K. Flay‘s latest EP Inside Voices just might be the mix of anger, energy, and release we all need after over a year spent in lockdown. It’s a get-up-and-dance, throw-things-around-your-room collection of tracks that invites listeners into the corners of K. Flay’s psyche all while maintaining a sharp sense of humour. Collaborating with Rage Against the Machine‘s Tom Morello and blink-182‘s Travis Barker, the EP gets weird and heavy in a way that’s all too relatable.
We spoke with K. Flay on music and noise as catharsis, letting go of everyday facades, and what to expect from her return to the stage in 2022.
You released the video for “Four Letter Words” where you’re in your room and accompanied by these two cartoon characters, IV and OV. What’s the story you’re trying to tell with those two characters?
The story of the two characters is kind of this broader story I’m trying to tell with the music. And this EP, which is called Inside Voices, is sort of the representation of the red-headed character IV, who you mentioned earlier. These two characters are proxies, in a way for the ID and the superego – these parts of the brain that, you know, on the one hand, are primal, and instinctual, and often way too impulsive. And then the parts of the brain that are kind of judgmental. You know, it’s your conscience. It’s the voice of society and the world talking to you. Not that I really want to espouse many Freudian principles, but I do think he was onto something there. I think we all feel the push and pull of that inner self, and then the boxes that the world makes for us.
I hadn’t quite ever done it in the past, which is to explore a specific theme in a body of work, you know? I’m kind of always singing about similar things. But it’s something that really resonates with me, in many ways, is that tension. So the video was sort of just an introduction to get people interested in these characters because there’s more storyline that will unfold with these creatures.
In terms of the styling of them, did you have any hand in creating the visuals for the characters? How did that come together?
Yeah, I have been working with an amazing artist and director, Diego Lozano, who directed the video and has been overseeing the character development. We actually went through lots of different brainstorms and iterations of those characters. We were trying to create characters that number one, sort of felt non-gendered and androgynous, but not like aliens, right? So they’re human. They have human-esque qualities. But they don’t fit into some kind of box. And I think we wanted them to feel dark, but also kind of fun. And I think that’s been the challenge for me on this whole EP, to be honest with you.
“Four Letter Words” is a good example. There’s a version of that song that’s like, scary, you know, I didn’t make that version of it. But there’s a version of saying, like, “Fuck you!” that’s scary and kind of menacing. And that’s not my goal with this, you know, I think I find it very important in life to be self-aware enough to have a sense of humour. I think that’s the key to life. I’ve really tried to do that with this music and I think those characters touch on that. You know, they’re dark, but also in a playful way.
I think that’s kind of the tone of the whole EP. You know, you need to bottle things up, be nice and then you reach your breaking point and things just kind of come out. The EP sounds like you’re in that moment, where those things are bubbling up. But it also sounds like it’s just slightly after the breaking point where you’re like, “I’m mad, but I’m on the other side.”
Yeah, I’m glad that came through. That was my goal with each song. I’m not in the midst of the reckoning, right? Like you’re saying, I’m post-reckoning. And so I have a little bit of that perspective. And, you know, I made this during the pandemic. People have asked me, “what was it like making music during COVID?” And what is sort of intriguing to me is that I know a lot of musicians went into super quiet bedroom music. And for me, the reaction was the opposite. It was like, I think I was reconnecting with this power of noise, and the loudness and heaviness, and how that can really be the catharsis for me.
I think it’s kind of funny because I’ve spent my whole life making music – my whole adult life making music and touring at this point. I don’t think I realized until COVID what a release it is, for me. I think I took that for granted a little bit. And so, you know, talking about being able to be in a post-anger state, post-reckoning. Like, I think music is the way that I get there. For me, personally.
The energy of this type of music being a release is so relatable. We all need that feeling of release. You’re going on tour in 2022. How do you think that return to the stage is going to feel? How are you going to channel this energy?
