K.Flay: “There’s a pressure to be more ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, especially as a woman”

"I’ve become confident in establishing my own rules for being a badass. I’ve been able to pick and choose the things that actually empower me"

K.Flay has spoken to NME about pop-punk, politics and fighting misogynistic ideals of what’s really ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ came to shape her latest EP, ‘Inside Voices’.

‘Inside Voices’ comes less than two years after the release of K.Flay’s third studio album ‘Solutions’. Full of upbeat, shiny pop songs, it was a tonal shift from what had come before and was a bi-product of the disillusionment Kristine Flaherty felt living in Trump-era America. “To cope with that, I wanted to try and find optimism and hope,” she told NME from her home in Los Angeles. “I really did want to create this sonic world that felt uplifting.”

Her new EP is a snarling blend of 90’s alt-rock and pop punk met with her frustrations boiling over. While it sounds sonically different to ‘Solutions’, it does “retain that desire to energise myself and other people,” she explained. “Music has this incredible ability to shake people out of their own emotional ruts and change your headspace. I’m just in touch with my angst again.”

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Inspired by lockdown, ‘Inside Voices’ was Flaherty’s response to being cooped up (an alien experience for someone who’s spent th majority of their adult life on the road). “Instead of whispering, my impulse is to scream and I needed to make music that was heavy,” she said. “It became my outlet.”

The record was also inspired by her 2020 ‘Don’t Judge A Song By Its Cover’ EP, which saw Flaherty rework classic songs by The Offspring, Green Day and Limp Bizkit. Those ’90s and ’00s icons weren’t the soundtrack to her youth in particular, but they still make up a bulk of American rock radio.

Hearing The Offspring’s ‘Self-Esteem’ over the airwaves,  “a sad song about being in a relationship and being mistreated because you don’t love yourself,” led her down a rabbit hole. “I started thinking about how a lot of young men are taught not to show vulnerability and instead channel that emotion into forms of aggression or hostility.” She wanted to challenge that, so set about twisting the macho aggression behind Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’ and Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’ into something else.

‘Inside Voices’ is the reverse of that, as it turns what is typically seen as female vulnerability into anger. “Half the battle in life is just giving yourself the license to do anything,” said Flaherty. “I wanted to see if I could be vulnerable and confrontational at the same time.”

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The EP started out with ‘Four Letter Words’, a fiery punk song about people-pleasing to the point of explosion. Featuring the lyrics “Fuck you, you didn’t deserve me”, that track “unlocked a general mindset for the EP. I wanted it to be sonically heavy and lyrically vulnerable, but in a different way to what’s come before,” Flaherty told us. “I wanted to expose these parts of myself that I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t love the fact that I can be mean but also, I’m human. Maybe if I can laugh about it, I won’t drown in a pool of my own shame.”

The record also has a sense of urgency to it, helped in part by drummer extraordinaire Travis Barker of Blink-182 fame featuring on ‘Dating My Dad’ – a boisterous song about the inevitability of repeating the past. “It’s not a silly song but there’s a sense of humour to it,” starts Flaherty. With lyrics like “Mom and Dad, we love ’em. Either fuck ’em or become ’em,” it needed a brashness and a wink to it, so she reached out to Barker through a mutual friend and he did his thing.

Flaherty believes Barker’s status as the go-to drummer for collaborations is because people know he’s open to working with others. “He’s really taken an interest in up and coming artists and people outside the traditional scene. That broadens everything,” she said. Working with artists like Barker makes K.Flay “feel like I’m part of this community.”

Collaborations have always been a huge part of what K.Flay does. She’s worked with everyone from Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello to party punk band FIDLAR, alt-pop group PVRIS and DJ Whethan. “There’s a huge part of my personality that is ebullient and joyous,” she said. “I seek delight where I go. In collaborations, I can really tap into that with wild abandon because I’m not so caught up in my own head about what K.Flay is.

“That’s what’s so beautiful about collaborations, it allows you to extend the boundaries of who you are.”

K.Flay once has once again teamed up with Morello on the new track ‘TGIF’. With the lyric “I wanna fight, I wanna rage against the fucking machine,” how could she not reach out to her friend? The song was written with Flaherty feeling disillusioned about the whole political system towards the end of Trump’s presidency.

“I started thinking about capitalism and how this structure I’m embedded in is inherently racist, misogynic, classist and xenophobic,” she explained. “Yet here I am, selling my shit. The reason this song is so unhinged is because I’m not just confronting the system, I’m confronting myself for being a part of it. We’re often reluctant to implicate ourselves in the problem because it’s easier to blame other people.”

Elsewhere the clenched fist fury of ‘Good Girl’ was co-written another friend, Imagine Dragon’s Dan Reynolds. A song about trying to live up to the expectations of others until you can’t take it anymore, it saw Flaherty realise “I just have to be me.” It’s a relatively new discovery for the singer.

“When I started making rock music, there was a lot of pressure to be more ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, especially as a woman,” she said. “There was always a set of expectations put on me.” She explained how being seen as ‘one of the guys’ earns you respect and legitimacy, but it took years for her to realise that “actually I am as tough as you, and I don’t need to drink more whiskey than you to prove it.

“I can define that strength, on my own terms. I’ve become confident in establishing my own rules for being a badass. I’ve been able to pick and choose the things that actually empower me.”

It’s one of the threads that leads into the EP’s closing track, the swaggering ‘My Name Isn’t Katherine’. What started as a light-hearted thing, Flaherty’s friends teasing her every time someone called her by the wrong name, grew into an exploration of labels and the power they wield.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever fit neatly into a category; whether that’s sexuality or genre,” she told NME. “The discomfort that many institutional structures have with spectrum, nuance and grey area has disturbed me in different ways and has unfortunately always been a part of my story.” Now though, K.Flay has no issue pushing back. “Don’t tell me what I am because what I am is so much more complicated than even I know,” she said.

Instead of listening to all the things telling us how to think, feel or act, Flaherty hopes that this EP empowers people to feel like “you can actually be in charge of your own destiny and identity.”

‘Inside Voices’ by K.Flay is out now. Her upcoming UK tour dates are below:

JANUARY 2022
28 – Village Underground, London 

29 – Gorilla, Manchester

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