K.Flay Moves Into the Fast Lane With Imagine Dragons Tour: Interview
The scene opened with K.Flay lounging across a hotel room bed, a Diet Coke in one hand as she came down from the high of an incredible first string of shows in Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Providence. Her voice chipper but raspy, choked with exhaustion, she was eager when she hopped on call with me one brisk September afternoon. Ahead of her upcoming opening slot on Imagine Dragons’ Evolve World Tour, she has just knocked out two days of back-to-back press, but she never lost her stride—in either preparation for or in promotion of the gig.
“The way I see it: You have two jobs when you’re an opening act. The first is to find a way to connect to the main audience of the headliner. That involves a little bit of research,” she shared, reflecting on the rehearsal stages of touring. “It’s certainly important to give people a little bit of a taster of all the genres swirling around in what I do. Second, it’s about putting on a great show and getting people excited for a night of good music and for the headliner.”
Acknowledging the cosmic venue shift, from the intimate club circuit to spacious and sweeping arenas, K.Flay has taken great care in crafting her show to mirror fans’ needs, even when they contradict her own.
“It’s been about highlighting the songs that’ll work in that kind of space. Some songs are really suited to a 500-cap room where everybody can see everybody. It’s super intimate. That same song might not translate in the same way in an arena,” she said. “Of course, it’s also trial and error on the road. First night of any tour, we always end up switching up the set list a bit and rethinking things based on how it feels. That’s the best barometer—how you feel up there.”
For the past fourteen years, K.Flay has cut her teeth on the road, but touring the world is no easy feat. It can do some incredible damage to you, forever transforming not only who you are as a musician but as a person: “It’s less humiliating and painful as the years have gone by. You start to be able to maybe get your own hotel room. Riding on a bus is always nice. In a great way, it feels as fresh and exciting and fun as it always did,” she admitted, chuckling. “I’ve certainly made a concerted effort to be surrounded by band mates and a crew of people who are excited to explore the various cities we go to…You get to be surrounded by new people every night and hopefully, get to create a space where people can connect an energy that’s bigger than everybody’s individual energy.”
In support of her second album, Every Where is Some Where, which includes the timely-titled “The President Has a Sex Tape,” the rapper spoke candidly over the phone about how she learned to live, her book, Crush Me and the specific tour stop she’s most excited to perform.
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What was the hardest thing you’ve had to learn over the years?
Probably that me worrying about shit won’t change anything. I’m still learning that lesson. [Laughs] I’m a naturally worrying person. The great lesson of touring, which I’m super grateful for, has been that worrying won’t really do too much.
Do songs change meaning through performing them live?
They often actually change after I talk to other people about those songs. If I’m hanging out at the merch booth or talking to fans at some point during the night, people will offer their interpretation of things or about a line in the song that resonated with them. It will illuminate something new for me. You create these songs in a small, isolated space, and often, you can’t see the forest [through] the trees a little bit. More than anything, what’s weird is that often a lot of the songs that I play were written when I was in a really sad or heartbroken place, which I’m not in right now. That’s always trippy, reentering that zone. My goal is always to hopefully relive that a little bit in real time.
In the opening song “Dreamers,” there is a lyric which reads: “Nobody shows you how to live.” How did you get to that place?
I could probably answer that for half an hour. [Laughs] A huge part of it has been through traveling. What really strikes me wherever we go ⎯⎯ you could be in Tokyo or Birmingham, Alabama ⎯⎯ people pretty much want the same things. They want to fall in love. They want to do work everyday that makes them feel like they have value and purpose. They want to be safe. They want to go out on the weekends sometimes and lose themselves in a moment. We, as human beings, are all pretty much aligned in those basic desires. Yet, it’s so difficult to achieve that. It seems like nobody knows what they’re doing. You go anywhere and we all want the same things but we can’t figure out how to get it fully. That was certainly running through my mind. Also, I took a non-traditional career path. There are a lot of ways to live, and nobody knows how to do it. Everyone is kind of making it up along the way.
In that song, you repeat “I want more” several times. What do you want in life?
