And, oh yeah: She managed to finally make this record, after a few years of trying, because in the fall of 2013, she asked if she could please be dropped from RCA.
"I got signed at a time when there was this swirl of female rappers — some electronic, some more pop, more urban, but I think everybody was interested in trying to bring female rappers a little outside of Nicki Minaj into the mainstream," says Flaherty, who finds herself happily back on her home turf for a bit before heading out on Warped Tour (her mom and stepdad live in Oakland; her former roommates still live in their old place near Alamo Square — the Warped Tour lands here Sat/21). "And I was still figuring out my sound. I think one of my selling points is I was a little electronic, a little indie rock, a little rap, but I think that was actually not a great way to get signed. The goal with being on a major label is to get you on the radio, and I think there was a lot of internal dissent about the way to do that with me."
She had a vision for putting out a full-length record, but over the course of three years, "it just didn't seem like that was possible." So she filled her time with touring — an experience that, she says, wound up informing most of the songs she was able to put out once she got dropped.
"Their heart was in the right place, but I think the structure of a major label system is so opposed to developing artists that don't fit into a radio format that it's kind of a battle for everyone, a lose-lose," she says. "It felt like an ill-advised marriage. Where you're done, but you're still cool with, you know, running into them at Walgreens or whatever."
She headed for LA in January of this year, anchorless as she'd ever been — she didn't have an apartment, still doesn't — and started from scratch, material-wise: She'd let go of upwards of 60 songs she'd written while signed to get out of her contract. But left to her own devices, she found that new songs came quickly.
"It was weird to go from lots of opinions [with the label] to literally none except my own," she says. "I've never done a juice cleanse, but in some ways I feel like that's what it would be like. 'Oh, I'm back, and it's just me, and here's the bare bones of the project.' Which was great at times, and also scary. But I've been mentally and musically in a much better place the past eight months that I've been working on this." You can hear the solitude, the physically empty space around her in these songs, an electric post-breakup air of someone realizing how strong she is on her own.
Another result: The shift toward melody.
"For a while I was very enamored with rapping really fast, almost like when you get a toy or a video game and you want to see what weird stuff you can do," she says. It took the encouragement of close collaborators for her to try singing more, though she's always loved pop and melodic hip-hop (like the Kendrick Lamar she was listening to in the car on the way over here). "It's still a lot scarier for me to sing than rap," she says. "And I can't say as much. I have to be pickier. But I think it's a more comfortable zone for me, to be honest."