'Wanna Be Mine?': K.Flay Extends An Open Invitation Of Sisterhood With 'Solutions'

Jul 30, 2019
Originally published on July 30, 2019 8:16 pm

K.Flay kicked off her musical career with experimental rap mixtapes like Suburban Rap Queen. Since then, the singer has dabbled in different styles, but retained a biting, rough-around-the-edges sound. She's dropped such projects as I Stopped Caring in '96 and Life as a Dog and her Grammy-nominated 2017 track "Blood In The Cut" is a raging strutter.

"I had this kind of peripatetic existence," K.Flay says of her earlier music. "I didn't live anywhere. I was on tour constantly. So, there was a real sense of displacement that I felt and I really was trying to reckon with in that period."

But K.Flay's latest album, Solutions, has a different, somehow quieter, feel. A new softness colors one of the album's lead singles, "Sister."

"Sister," unsurprisingly, talks about siblings. K.Flay explains that she has a brother and a sister, though they aren't related by blood. Her parents split up when she was around 5 or 6, and her stepfather — her two siblings' biological father — helped raise her and later adopted her.

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"I'm super, super close with my family, and I think a lot about family, just because of the way my childhood played out," K.Flay reflects. "I think it gave me time to consider, like — what is the role of blood and DNA? What is the role of nurture?"

On Every Where Is Some Where, the 2017 predecessor to Solutions, K.Flay also sang about family members in the song "Champagne" — but that album took a different approach to the subject.

"In a lot of ways, that record was about problems," K.Flay says of Every Where Is Some Where. "I think I wrote that in a space of heartbreak."

In contrast, Solutions reflects a more hopeful creative state. K.Flay describes how she worked on this album from a healthy, optimistic space. "I was falling in love; I was really taking care of myself for the first time in a long time. I think there's an optimism, a cautious optimism, that's inherent in a lot of those reckonings."

"Sister" showcases that optimism and love in the form of sisterhood — which K.Flay describes as a gender-less concept to encapsulate compassionate connection and chosen family-building. Although the song originated from what K.Flay calls a feeling of "separateness" from her siblings, it grew into a vulnerable, inviting expression of warmth.

"This record, and the kind of lyrical challenge I gave to myself, was: Let me take these points of pain, these points of angst, these points of confusion and kind of, like, just pivot a little bit in the direction of optimism or hopefulness," K.Flay says. "I got into the studio a couple months later and everything just sort of clicked, where I was like, 'You know what? The thing I wanna say to my brother and sister, and the thing that I did say and I have said and it's worked, is, 'I wanna be your sister. Do you wanna be mine?'"

Web intern Rosalind Faulkner contributed to the digital version of this story. Listen to the full aired conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

K.Flay kicked off her career experimenting with rap, releasing mixed tapes with titles like "Suburban Rap Queen."

(SOUNDBITE OF K.FLAY SONG, "BLOOD IN THE CUT")

CORNISH: Ever since, her releases have had titles like "I Stopped Caring In '96" and "Life As A Dog." Her most popular song, the Grammy-nominated "Blood In The Cut," is a raging strutter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOOD IN THE CUT")

K.FLAY: (Singing) I need noise. I need the buzz of a sub, need the crack of a whip, need some blood in the cut.

CORNISH: Her latest album has a different feel, in a way, a quieter approach. K.Flay explains what drove her earlier aggressive style.

K.FLAY: It had this kind of, like, peripatetic existence. I didn't live anywhere. I was on tour constantly. So there was a real sense of displacement that I felt and that I was really trying to reckon with in that period.

CORNISH: And it's an album kind of that makes me think of black leather jackets and smudged eye makeup (laughter).

K.FLAY: Yes, exactly.

CORNISH: And boyfriends and primal screams (laughter).

K.FLAY: Huge amounts of primal screams, many screams.

CORNISH: Now, on that album, the song "Champagne" references - as many of your other songs do - your family. Let's hear a little bit of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHAMPAGNE")

K.FLAY: (Rapping) My dead dad, plus my living mama, plus my other father who raised me not to be sad and my brother who says that he worries about me from my songs and my sister who's been living like a saint for so damn long.

CORNISH: So you're, like, referring to everyone, right? We get the layout, and your biological father passed away, is that right?

K.FLAY: My parents split up when I was 5, 6. My biological dad was a very serious alcoholic and ended up dying when I was 14. My second dad came into the picture right - pretty much right when my parents split up and took me in as his own, later adopted me, and I have a brother and a sister who are not my biological brother and sister, but we were raised together and certainly feel like my real brother and sister.

CORNISH: And worried about you (laughter) it sounds like from that song.