I wrote that lyric in the spirit of wanting experiences. I don’t want to live forever, because that comes with lots of problems, not that it is even an option. I’m hungry to experience as much of the world as I can while I’m alive and here and able to do it. There is a sadness in me about certain experiences that I can’t have. There’s nothing specific that I want, but I’d love to see as much of planet Earth and meet as many people as I can on some level. There’s nothing materialistic or even accolades-wise that I really want. I want a wide, expansive life, if I can have one.
You have spoken out frequently about using your platform for the greater good through various initiatives. Is that our responsibility?
I certainly feel like I have an opportunity. It’s difficult to say whether it’s a “responsibility,” per se. I was raised in a pretty politically-conscious family. My social circle remains that way into adulthood. I just happen to have the chance to reach people. It’s a moral imperative, not only as somebody that can reach a lot of people but as a person that’s grown up in this country with quite a bit of privilege from being white. It’s granted me all sorts of things, unfairly, throughout my life. Being aware of that and engaging with that in a public way does feel like an imperative for me.
The Crush Me book is such a cool, unique way to engage your fan base. How did that come together?
It’s been awesome. It’s been such a surprise. You know, I brought this notebook out and wasn’t sure how people would respond. We got an outpouring of entries. People straight up took the book into a corner and wrote for five or ten minutes. Once I started to realize that people were connecting with it and the idea of not just texting or emailing something but physically writing something and having another person read it, that felt like something I wanted to honor. I signed a few hundred of them the other day. We just got the first shipment of the physical ones.
Basically, I read through all of them and transcribed them and got a couple friends of mine in New York who are awesome illustrators and graphic designers to illustrate this thing. We made a book book. All the proceeds are going to charity, and I had fans submit local organizations they are either engaged with personally or know of or been helped by. Again, we got this outpouring of charities. It’s been a pretty aspiring process, especially in the midst of a lot of anxiety and weird, bad feelings in this world.
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Were there any specific passages or entries which have had a lasting impression on you?
A lot of the ones I remember the most tended to be a little shorter, just due to the capacity of my own memory. There’s one that goes, “When you lose someone close, it’s like losing your arms, hard to break a fall.” I thought that was a pretty astute way to think about loss. There is some really beautiful stuff in there. It was a reminder that at every show, every night in every city (and this is true regardless of whether you are at a rock show or not) people are experiencing the entire spectrum of emotionality and life development: falling in love, falling out of love, losing people, gaining people. It also reminded me to stay as compassionate and open as possible. Everybody is on their own path and is littered with joy and despair, in all of its degrees. You never know what’s going on with somebody.
Earlier, you touched upon live shows being a way to connect to a grander energy. This certainly relates to the wave of shootings and tragedy at live concert venues. How can we make shows safe havens again?
I’m not positive. I think the violence that has happened at music venues is connected to violence that’s just occurring in everyday life. I was in Barcelona a couple weeks before that attack happened. I was staying in a hotel on that street. The spirit of that kind of attack is connected to the spirit of an attack on people attending a concert. People in their everyday lives just trying to enjoy themselves and be with others. It’s a bigger problem of violence and accessibility to destructive weaponry, whether that’s a big car or guns or bombs. Very sadly, I have no idea how to solve that. In a minor way, artists can make sure security is as tight as possible and that the people who are putting on the shows are actively working to make it as safe an environment as it can be. That’s what I can certainly do and create music that hopefully puts people in a peaceful, connected psychological space. It’s hard to know what to do beyond that. Ideally, I’d live in a world without any violence. But that’s not the way the world works.
On the Imagine Dragons tour, are there any shows you are looking forward to the most?
Oh, yes, I’m really looking forward to playing in Chicago because we’re playing at United Center. That’s where the Bulls play. I went to a ton of basketball games as a little kid. I have all these memories of being in the third or fourth grade in the nose-bleed seats watching Michael Jordan play. That’d be pretty cool. I’m also looking forward to playing in LA at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve actually never been there, and I live in LA! I know everybody loves that venue. There are some headlining shows and festival stuff in between some of the Dragons dates, which I’m also stoked for. It always helps me when I’m on tour to not just be doing one kind of show, to have headline shows that are long in clubs. It’ll be a pretty diverse tour.
Check out a complete list of K.Flay’s tour dates on her official website.
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