Kristine "K.Flay" Flaherty has gone from psychology and sociology double major at Stanford University to indie-rap underdog to fledgling alt-pop star. In this, her most recent incarnation, the Illinois native is opening for the band Imagine Dragons on the Las Vegas-bred modern rockers' "EVOLVE TOUR," including a stop Tuesday, Oct. 3, at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.
Describing her experience on the Farm, Flaherty recalled that "there was a pretty small music scene at Stanford. But oddly enough, a lot of people from our year (2007), plus or minus one year, are now professional musicians," (including both members of Cathedrals, the San Francisco-based duo featured on a 2015 cover of the Palo Alto Weekly).
En route from a performance at a music festival to her sister's wedding in Washington, D.C., she reflected fondly on her time on campus and later in San Francisco prior to moving to her current residence in Los Angeles' artistic Silver Lake neighborhood. "Moving to California which, you know, was pretty far from home -- certainly the furthest I'd been -- I think really did afford me a sense of freedom," she said by phone from behind the wheel of a rented Volkswagen.
"Not (freedom) in the traditional sense, because I didn't even drink or do any of that in college. But freedom, I think, to explore different ways of interacting with the world and getting to know people whose experiences were quite different to my own."
A focused high school student, Flaherty didn't spend hours making music demos or poring over mix CDs. "Yeah, I wasn't one of those kids growing up who was, like, 'The world doesn't understand me! I'm going to listen to music loudly in my room!' I never had those feelings of angst that connected to music until I got to college. It was in that environment that I got introduced really to indie rap and started getting emotionally connected to music in a way that I had never been before."
There is, of course, no set path to becoming an independent musician. So she reckons that her twin academic disciplines help set the foundation for her career as singer-songwriter. (None of her fellow troubadour and instrumentalist classmates were music majors, either, as she recalls.)
Any crossover is "less probably major-specific or field-specific," she speculated. "But one of the things that I've definitely held onto throughout my life, and I think really flourished at college, was curiosity and attention to detail. I feel like those two orientations are helpful when writing anything -- music and lyrics included."
After graduating, Flaherty moved up to an apartment near the Castro district in San Francisco. She and two best friends from Illinois were crammed together in their place but explored San Francisco by foot, bicycle and bus. She never owned a car or ever had to take a cab, she marveled.
While living in San Francisco, she began to establish her career in underground hip-hop as an MC. She's since explored other genres, including her current melodically infectious and electronically-infused songs, and has released a number of EPs and two full-length records, including "Every Where Is Some Where," which came out earlier this year.
"In my relatively short interaction with the music industry, I think streaming has very much affected the way that radio formats and record labels are approaching music. There's less of a tendency to be put off by something that doesn't immediately feel identifiable," she said, when asked if her history of genre-hopping has affected her ability to find new audiences.
"The way that people consume music now is so disjointed -- like one of those little bugs that can walk on water. You're just going from one style and one vibe to the next relatively seamlessly," she said. "It's been incredibly helpful for me, because I think earlier in my career, I felt like people were a little bit confused by what I was doing."
Her fans have definitely been connecting with both her music and lyrics. After releasing her "Crush Me" EP in August 2016, she began leaving a notebook at the merchandise table for audience members to share their stories.
"The fanbase that I've built over the years, I think, is one that values vulnerability and a sort of level of emotionality that's part of the experience of the music and, I think, of the live show, as well," she said. "I just put it out there without much expectation of how people would interact with it or whether they even would."
The response was overwhelming. She's since compiled the entries into a book that is available on the current tour.
"We filled up one book and then we filled up the next book. And these books are many hundreds of pages," she said. "Reading through it, I was very compelled and really moved."
Flaherty has solicited her fan base for various local charities that they support, with proceeds from the book (also available at online) going towards those.
"From my perspective, I'm kind of doing the same thing at every show: I'm playing my songs. I'm getting from one stage to the next for soundchecking. Maybe we have to do a radio show or whatever," she said. "It was a really striking reminder to me that at those shows, the people in the audience are very literally going through the gamut of human experience," she added. "There are those who just had someone close to them pass away. And there are people who are just falling in love for the first time. So I wanted to do something to commemorate that and showcase what's going on at these shows."
As an opening act on this current large-venue tour with Imagine Dragons and also Grouplove, Flaherty has an even larger potential audience.
She's already friendly with the headliners: Night Street Music was founded by Imagine Dragons' lead singer Dan Reynolds and K.Flay is the Interscope Records imprint's first signing. "Thunder," the band's current single, was recently remixed by Flaherty and features her sung and rapped vocals. And as of last Tuesday night, she'll have had the chance to see the band perform up close.
"Interestingly enough, I've not been to many arena shows," she said. "So I'm kind of excited on a fan level to get to see the show every night and understand the workings of that."
Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: K.Flay, opening for Imagine Dragons, plus Grouplove.
Where: 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View.
When: Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m.
Info: Go to Shoreline or call 650-967-4040.