Los Angeles-based pop-rock musician K.Flay (born: Kristine Flaherty) solidified her third album Solutions, out now, the way many artists create great records: post-tour while feeling ungrounded. Something about a multiyear tour is inherently disorienting, going from city to city around the world, sleeping in beds and locations that aren't yours. And, depending on how one copes with the highs and lows of that kind of constant exposure, it can be alternately debilitating or exhilarating.
For K.Flay, her experience was a mix of all the above. Following the success of her breakout sophomore effort, 2017's Every Where Is Some Where, an album full of hard-edged, kinetic jock jams, it was important for her to hit the pause button. After touring, K.Flay settled down in LA for a while and began crafting the tunes that would eventually form Solutions, pulled more than ever from her personal experiences as a publicly out and in love queer woman (she's been spotted canoodling with rising singer-songwriter and PAPER Predictions nominee, Miya Folick), and as an artist with a tumultuous past.
But rather than frame these narratives as problems needing to be addressed, as she admits she did on her last album, K.Flay intentionally focused on putting positive messages into her music: of inclusion, of self-love, and of being in love with life no matter what it throws her way. She says this was done partially to counteract the negative division ushered in by President Trump, but also as a means to gain further clarity on what made her. "I'm looking around the world right now and I'm seeing so many problems and I know human history is defined by them, so this isn't necessarily a new phenomenon," K.Flay says. "For many of us at this moment, it feels very oppressive. I kept coming back to the word 'relief,' and how much I was craving relief."
Solutions is the resulting relief K.Flay wishes to see in the world. The album retains the raucous rock flair she's become known for, but possesses a softer, chewier pop core. To promote the album's singles, K.Flay posted notes on her Instagram with little stories attached. On "DNA," she introduces the part that "can't find peace" in her family life. But in "Sister," she broadens the meaning of chosen family, offering her sisterhood and receiving it from anyone open to it, regardless of gender, orientation, or background, whether you come from a home of divorce, loss, or feeling separate from those around you. "I wanna be your sister," she sings, hands outstretched in unwavering support. "Everything you do I wanna do, everything you know I wanna know." It's an invitation to move forward past all perceived barriers, even as the rest of the world falls behind. The video, out now and directed by Clara Aranovich, showcases this literally on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.
It also completes a trifecta of singles and visuals K.Flay has released outlining her new outlook, including "Bad Vibes" and "This Baby Don't Cry." On it K.Flay chants, "Nobody tells you when you're just a kid, that the rules are changed/ You gotta lose to win," an effective thesis on an album that finds freedom in failure. "Not In California" deals with the displacement created by nostalgia. "Nervous" muses sweetly on the risk of falling too fast and confessing one's feelings: "I like what you do to me, and I wanna tell you soon/ Maybe you'll shy away, maybe we'll fall apart/ It's hard bein' honest, but I'm being honest."
Below, K. Flay shares her about her optimism, her creative partnership with Folick, and what she'd say now to a younger her.
Solutions is a great record, you must be so excited.
I do feel really proud of the record and I made it with this true creative, excited spirit and I made it with people that I really care about. I can't control what people are going to like, what they're not, what people are going to say, what they're not. But, I can feel good about making something I believe in with people that I care about.
Is there a story behind the album's title?
The title came about early in the recording process. When I began making it, I had been on the road for two-and-a- half to three years touring. I was not in a great place of taking care of myself, physically or mentally, and I think being on the road for a long time can drive anyone mad a little bit. I was about to be in LA and in one place for an extended period of time. How was I going to live, and be in this relationship with this person I'd fallen in love with? My last record was about problems. I'm looking around the world right now and I'm seeing so many problems and I know human history is defined by them, so this isn't necessarily a new phenomenon. For many of us at this moment, it feels very oppressive.
I kept coming back to the word "relief," and how much I was craving relief. I knew I wanted to call this Solutions as a way invent answers to problems that felt bigger than me. My biological dad died when I was around 14, and he was a very serious addict and had a really bad drinking problem. For them, perhaps that's their solution. On the road, an easy one for me was to have a beer. It's not a real solution; it's a way to press pause or shortcut something. I realized when making this album that this isn't what I want to do in my life and career.
Your last record was much more confrontational. This one feels like it comes from a brighter place.
