K. Flay Opens Up About Mental Health, Sobriety, His Breakup And New Music

Singer and composer K.Flay (born Kristine Flaherty) has spoken with NME on mental health, his next album, the toxic drinking culture he experienced on tour and finding his inner strength.

In October, Flaherty received some life-changing news: she had gone completely deaf in her right ear. She was supposed to embark on a tour promoting her latest LP ‘Inside Voices / Outside Voices’, released on February 4 via BMG, but had to cancel after the medical emergency. “I got really sick and had to figure out how to adjust to this new life and I had a lot of balance problems and vertigo and stuff at first,” she explained to NME.

Alerting fans about his new disability on social media, he tried to find humor in the plight, writing: “On the bright side, I’m now 15% prettier, 30% smarter, and 50% better. on Metallica Riffs.

“My mom taught me when I was little that even at the worst times, we’re going to laugh about it later,” Flaherty said. “Even when you’re sobbing and the world is falling apart around you, you say, ‘Okay, we’ll laugh about that at some point, maybe not right now, but we’ll laugh about it.'”

K.Flay
K.Flay CREDIT Trent Barboza

Flaherty has been working to accept fleeting moments of happiness after periods of adversity. She shared that she recently had dinner with a friend who is also a musician, and they discussed how in the music industry, “the highs are so high, but the lows are so low.”

“That’s true in life in general, but I think it intensifies a bit when you have a job facing the public. I was telling him, from my perspective, it’s about acknowledging but not accepting the permanence of any of those moments,” Flaherty explained. “So when you’re fucking high and everyone loves your shit and you’re on the cover of this and you’re playing a sold-out show, whatever it is, own up to it, celebrate it, but don’t buy it. its permanence. And conversely, when you’re in the damn low moments, acknowledge them, cry for them. You can feel sad, but you can’t believe in the permanence of that either.

Flaherty was already going through a period of turmoil before his medical problems. In early 2021, he went through a challenging breakup with his longtime partner. After mourning the relationship, he began to regain his confidence. He inspired her latest single, ‘It’s Been So Long’, which he wrote shortly after their relationship broke up.

“I was in Nashville, working with my longtime collaborator and producer friend JT Daly. I was out of this relationship that I had been in for a while and I really finally got to that place like ‘How Stella got her groove back’, suddenly you’re back. [to yourself]. It just hit me,” Flaherty recalled.

With her confidence renewed, the lyrics flowed with ease.

“For me, there are those moments when you reconnect with your own power and confidence and you really have to celebrate them because we don’t always feel that way,” she said. “I guess I try not to revel in heartbreak, and I try not to revel in joy either. I know it sounds weird, but you just want to have fairness and acceptance of everything. But when you get to those moments, when I’m distraught as hell, I need to write a song. When I’m feeling happy, I don’t always want to write a song about it, but I felt like it was a time when I did.”

As with ‘It’s Been So Long’, Flaherty embraced getting in touch with her emotions for ‘Inside Voices/Outside Voices’. The record, a combination of his 2021 ‘Inside Voices’ and ‘Outside Voices’ EPs, was inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theories about the personalities that make us up: the id, the ego and the superego. Flaherty, who majored in psychology and sociology at Stanford University, wanted to incorporate his academic interests into his music and exploration of his psyche.

“I think Sigmund Freud is responsible for a lot of bad things in this world, but I do think the notion of id, ego, and superego are very useful, at least for me, as a framework for understanding myself and other people. ,” she said. “I’m not aggressive, I’m not irritable. I’m not really in a bad mood, but underneath the surface, there’s that person.

“I was really dealing with those feelings of my own anger, my own aggression, my own wrongness. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be polite and there’s a part of all of us. And I think for me, I’ve pushed it down and tamped it down so hard that the only place I’ve really allowed it to come out is my music.”

Flaherty made id the focus of ‘Inside Voices’. According to Freud’s theory, the id is the part of our psyche that governs the need for immediate gratification; when our desires go unfulfilled, we react with unfiltered aggression. But what Flaherty discovered while writing the record was that when there’s a healthy outlet for that anger and frustration, “it doesn’t dominate the way we interact with the world.”

“I can be both a very nice person and a very angry person. Those things are not incompatible. They can coexist. It’s just about how you channel the shit,” she explained. “I knew it intellectually just from studying social sciences and having an understanding of it. But I never really thought about it in the context of myself and that was much scarier to do. Our first single from that record is called ‘Four Letter Words’ and the lyrics to the chorus are simply, “Fuck off”. “It’s pretty much the most twisted thing you can say to someone.”

Over the past two years, Flaherty has been searching for a balance that will help her mental health. One of the changes that he says he helped with was his decision to stop drinking.

“In terms of my relationship with alcohol, my biological father was a very serious addict who died from it when I was young,” he said. “He had very black and white thinking about drugs and alcohol when he was young as a teenager. I was like, ‘Drugs and alcohol are bad, I’m not going to do it.’ it was simple. I didn’t even have to think about it. And then once I started touring in my mid-twenties, it’s part of the touring culture.”

Flaherty noted that drinking is “so institutionalized” in the music and touring industry that he reached a point where he realized he was abusing alcohol.

“Taking alcohol out of the equation again for me, just personally, creates an environment where I feel really powerful. I used to think that drinking alcohol made me feel powerful, but I really don’t think it did,” she mused. “It was hard to separate that from a lot of cultural ideas about drinking, especially as a woman on tour with a group of men in the rock scene. Originally that was like, ‘Well, you’re fucking tough.’ You can drink with us, you can hang out, you’re fine. I think I had to break that down and say, ‘Actually, I’m great.

He continued: “Once I identified that and cut it out of my life, what it forced me to do was really be present within the discomfort because I was using it often as a way of trying to lessen or mitigate my own personal discomfort. When I removed that and really had to sit and look my discomfort and pain in the eye, I could feel myself getting stronger. It was like doing push-ups.”

Flaherty also says that he is tapping into his inner strength. She’s not only taking care of herself, but she’s also genuinely proud of how far she’s come as she struggles.

“Sitting inside all of that experience, all of the chaos, all of the pain and grief and confusion and just being really present, with no way of leaving… Damn, I’m strong,” Flaherty said. “For me, it’s so empowering that I just went through a fucking horrible breakup, the hardest breakup of my life. [Then] going deaf, that was the most difficult physical challenge. This shit is crazy, but I’m fine. Actually, I’m better; I’m stronger. So that’s what fucks up my mind for me, is really sitting and staring straight ahead, looking discomfort in the fucking eyes. Oh man. It’s very difficult, but it’s very good.”

That mindset is also what informs his next LP, which he teased is “80 percent done.”

“I hope it’s the best thing he’s ever done,” Flaherty said. “I think it will be. It’s a record about power and it’s also informed by this experience that I’ve been going through with hearing loss and the calculation of that.”

Meanwhile, the recent cancellation of multiple tours by US and UK artists has drawn attention to the mental health issues many artists face on the road. In an open letter shared in September, santigold wrote that she was “sad and proud” to cancel her 2022 tour due to financial issues and “anxiety, insomnia [and] fatigue”.

fender same he also canceled the remaining dates of his 2022 US tour earlier this year to take care of his mental health, sharing at the time: “I have neglected myself for over a year and have not dealt with things that have affected me deeply. It’s impossible to do this work on myself while I’m away, and it’s exhausting to feign happiness and well-being for the sake of business.”

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