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A Freedom to and a freedom from

K.Flay is a strong-willed, book-nerd rocker


Justin Higuchi

K.Flay began making music while at Stanford University. Her deep curiosity and love of learning compelled her to record and release her own music, and her strong will propelled her to make music the way she wanted. A true artist, K. Flay was not created by a major label. K. Flay created K. Flay. Nominated for two Grammy Awards, she was the only female to be acknowledged in the rock category.

Born Kristine Meredith Flaherty, K. Flay is a badass, combat-boot-wearing rocker. But she’s also an avid reader and uploads book reviews to her YouTube channel on works including Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.”

K.Flay brings her Every Where Is Some Where tour to Tulsa on March 27 at Cain’s Ballroom.

TY CLARK: How’s the tour going?

K.FLAY: Tour is going great! We’re actually in Dunkirk, France, right now. We have a day off and a show here tomorrow. We’re just out exploring. We went to the beach where Operation Dynamo happened. It’s eerie and the city kind of has this melancholy feel to it, so it’s very vibey and spooky.

CLARK: Do you remember the last time you were in Tulsa?

K.FLAY: Yeah, yeah, yeah! For sure. I was actually really sick. [Laughs] I could barely sing, but it was a super fun show. It was at The Vanguard. I was kind of locked away ‘cause I was so sick. I remember we had ramen for lunch, and we walked around a little bit. Oh, I got really nice tea! There was this really nice café. It wasn’t too far from there.

CLARK: Chimera?

K.FLAY: Yes, exactly! That’s exactly what it was. Yeah, I went there and got some really, really nice herbal tea.

CLARK: Was there any defining moment that started your career?

K.FLAY: Well, for me it was perhaps a slow-motion domino fall. I just kind of said yes to a lot of things—pretty much everything—and sort of took every opportunity I had. I think it was that “yes man” attitude.

I signed with RCA early on. Really, when I was just beginning and was learning how to make music in a semi-professional way. Leaving RCA and starting an independent label and releasing my first record through that—that was the catalyzing point for me, feeling like I understood what I wanted to do with music: how I wanted to tour, how I wanted to perform, and how I wanted to create music. So, that was kind of the second turning point.

CLARK: Did anybody ever try to make you into something you aren’t?

K.FLAY: Ya know, I actually never had that experience. I know it’s sort of the record industry cliché: You get in and they dress you and make you change a bunch of stuff. For whatever reason—perhaps it’s because I’m pretty strong-willed in that department and had a pretty strong sense of self—I knew what I wanted to be like and act like and look like. So, yeah, I never struggled with any of that. I’ve kind of just been marching to whatever drumbeat I’ve been marching to fairly peacefully.

CLARK: Do you consider “Blood In The Cut” rock music?

K.FLAY: Well, when I was making it I don’t think I was in a genre headspace. I think it’s common sense when you’re writing and recording—you’re just trying to make something that feels exciting to you. With “Blood In The Cut,” that whole song started with a riff. I think I’ve really been making a conscious effort to say, like, if the impetus of a song is a guitar riff or if it’s a vocal melody or an idea I can’t even fully figure out, let that be the driving force for how the song evolves. So, because it started with a riff and because I was feeling kind of angry at the time, I think that it evolved into something that now does feel like a rock song. But it wasn’t written with that intent. I’m never coming from a place where I’m like, “I’m a rock artist or I’m a hip-hop artist.” It’s always been a mixed bag. I sort of refrain from getting too deep in my own head when it comes to genres.

CLARK: Was college a fallback plan or something you really wanted to do?

K.FLAY: Oh, yeah, 100 percent, college was my main plan. I didn’t start making music until I got to college. Music came afterwards. As a young person, I loved school. I liked being in an environment where the premise is curiosity, humility, learning. Those are things I love and value. I think higher education is an exercise in those three things. I absolutely loved my time in college and am very grateful for it.

CLARK: Did higher education aid in your music?

K.FLAY: I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between my education and the music I make. I will say that I feel my curiosity for the world and this experience of humility that happens when you’re confronted with ideas that are different—you can sort of react in two ways: You can become defensive and shout and argue, or you can say, hey, maybe I don’t know everything about the world. Maybe there are things I don’t understand. Maybe there are experiences and concepts that are going to be new and compelling and important for me. I think that attitude has served me well in college and as a songwriter but also from the technical side, [in] learning how to make and record and engineer music. I really had a deep curiosity and a deep love of learning it all.

CLARK: Do politics have a place in your music or music in general?

K.FLAY: I think [with] any sort of creative medium or artistic endeavor, there’s always a place for politics there. I don’t think it’s imperative for every artist or every writer to engage in that sort of discourse, but politics have always been part of visual art, filmmaking, music. We’re all embedded in some kind of political system. It governs us, quite literally. For me, I’m always going to question: How am I being governed? What are the rules? Do I like these rules? So, for me it’s something that does have a place on a couple songs on the new record that more specifically address the current political climate.

A lot of people at their place of work really suffer consequences for speaking about these contentious issues. They can quite literally lose their jobs if they work in a corporate environment. For musicians and artists, we’re on the fringe. We have these weird jobs that give us the freedom and ability to speak about these sorts of things. I do think it’s both important and exciting to utilize that.

CLARK: You’ve said that one of your favorite books is “The Handmaid’s Tale” and that it talks about the difference between “a freedom to and a freedom from.” What kind of freedom are you looking for?

K.FLAY: I think now is a perfect time to say that, when it comes to gun control, I think “freedom to and freedom from” is certainly an accurate lens with which to view it. For me I’m looking for a freedom from gun violence. From senseless attacks from assault rifles. I’m looking for a freedom from when I have children worrying every day that at school they may get killed. For me, that vastly outweighs the freedom to carry concealed weapons and to buy assault weapons. It’s something I feel very strongly about.

K.FLAY with Yungblud
Tues. March 27, 8:30 p.m.
Cain’s Ballroom | 423 N. Main St.
$20–$89 | cainsballroom.com

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