There was a point where I was in rebellion for sure, but on this record I made a conscious practice of being positive because I think people shit on that all the time. But I think actually it doesn't feel that brave to me to go out there and be like "you know what? Fuck the world, fuck everything, I'm fucking depressed." So, maybe I feel that way, we all do at times, but to me it's a lot riskier and more exciting to go out there and say "yep, I woke up feeling like shit today, but I did something to try to feel better and, even if it's small, I can work toward creating a better world and I'm going to try to smile." You know, maybe that's dorky or something.
It does seem that society favors the cynic rather than the optimist.
Totally. Cynicism is fundamentally necessary for productive and important debate in society. Like, cynicism is necessary to combat fascism. But there's a point where it becomes masturbatory and it doesn't feel productive in making life better for people. I think because we're often engaged in that constant cynical debate, it takes away from moments that are real.
On "Not in California," having moved to LA, you sing about nostalgia for a simpler time. I thought about how you moved from the Midwest where you're from to the West Coast. First for school, then to be a musician navigating LA. What's been one of the biggest shifts for you?
Well, I think nostalgia is the most cool and beautiful emotion we can have. That period of my life of moving from Illinois to the Bay Area was like the opening up of me. I was just so regimented in how I did things, and in a lot of ways I'm still that way. I moved to California and slowly those rules kind of chipped away and my grayer areas started to reveal themselves.
Tell me more about your relationship to rock music. That seems to be at the core of what you create. Do you have any go-to rock icons you channel or look to for inspiration?
I remember there was a long article in the New York Times like ten years ago as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had hit it big, and there was commentary on the early-2000s New York rock scene. There was this real moment where all these now super-famous rock musicians lived there and were the pop stars of their day in a lot of ways. In the article was an anecdote of Karen O playing Mercury Lounge, which everyone did as a rite of passage. During her set, I think she put olive oil all over her body and was just sliding around the stage. That image has never left me and I think her guts and that spirit of not being self-conscious while also being emotional was all really moving. The message I got was to authentically be who I am. You can be anti-whatever or pro-whatever, but just try to be you.
You and Miya Folick are so cute! What's it like having a musician as your partner? Do you trade songwriting tips?
I think everyone obviously probably has a different way of going about it but for us, yeah, if we have music to play, we play it for each other. I think it's really nice to be able to just have somebody to share your work with and know that you're loved and appreciated no matter what. Miya and I do have a balance of exchanging honest feedback and also support. I can understand why some people want to create separation in their professional lives, but music feels like such an important part of both of our expressive lives that it would kind of be a shame not to share with each other. Also, I'm just a fan of hers. She recently played a song for me she wrote on acoustic guitar, and I was so giddy to hear it.
Which song on the record applies to your relationship with Miya?
"Nervous." I wrote that in the early stages of our relationship. And we haven't played that live yet obviously but I'm excited to do that. I think the nice thing about making music that feels true for you, it's exciting to play it because you're saying something that matters.
"There's no right way to be or one way to live through time. There are a lot of ways to approach life that are beautiful and big and fulfilling."
You've shared that growing up had its darker times, and there was an adjustment period of being in California. What might you say now to the younger what Kristine?
I think what I would want to say is, "No matter what you think and no matter what anyone tells you, there's no right way to live and nobody knows how to live." Everyone is making this up as they go along. Life should feel exciting and liberating and I think the great quality of being young is in not really understanding time. You can't understand time when you haven't experienced much of it. When you're 14 years old, you just haven't been alive for that long. Time feels totally different from how it feels when you're 20, and then from when you're 25 and when you're 30. To that end, I'd want to tell myself, "Don't underestimate the importance of time. We all have time to learn what we need to, and there's time for things to change, and time to make things right, and time to find whatever it is you're looking for." There's a serenity I think that can come with that and I still have to remind myself. I get caught up in the scenery like, "This isn't going to last forever. It's going to last for however long it's going to last and you think you're going to change." There's no right way to be or one way to live through time. There are a lot of ways to approach life that are beautiful and big and fulfilling.
Follow K.Flay on Instagram (@kflay). Her North American Solutions Tour kicks off September 3 in Phoenix, AZ. Find tour dates and tickes here.
Photography: Ashley Osborn