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August 14, 2017$10.41
K.Flay plays at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, at The Saint in midtown Reno. Tickets are $10.41.
Since making her debut in 2010, K.Flay has spun fearlessly detailed lyrics that show the bright and dark of the world in her head. For her second full-length Every Where Is Some Where, the L.A.-based alt-pop/hip-hop artist pushed deeper into introspection while adding an element of political commentary. The result is her most deliberate and dynamic work yet, a thrillingly vital album that channels the frenzy and anxieties of today’s world.
The follow-up to her 2016 EP Crush Me — whose lead single “Blood in the Cut” hit the top 5 on Alternative radio — Every Where Is Some Where amps up its defiant spirit with a densely textured yet gritty sound. “After Life as a Dog I was listening to so much late-’90s/early-’00s rock,” says K.Flay, aka Kristine Flaherty, referring to her 2014 full-length debut. “I was absorbing the energy of people like Karen O, Shirley Manson, and Emily Haines and feeling totally inspired by it, so there’s lots more live guitar, bass, and drums on this record.” Working with producers like Mike Elizondo (Twenty One Pilots, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Skylar Grey) and Tommy English (BØRNS, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Ladyhawke), K.Flay deftly infused the album with the same raw intensity she’s revealed in touring with such artists as Passion Pit, Icona Pop, Awolnation, and Theophilus London.
An inimitable lyricist who names novelist Marilynne Robinson among her inspirations, K.Flay also brought a literary sensibility to the making of Every Where Is Some Where. The album’s title, for instance, aims to “capture the flexibility of meaning, the way we fashion our own narratives,” according to Flaherty. “As a songwriter, that’s my main enterprise — looking at the events in my life and engaging in a constant framing and reframing of those events,” she says. “Experience is subjective. We get to decide what’s devastating, what’s beautiful, and what we do next. In the books of our lives, we are both protagonist and narrator. And narrators have incredible power.”
On the lead single from Every Where Is Some Where, K.Flay explores the power of lucid self-acceptance and delivers one of the album’s most blatantly upbeat tracks. Matching her seamless flow with sing-song melody, “High Enough” fuses breezy rhythm and gritty guitar lines into a hopeful meditation on keeping clear-headed. “There are so many songs out there about getting fucked up,” says Flaherty of the song’s inspiration. “I think a part of me was asking the question: ‘What if I’m already high enough? What if I don’t need anything but what I’ve got?’ There are many moments in my life — whether it’s because of a person or a place — that I don’t want to feel altered or high or buzzed. I just want to feel exactly what I’m feeling.”
Kaleidoscopic in mood, Every Where Is Some Where also offers somber moments like “Mean It” — a stunningly vulnerable track built around K.Flay’s outpourings on love and family and lineage. Laced with subtle wisdom (“Remember what you love/So that when the world gets painful/You become your own god”), the starkly arranged song emerged from an especially cathartic writing session for Flaherty. “I wrote ‘Mean It’ in my bedroom in L.A., pretty late at night…the song just came pouring out,” she recalls. “I remember I was crying while I wrote it, which is pretty unusual for me.” “It’s Just a Lot,” meanwhile, came to life while Flaherty was “thinking about the world and how it’s so big and beautiful and sad,” giving way to a blissfully uptempo but sweetly melancholic pop gem.
On “The President Has a Sex Tape,” K.Flay’s measured vocal delivery and throbbing bassline brilliantly clash with her barbed lyrics about the state of the world. “Nothing feels sacred anymore — our highest elected official is a reality television star who is incompetent and openly hateful,” says Flaherty. “The song started out as a lament, but turned into a rallying cry as we finished it. I hope it can be a weird little anthem for people feeling disillusioned or alienated.” That anthemic quality intensifies on “Black Wave,” a powerfully frantic track born from the post-election feeling that “we were all on a beach, looking out at this terrible black wave in the distance, knowing it was going to swallow us whole,” as Flaherty explains. Driven by furious rhythms and urgent vocal work, the song ends up offering a message of resistance and speaks to “facing something immense and menacing and choosing not to cower, but to rise up.”
In a certain way, defiance is at the root of K.Flay’s evolution as a musician. Originally from Illinois, she “fell into music very haphazardly” at age 19 — a decade after her dad taught her to play guitar. “I was in an argument with someone and was challenged to make a song, which was my entry point to music,” says Flaherty, who studied at Stanford University. “From there I started producing and playing house parties on campus, kind of as a release from the academic life. I liked that music was a window into a world with a lot of unpredictability and chaos; it was almost diametrically opposed to my very regimented day-to-day living.”
Upon graduating, Flaherty moved to San Francisco and kept up with music, making her breakthrough with the 2011 mixtape I Stopped Caring in ’96 and landing a deal with a major label. Not long after putting out her 2013 EP What If It Is (featuring a collaboration with Danny Brown), K.Flay launched her own label for the release of Life As a Dog. Then in 2016, she became the first artist signed to Night Street/Interscope Records (an imprint helmed by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds), releasing Crush Me that August. “I feel like I’ve somersaulted into everything that’s happened since I first started making music,” says Flaherty. “It’s like I kept slowly turning to the right and ended up doing this for a living, which is pretty amazing to me.”
In creating Every Where Is Some Where, K.Flay hit a new level of complexity and candor in her lyrics, as encapsulated in the stream-of-consciousness storytelling of tracks like “Champagne.” “Details are everything to me,” says Flaherty of that gorgeously unhinged song’s lyrical intricacy. “There are only so many ways that humans feel — but infinite ways to describe and embody those feelings.” And in immersing herself in the process of crafting such lyrics, Flaherty eventually arrived at the realization that “you can understand the fact of your own smallness in this world while still celebrating the very particular singularity of who you are and where you happen to stand.” That moment of truth proved to be an album-defining revelation, and instilled Every Where Is Some Where with an unlikely sense of hope. “Each song on the record is about creating a different kind of meaning out of a different kind of something,” Flaherty says. “Even the dark places are places. You’re still somewhere.”