Flyleaf's Kristen May: Ready to Begin (Again)
In this exclusive interview, Flyleaf's frontwoman talks to us about multiple transitions in life and in music, her relationship with God, and hatmaking.
Transition has been the name of the game for both rock band Flyleaf and its lead singer, Kristen May. Two years ago, both entities faced tremendous transition as their creative futures seemed in jeopardy.
With the departure of founding lead vocalist Lacey Sturm, Flyleaf was a band without a singer. And similarly, May found herself a singer without a band, as the much-acclaimed indie pop/rock group she founded, Vedera, shut its doors.
May and Flyleaf found each other, and outside of a barrage of Internet comments from a vocal minority, the partnership has been a fairly seamless one. But in that time, May has been singing someone else's songs.
Now, after a taste of what's to come with the Who We Are EP and a successful crowdfunding campaign executed on PledgeMusic, May and Flyleaf are poised to begin writing new songs rooted in this up-and-down--but ultimately good--season of transition, growth and reflection.
Kristen May took some time to talk with NRT about her season of growth, new inspiration and her relationship with God.
Where are you calling from right now? What's happening in your world today?
I'm calling from Kansas City. That's where I live with my husband and our two dogs. My world has just kind of been hanging out and writing more music for the album, and kind of waiting to see when we're going to the studio. Multiple conference calls. Just trying to get to spend time with my family because I know once we get rolling I won't be home as much.
Congratulations on the WE LOVE Award. You guys won that one handily. How does it feel that Flyleaf, with just an EP, still has such a command of the audience out there?
I just think is has so much to do with Flyleaf's fans. Our fans are amazing and they stay engaged and interested in what we're doing. The band didn't tour or do much for two years before I joined. The fact that they still have so many Facebook fans and Twitter followers and people that everyday are interested in what we're doing is amazing. It's a true blessing for sure.
I'm sure the momentum and the cries for new music are hitting a fever pitch, so it sounds like your timing is good. Congratulations on the PledgeMusic campaign. It sounds like you were successful there, but you guys decided to sort of buck the trends of like Kickstarter and Indiegogo and go with PledgeMusic and it was successful. What was beneficial about going about it that way?
Actually PledgeMusic is something I've been interested in for a while. My band [Vedera] stopped playing around the same time that Lacy left Flyleaf, and so I was just kind of writing some music for myself. I was looking at Kickstarter and PledgeMusic because I didn't have a label at the time.
I was really interested in the way that they engaged the fans and they offer experiences that people don't normally offer, and I really like the way it put the power in your hands and the fans' hands and not really needing a label. It was quite liberating for me.
When Flyleaf was talking about doing that because we just parted ways with Octone--the record label that were previously on--it just seemed like the perfect fit and just the people at PledgeMusic, they are just legit and they care about putting it back in the artist's hands.
The whole structure was created by an artist himself. We just got the sense of the passion there and we always like to partner with people that have the same passion that we do. Thankfully it turned out to be a really cool experience and allowed us -- you know how the industry can kind of slowdown in December and January, but we kept pushing through with stuff and we could do it from our home, so that was really nice.
Creatively, how different is it to do an album this way without a label kind of looking over your shoulder? Do you guys feel freer than ever in a sense?
I think we do. We're not sure exactly what we'll do moving forward. We may partner with a label for certain marketing aspects and whatnot. Eventually it will be maybe nice to have a label involved, but I think for us, definitely for me during writing, it was really nice to not have anyone looking over our shoulder because that was when we kind of decided to part ways with Octone.
So we had the opportunity to just write whatever we felt, and that was really freeing for us and I think it comes out in the songs. You can tell that we felt free in writing those.
How much knitting have you been doing? I saw the picture of the hats you have.
I've been doing a lot of knitting and I really just picked it up over Christmas. Then I just kept going and going and it was just nice for me. I'm a busybody, so if I don't have stuff to do, especially creatively, I can go crazy. I figured since I knew I was going to be home, I might as well learn a new craft.
I've been doing a lot. I think I'm nearing the point where I might stop, but I think it's a great. I don't mean stop forever, but for me I think knitting is a great thing to do. In Kansas City it gets really cold in the winter, so it's nice to kind of sit down and watch seasons of Games of Thrones or whatever show you're watching and knit. It's kind of a nice thing to do.
I see you're able to make those sophisticated beanies with like ears and stuff. You've really developed in such a short amount of time.
