was also featured in a pretty popular Hood Internet mashup with Dead Prez. Jay-Z seems to be popping up at all kinds of indie shows these days. Is rap embracing forms of indie music these days? How is that changing the landscape of hip hop?
K: Indie rock is thriving right now because a lot of the people who make it are committed to a vibe. There are so many single-driven albums out there, so many artists who create music on a track-by-track basic that I think listeners are actively seeking out artists and bands who have an authentic, consistent sound.
T: Back in 2009, you and MC Lars covered “One Time” by a Canadian youngster named Justin Bieber. And then Bieber-fever hit the world. Which pop phenomenon will you launch next? Just kidding, but seriously, is there any music too mainstream or too bizarre for you to sample?
K: I know, right?? But no way on something being too mainstream or freaky to sample. In fact, sometimes taking an unexpected piece of music and flipping it is the best way to create something really original.
T: You’ve just finished up your first shows overseas in the UK. How did the Brits receive your genre-flexible hip hop? Would you say American or British crowds win in a dance-off?
K: The UK was great. With regard to the dance-off, there were definitely some folks getting down across the pond, but for now I think America–and San Francisco in particular–takes the cake.
T: I’m impressed that you manage the live show–guitar, rapping, backing beats—all by your lonesome. How do you keep everything going while getting the crowd into your shows?
K: Very carefully. Sometimes I fuck up, but that’s part of the show. The main ingredients for not fucking up, however are: (1) practice and (2) onstage sobriety. If I drank whiskey while building beats I’d probably forget all the hi hats.
T: I’ve heard some rumors of you hitting the studio this year. When can we expect the album? Compared to the mixtape “MASHed Potatoes,” what kind of sound are you aiming for?
K: The rumors are true! I’m dropping another mixtape this spring, which I’m really excited about. I think I’m starting to tap into the vibe and the sound I’ve been envisioning for a while now. A mix of indie and hip hop, organic and electronic. Kind of like a Korean taco. When you describe it, it sounds maybe not that good, but when you taste it, you like it.
T: Any plans for the future?
K: Yeah, I got some plans.
Catch K.Flay with Funeral Party, Butterfly Bones and Geographer Wednesday at the Independent as part of Noise Pop 2011.
K. Flay- Acetaminophen (download)
K.Flay- Fuck and Run (download)