Every single one of us has problems. Each person’s individual list of problems can vary drastically in severity and number, but no single person on the planet is without that list. Some of them are much more specific to us as individuals, and some of them are larger problems that face our families, our communities, and countless other people out in the world. Kristine Flaherty, more familiar to the public as musician K.Flay, is just like the rest of us. She has problems. But she’s retooling her thought process. The result is a more positive mindset and a dedication to the end goal of a problem, which is a solution. She addresses this on her recently released album Solutions, and is carrying her new thoughts into her life and her music going forward.
This isn’t to say K.Flay isn’t as susceptible to everyday problems as the rest of us are. She’s running on very little sleep, as she’s in the middle of a music video shoot and will be filming for it all night after we get off the phone. On top of that, she’s facing a problem we all do as we get older. “So we had a long day yesterday and I kinda fucked up my back,” she says with a sheepish laugh, explaining that this is now a regular occurrence for her as she gets older. She even has a positive spin on that, saying “I think there’s probably that weird mix about getting older which is that you sort of understand how to take better care of yourself, so you kinda do feel better when your body fails you in different ways.”
It’s this relentless work ethic and pace K.Flay set for herself that served as a change in her mindset and led to Solutions.. More specifically, it was the end of a particularly busy time in her life. From the initial studio work on her acclaimed second album Every Where Is Some Where to the tours supporting it, she spent literal years on the road and in the studio. For her, it was familiar (She’s clearly itching to get back out there as well, with an extensive list of tour dates coming up). “There’s a rhythm to it and there’s a rhythm to never being in one place,” she says. When it ended, she was left without much of that rhythm and looking out at an overwhelming sea of change. She’s not afraid to admit it intimidated her at first, saying “being faced with this vast, expansive being in one place, that felt very anxiety-producing and I think it was for me a process really developing routine, and it just takes you some time to do that.” She likens it to rewiring circuits in her brain, having to retrain and recenter herself to adjust to the change.
Part of that change was also shifting her priorities away from what the world tells us we need. “We’re all told “Hey, this is going to make you happy, this is going to make you fulfilled” sort of in a cultural sense” she explains. This isn’t always the case, and K.Flay notes that everyone, including her, have to figure out which things in life make them happy for themselves. Thankfully, she didn’t have to figure that out on her own. “I had a lot of support from my friends and family and my environment that like anything else, that always makes everything way, way, way easier,” she recalls. She says that not only did those people support her, they held her accountable for her choices and her thought process, which she believes is one of the biggest positives in life.
When it comes to translating that shift into the music that would eventually become Solutions, K.Flay wasted no time. “I got off the road and jut started writing immediately,” she says. She knows of some artists who are great at writing while on tour, but she is not one of them, and so had copious ideas in her head she needed to get out once she was in the studio. She knew she wanted Solutions to be different than Every Where Is Some Where, which she describes as an album full of “breakup songs” that contained “a lot of angst” about matters both personal and societal.
She worked with many of the same people this time around, which granted her the confidence and the support to explore this new way of thinking. “To me, it’s not scary to get up on stage and say ‘the person I was in love with is having sex with someone else.’ What’s a lot scarier is saying ‘hey, actually I’m working on liking myself. And I think it’s okay to feel okay about yourself and I think it’s okay to smile,'” she explains about the process behind the writing. For K.Flay, exploring new writing subjects that scared her is a natural part of being a creative.
At the same time, K.Flay acknowledges the balance between these two views. She explains that in many instances, art is used by people to cope. With this coping, there are two directions to go. The first is “that coping happens from a reiteration of the world,” she explains, giving an example of listening to a sad song when you’re already sad to make yourself feel better. The other side, the side she explores more on Solutions, is brighter. She explains “I think the other corner of art is that it provides us these alternate perspectives on the world and gives us a respite from the chaos and the pain and the angst and everything else.” K.Flay has been finding that for herself, and with Solutions she wants to give that same experience to other people.
Not only does Solutions differ emotionally, but K.Flay evolved musically, as well. You can hear it in all 10 tracks, from the sweet hum of “Ice Cream” to the defiant, powerful “This Baby Don’t Cry.” Each track contains a few more live elements than her previous work, which happened naturally over the course of recording (she explains the sonic element of her music almost always comes together in the process instead of ahead of time). She was in the studio with producer and frequent collaborator Tommy English, and he had equipment set up for more of the live sounds and analog synths. The two decided to mess around with them, and liked it so much the basis for Solutions formed then and there.
We’re never going to get rid of all of our problems. Life doesn’t work that way. But you can always shift your frame of mind and work on the problems you can solve. K.Flay has taken that lesson to heart, combining her usual musical penchant with an optimistic attitude to create something wholly new for her in Solutions. Like the rest of us, K.Flay is going to run into more problems down the road. She’s going to greet them all with a smile.