I have to give a lot of love to YouTube because I just followed certain patterns on there and then sometimes I would come up with stuff on my own, but mostly YouTube.
Your handiwork is just one of the incentives for your PledgeMusic backers; pretty cool. Now since you successfully met your goal, where's the process with the new album? I'm sure you're tired of getting this question. How's the progress going on the new record?
We're continuing the pledge campaign moving forward just kind of to act like the preorder and we still have a lot of prizes and stuff that people can pledge on, so we wanted to keep that going since we have those available. But right now we've raised enough money to pay for a producer. We are looking for that producer and we've had conference calls with many different ones and so we're really, really close to deciding which producer we'll use, but not quite ready to announce that yet.
Basically we're just trying to look for a time to go in the studio and continue to talk to different labels and see if we want to partner with one. We really want to get this album out by summer. We'll have definitely some news within the next month for sure on what kind of path we're moving forward with, the next couple of months.
You guys looking at Howard Benson again?
He's awesome. I think the one thing about moving forward with Flyleaf is it may be getting a new perspective. Since they've worked with Howard for three albums, it might be nice to use someone new, but we'll see. We definitely are still thinking about Howard. He's a great guy, great producer.
We got a great taste of sort of where you're going with the Who We Are EP. I love that. Love the single "Something Better." What are you seeing now come out stylistically from you guys, if there were a way to describe it?
It's still kind of evolving and I think that's kind of the purpose of us having demos and then going into a studio with a producer and really focusing all these songs as one piece. So we do have a lot of songs right now, but right now I think the main songs that we really love are sounding big and some are on the poppy side, like "Something Better," and some are still big rock riffs. Then we have some other songs that I wrote on the piano, so we kind of find ways to take the music in different directions. We really hope to take people on a journey on this album.
You've got a band full of true artists who don't necessarily need blistering distortion guitar all the time to make music, so you're well equipped for the future. You recently posted on Facebook that a theme of the new record that's emerged is that of perseverance. What are some obstacles that you've personally overcome and what are some that you're facing now?
I think one thing that I have in common with Flyleaf is that we both came from almost not being able to move forward in the music industry as far as they lost a singer. I lost my band. We were both--me especially--certainly in the wilderness kind of wondering, not sure how to move forward and I even dealt with not knowing if this was the career path for me, if I should keep doing it.
Around that same time I also dealt with a big case of writer's block, so I felt like the one thing that I usually go to, which is music and poetry and all of that, I wasn't inspired by it. I think for me it was kind of the perseverance for at first just letting go. I had to let go and see what God's plan was for me and if he wanted to show me something different, I needed to be completely available to that.
I think that's the most difficult part for me as a human and just the human struggle is letting go sometimes. Through that actually is when I got the call to write with Flyleaf and be part of their band.
So the persevering ever since I joined Flyleaf personally has been really continuing this dream and continuing this dream with new people and also leaving my family that I was very comfortable with. I played in the band with my husband and brother-in-law and my family and so I really had to find my passion with these new guys.
I think that's had its share of challenges, but it's also really rejuvenated me and it's reinstated my faith. So I think anytime you're going through something new and a change and you have doubters and with social media and stuff, I think you really kind of are shown your true self in those moments, whether it's your insecure self or your passionate self or your artistic self. I've just been kind of going through all of these emotions, but thankfully I haven't had writer's block and I've been able to put these feelings in songs, so I'm so thankful for that.
I've heard Donald Miller talking about conflict, that conflict is what advances the stories of our lives. It sounds like you've already got a good story. How would you describe your relationship with God these days?
I think He's showing me more over the past year, couple of years, and still continuing this journey of grace. Not just grace for myself, but grace for others and really just what that means in my life. I tend to be a perfectionist, so I can be really hard on myself. Just trying to be more transparent and realizing that's how God can be shown through me and also show how He's in other people.
I think we sometimes, as Christians--and I've certainly done this--can judge people so easily on what I think they are and all of this. I think it's all that same part of letting go and seeing God's grace and He's shown me Himself in so many people that's unexpected and I think the same thing with the music industry.
It can be a bit hard sometimes because sometimes it can be so much about how you look or how you dress or what you say or what you do, and I guess just letting go and seeing God's grace through how He can live through me and I don't have to be perfect. Actually, when I'm not is actually when people see Him.
