Slated for an April release, Every Where is Flay’s first album under a major-label umbrella since her ill-fated 2012 stint with RCA. The label misunderstood Flay’s multi-genre mash-up of Electro Pop, Hip Hop and Indie Rock — she’s cited M.I.A., Missy Elliott, Liz Phair and Tame Impala among her influences — and insisted she concentrate on a pure Pop direction. She walked away, leaving nearly five albums’ worth of material that RCA contractually owned.
Given all this, it seems odd that Flay would repeat the major label experience, but she possesses a rare ability for reflection and reacting according to her own best interests.
“I’ve never been married, but RCA felt analogous to a first marriage not going well and then having the insight and self-knowledge to get married again,” she says. “Part of the reason the relationship with RCA didn’t pan out is also on me. I was early in my career and still finding my voice, but I also came face to face with a lot of the institutional barriers that exist in a big building like that. I came out of that situation with a real understanding of what I didn’t want and didn’t need. Then, putting out Life as a Dog independently gave me a renewed appreciation for the resources that a major label does have. When you’re DIY, it’s kind of dollar-to-dollar and the platform can be limited. There’s a great deal of autonomy but there’s still a visibility (and) distribution disadvantage.”
Flay’s major label re-entry came via Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds, who had just launched Night Street, an Interscope Records imprint. She was creating material for Every Where is Some Where with the intention of releasing it independently when Reynolds heard a sample and contacted her.
“Dan was looking to work with an artist,” Flay says. “I was pretty hesitant at first, but I got to know him and the team at Interscope, which is a lot of the people who work on Imagine Dragons, and they already have a good rapport and relationship. From a creative standpoint, there’s been total autonomy and freedom. It felt like this really unique situation that fitted my headspace really well.”
Flay set the stage for her new album (which was previewed by last summer’s Crush Me EP) with the indie release of the 2014 PledgeMusic-funded Life as a Dog. Her incredibly diverse musical pastiche made her the perfect opening act for a variety of artists, including Snoop Dogg, Dashboard Confessional, AWOLNATION, Passion Pit and Icona Pop, introducing her to audiences that might never have seen her otherwise. Those experiences helped Flay grow as an artist and performer.
“The main thing I’ve learned, and this has influenced the last two records, is regardless of genre or whether or not your music is a good fit for the bill on paper, if the expression of the people onstage feels authentic and urgent, that creates something positive and meaningful for everybody,” Flay says. “When people are very clearly connected to what they’re doing onstage, emotionally and physically, there’s something undeniable and powerful about that. A constant goal of mine is to try to put myself back in the place when I wrote something, not just to perform it on a surface level, but to re-enter that headspace, that emotion. That’s the point of a live show — for it to feel immediate and present and a little bit unpredictable.”
After a long stretch of singles and mixtapes, Flay felt like Life as a Dog was a clarification and expansion of her creative mission statement. The April release of Every Where is Some Where justifies that decision and even raises the bar.
“Life as a Dog is when I really started to feel comfortable, like I had the due north on my compass,” Flay says. “Over the past couple years of touring, making new material and writing for this record, I feel like that sense of internal direction has been honed further. To me, the new record is an extension of that, so from a songwriting perspective, I feel like it’s hopefully taking it to a new level.”
Flay’s late father, who died when she was a high school freshman, has long been an influence on and subject of her songwriting. She’s a self-taught musician like her father, who showed her a few things on guitar when she was a teenager (her parents split when she was a child), and she credits her genes for her learn-as-needed aesthetic. She’s also aware of the specter of his death as a presence in her life and career.
“There’s a maturity that you develop at a slightly younger age,” Flay says. “Dealing with that kind of loss forces you to engage with some pretty complex emotions. For me, my dad’s death was fraught with a lot of different things. There was an element of feeling ashamed, which is pretty common for children of alcoholics and drug addicts. You feel marred by that. What’s become a big theme in my music is my dad as a narrative character. I never had the opportunity to understand our relationship in a more adult capacity. The unknown is great material for any creative outlet.”
Current events seem to have impacted Flay’s songwriting for the new album. While she also relies on familiar themes, her new songs showcase a broader perspective.
“I’m having this disbelief and dissatisfaction with an establishment that feels like it’s moving backward, and I think there’s a similar feeling with everyone of my age and in the world of music and artistic stuff,” Flay says. “Art is an important way those feelings get expressed and help people process their feelings and opinions. There are a couple songs that are more politically minded and the rest are normal, you know, me screwing up, trying to do a better job, stuff like that. The constant vacillation between joy and regret… or something like that.”
K.FLAY performs Friday at Madison Live. Tickets/more info: madisontheateronline.com.