K.FLAY: Yeah. You know, it's funny. I'm super close with my family, and I think a lot about family because of the way my childhood played out. And I think it gave me time to consider, like, what is the role of blood and DNA? What is the role of nurture? And so I talk about it a lot in my music. And there have definitely been periods of my life where my siblings and parents have called me and been like, are you OK? (Laughter) Do we need to, like, fly to New York and make sure you're all right? But I get out all my demons through songs.

CORNISH: So this new album is called "Solutions," has a little bit of a different feel. I want to talk to you about the song "Sister" because it also references siblings.

K.FLAY: Yeah.

CORNISH: Let's listen to a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) Everything you do, I want to do. Everything you know, I want to know. Talk about our secrets till the morning comes, then you let me try on all your clothes.

CORNISH: So this is a very almost sweet, idealized version of a sister. How'd the song come about?

K.FLAY: "Sister" originated because of this feeling I've had since being a really young kid, which is this separateness from my brother and sister because they have different biological parents. And I always felt different. That difference made me feel sad, and I wanted to be their real sister. So I started writing a version of this song that was like kind of complicated and really sad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) Even when you're saying that you hate me, I know that the feeling isn't true.

CORNISH: Like sisterhood itself.

K.FLAY: (Laughter).

CORNISH: I have a sister, obviously (laughter).

K.FLAY: Totally. And there's an aspect of siblingdom (ph) where there is this bizarre situation because you share so much and yet your experience of the world is still fundamentally different.

CORNISH: It's like your fellow travelers.

K.FLAY: Totally. And I began writing that kind of song, but the kind of lyrical challenge I gave to myself was let me take these points of pain, these points of confusion and kind of, like, pivot a little bit in the direction of optimism or hopefulness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) I got you. Tell me that you really need a night out. I'd even put a dress on, too. If somebody hurts you, then I'm going to kill somebody for you.

I got into the studio a couple months later, and everything sort of just clicked where I was like, you know what? The thing I want to say to my brother and sister and the thing that I did say and I have said and it's worked is I want to be your sister. Do you want to be mine?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) Till the end. Do you want to be mine?

CORNISH: Yeah. It's request. That's the bittersweet part of the song. It's not just an offer. Like, it could be rejected.

K.FLAY: That is the fundamental nature of sisterhood, and I'm envisioning this concept of sisterhood as a genderless thing, sisterhood as just really basic compassion-based connection. The premise of that has to be that vulnerability, that potential for rejection. So to me, this song is about that moment of vulnerability and that moment of family building.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) Do you want to be mine?

CORNISH: This doesn't have your kind of hard rapping style. It's a little lighter on its feet...

K.FLAY: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...While threatening death on (laughter) someone who breaks your sibling's heart.

K.FLAY: (Laughter) Well, I started making music in this indie rap space. The beginning point of excitement and inspiration was rhythm and cadence and wordplay and how can I manipulate that stuff? I think as I've progressed and experimented and I hope expanded, what's really cool is - and in a song like "Sister" - is that it's not, like, jampacked. And therefore I feel like some of those lines like, yeah, if you hurt the person I love, I'm going to kill you, I hope there's, like, more resonance with that sentiment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) When you're lost and afraid and you crashed your car, when you need a friend to dance in the dark, when you call me up, I'll be at your door. I want to be your sister.

CORNISH: Which end of the phone call have you been on? (Laughter) I listen to those lyrics. I was like hmm.

K.FLAY: (Laughter) I've been on both ends. I have a hard time getting angry on behalf of myself, but I have an easy time becoming enraged on behalf of somebody that I care about.

CORNISH: I wondered when I was listening to it about the idea of genderless sisterhood. When I was listening to the song, there were a number of friends I just wanted to send this to.

K.FLAY: Yeah. I think that in our culture, the concept of brotherhood is predicated on institutions, a team or a school or a work network or something like that. I think men aren't always afforded these easy ways to connect based on nothing. For me, I have such a diverse group of friends in terms of gender and gender identity, sisterhood just felt like the way to encapsulate that. The section of the song you just played, the bridge, that's the point where sisterhood, true family, true love, is about accepting the mistakes of other people and being tolerant and open and nonjudgmental, you know. So it's like, you crashed your car. Like, you got drunk. You married a moron. Like, whatever you did, I'm here for you. I got your back because I understand that we're all trying to figure out how to live. And no one really knows what they're doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) I want to be your sister. I want to be your friend.

CORNISH: Well, Kristine Flaherty, K.Flay, thank you so much for speaking with us.

K.FLAY: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: K.Flay - her new album, "Solutions," is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SISTER")

K.FLAY: (Singing) Do you want to be mine? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.