What a huge lesson because you guys are in a unique space, especially you, Kristen, where you're kind of feeling that to some extent on both sides, both from the music industry and from really the church. There's the vocal minority of people who have not been kind at times and you're sort of in this place where really the Lord is sometimes the only place to turn.
I guess maybe talk about that space for a minute, kind of in between where you've got the world kind of looking at you and you've also got the church with their eye, in a sense, on you.
There have certainly been times when I have looked at those comments and felt hurt and certain times when I've looked about people's comments and felt angry and just wanted to retaliate and just throw everything I could back at them, which is what I want to do sometimes, but then I feel like these trials are a blessing in a way because I think they're actually bringing me closer to God. Like you're saying, He is my only place to go because He never would say anything bad about me. He loves me so much.
I think knowing that I can go to that love and knowing that I will never despair, I just could never despair in the way that I could before I found Him. That has made me actually want to love everyone that same way. Sometimes it's harder than others, but I hope I can do something like that. I think there's certainly been people who have really inspired me when they're facing adversity and facing people talking about them. I'm never really inspired by the people that talk back in a negative way.
I'm always inspired by the people that turn the other cheek and say I love you. It's OK. It's just giving me more of a perspective on life. It's kind of just going back to that grace thing and it's reminding me now when I say something about someone in the manner that is maybe being spoken to me on the Internet, I'm like, "Oh. That's ugly. I don't want to do that." It just makes me more aware of how our words can affect one another.
That's huge and God will totally use it. It sounds like He already has. What's life like at home? When you're at home you're knitting. We know that. And spending time with family. Your husband, what's he up to these days and does he go on the road with you? What's the family situation like at home and on the road?
At home it's pretty chilled for us. We're big homebodies when we're at home. We love to cook dinner together. We love just hanging out with our dogs, taking them on walks, taking them to the park. We'll have friends over, game nights, whatever, but he actually got a job after the band broke up where he does bookkeeping and stuff for a guy, and he's kind of like this personal assistant.
So he actually has a real 9 to 5 job. It's kind of lax with the hours, so he likes that as a musician, but he still plays music, writes music. Sometimes he travels with us. He has been doing a lot of electronic music, so he knows so much about Pro Tools and all the technological stuff in music that I know nothing about. He'll usually be working on that stuff with his friend and sometimes I'll get involved.
Is any of it out there?
I keep telling him he should put some stuff on SoundCloud or something and he's just such a perfectionist. I think eventually he will. He wants it to sound as good as possible and since he's recording it himself right now, it's kind of in the middle stages of where he feels like creatively it's great, but he wants it to sound really good. I want him to put it out though for sure.
Are you writing your own stuff still? Are we ever going to see a solo album from you personally?
I'm always writing. It's just something I love to do. Some of the songs are just 30 seconds right now and some are 10 minutes, but I don't know. I really have to let God kind of tell me what to do on that because right now I do feel like He's brought me here with Flyleaf and I need to be focusing on that, but I feel really blessed that songs are still flowing and that it's still a place that I can go and be artistic, but also feel like emotionally getting stuff out really helps me. I don't know. Right now there's just a bunch of songs on my phone, so we'll see.
That could be an album, an EP, The Phone Sessions. It hasn't been done. In the Christian space, I don't know if you're aware, but DC Talk is all in these other bands now and they'll perform their old stuff with their brand new bands. Are we ever going to hear Flyleaf do a rocked out version of "Satisfy"? That'd be pretty neat. I think it'd be good.
I don't know. We've never talked about that. That'd be interesting. I don't know. I'll let them know as a request.
What's getting you excited right now in life and musically, creatively, all of the above?
In life I think, especially since I've been home, my nieces are getting me excited because I have three of them and they're amazing. Ellie just turned one and my other two nieces are six and eight. I love looking at life through a child's eyes. I just remember so much about the innocence that they have and the purity. I really love being around them.
That's what gets me excited about being at home. Artistically I just can't wait to record this album. I can't wait to see where it goes. I can't wait to make our music video together. I just feel like there's so much coming that is just welling up in me. I just want it to start.
It's been two years.
Exactly. I just can't wait for spring to come and to get to tour and to get to go to other countries that I've never been to. I'm really excited about all of those possibilities.
How can we be praying for you, Kristen?
I guess just that I'm following God's plan for me instead of my plan for me and resting in His provision. I think that's the best thing and being patient and peaceful in that presence.
Posted April 08, 2014 | Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and a church staff member. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and the worship leader at his home church in the Portland, Ore. area. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.