I’ve always had a very energetic stage presence and energetic performance. That’s the type of show I like to attend. It’s the kind of show I like to put on. I hope that the sense of gratitude, and sheer magic of this night happening, right, wherever I am in the world, I hope that I don’t lose that as we transition out of this phase. The thing that hit me and so many touring musicians is that what we had was so special. And we didn’t even realize it. The thing you’re always told as a musician is, “well, there’s always touring, like, you can always tour, you know, that’s the backbone of this shit.” And when that got taken away, it was a real moment of reconsideration. So, I’m endeavoring to keep that line of thinking very much alive.
It’s funny, when you start out, you’re like, “Fuck, I have to play 10 songs, but I only have six.” So I have to do a cover, you’re in that mode. You’re trying to figure out what to play. And now I’m at a point in my career where I can really pick and choose. This body of music that I’m putting out and the music I’m working on beyond that, to our points, is heavy and very energetic. So I’m excited to start getting really creative with the setlist to see how I can reimagine certain songs in the live context. I think there’s a fair amount of latitude there for me, which is very exciting.
Yeah there’s a lot going on production-wise. One of the things that really stood out to me was in “TGIF” – that guitar solo. The whole thing is like, “Oh my god, what’s happening? There are so many sounds.” And I do picture that as a live show being so awesome. What was the process in the studio of trying to find the tone for that song?
So, the guitar solo that you’re talking about was played by the one and only Tom Morello, and the process with that song was very cool because I started it as a little riff at my studio by myself. And I’m a decent guitar player, you know, but I’m not a virtuoso.
When I started writing it Donald Trump was still president and I was at a point where I was just like, “what the fuck is going on here? How come everybody I know is kind and sensitive and the world is so mean?” So I was thinking about that. And the song started evolving. As it was coming together, it was becoming bigger. The word I kept using, like, in terms of our goal with that song was demented, I need it to feel demented. When it drops, you don’t know what sounds are in there. And by the way, there’s saxophone, trumpet, guitar, bass, me screaming. We have all types of weird shit in there and it’s kind of evil. It’s like a death march. So once we latched on to that spirit, I hit up Tom.
I told him, “go as crazy as you like, no rules” and with that solo, he absolutely crushed it. And like you say, you listen and you’re like, “What even is it?” So, it was so exciting to receive that. When you collaborate with someone, the goal is to make something different from what either one of you would have done on your own and I think Tom just killed it.
You have the collaboration with Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and then you also had the collaboration with Travis Barker (blink-182) on “Dating My Dad.” So how did that one come about?
The Travis collaboration was in the height of lockdown, so we were never in the same room to make the track. This was all on the phone, or texting, trading files. We have a mutual friend, a guy named Nick Long, who’s an amazing songwriter, and he’s been doing a lot of work with Travis on a variety of projects. I had the song “Dating My Dad,” and I thought it was pretty funny. And as I was working through it, I felt it didn’t have exactly the right energy. So, my manager actually suggested we ask Travis to play on it and Nick connected us. Again, this notion of collaboration, to me, it’s all about energy. And Travis is a person who brings energy to songs like that. I mean, he does many things, but that’s one of the things he does really, really well. And with that song, it kind of needs that bounce, and it needs that swagger for the point to come across.
In terms of going back to the touring world, do you have a favourite thing about touring you’re looking forward to?
My favourite moments on tour are the moments where on stage, you’re able to create these physical dynamics for the crowd. One of the things that I always loved to do on “Blood In The Cut,” which is often the last song we play, we get really quiet and get everyone down on the ground and build up the energy until it hits. And then, you know, everyone goes crazy.
When people come to a show, they come to be with their friends, they come to hear music they love. But they also come to not be their civilian self. When they come in, they’re not a lawyer. They’re not a clerk. They don’t work at the bank. They’re just a person there. And I think it’s very important and very powerful to be able to supersede your kind of civilian identity. I get to do that every day in my music, and I’m very lucky to have that opportunity. I think that’s what the show is all about. You’re not your job, you’re not your race, you’re not your gender, you’re not your age, you’re not your ability. You’re not your size, you know, like you’re just a spirit. I don’t know where else that really happens. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.
Listen to Inside Voices here.
Get tickets for the Inside Voices Outside Voices tour here.