K Flay

There is a duality to San Francisco rapper K. Flay. There’s Kristine Flaherty, who graduated from Stanford with majors in psychology and sociology, and the hip hop artist who signed with RCA Records. There’s a 26-year-old woman who identifies with San Francisco, yet moved to Brooklyn last year to further her career. And then there’s the artist who straddles the tightrope between hip hop and electronica.

Since her move to New York, K.Flay released an EP (Eyes Shut), toured nonstop and began to record a debut album, which she hopes to release in early 2013. She relishes each chance to return home to San Francisco, and sleep on her old couch, which is one reason she’s looking forward to performing at this week’s Live 105 BFD festival at the Shoreline Amphitheater.

Following a recording session and a quick dinner at a Cuban café in her new home of Williamsburg, K.Flay was happy to talk about finding the tricky balance between two kinds of music as work on a debut album picked up. “I really am trying to find the middle ground between those kinds of extremes, but (there’s) definitely an electronic bent to what’s going on,” she said.

Two of her current loves, The Joy Formidable and Metric, may have influenced her direction. “I just love (The Joy Formidable’s) album, The Big Roar,” she said. “It sounds like it was performed live. I think that’s such a great spirit for a record. I’m a Metric fanatic. I like the element of a female vocalist with a certain type of voice over hard, fast music.”

K.Flay’s current writing muse is finding a balance between the duality of extreme emotional highs and lows. “I see that in a lot of people that I know,” she said. “It’s kind of like swinging back and forth between extremes and always kind of wanting middle ground, but never really being satisfied with it. I think sometimes when you get to those extremes, all you want is that middle ground.”

Although she grew up in a Chicago suburb, Flaherty chose Stanford. Her freshman year, she and a friend got in to a debate about the state of hip hop. Her stance was that the genre had deteriorated to the point that even she could write such a song. One dare later, K.Flay spent the night working on a song – and realized she had fun doing it.

“It was totally in the spirit of just random fun,” she said. She began to perform at house parties and people began to take interest and encourage the pint-sized wordsmith. “I went into school very serious about academics and throughout my time at Stanford I remained very serious about that. I think in a way it was really liberating to have something in my life that was entirely unexpected and without any kind of precedent.”

These days, K.Flay has no idea what she would be doing if her day job disappeared. College is paid off, but the skills she picked are applied mostly to the production and engineering aspects of the business. She also feels no pressure to make her lyrics sound smart, although she acknowledges her education plays into them, and her goal is to make music that is intellectually stimulating. “I make an effort to write material that is interesting to me and I feel pushes the boundaries of what I can do and what I can say,” she said.

The decision to leave the Bay Area for New York was purely career-oriented. Because much of her work was already based in the Big Apple, K.Flay decided that rather than flying back and forth, and sleeping on friends’ couches, she may as well get her own couch. Moving out of her comfort zone also provided the benefit of song inspirations.

But her friends, as well as her mother and stepfather, still live in the Bay. Whenever she comes home, she stays at her old apartment. “I feel like I haven’t really left,” she said. “I do, technically, pay rent in New York. But I still feel like a really big part of my life is in San Francisco. I didn’t feel like it was a real move.”

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.