(Interview) Flara K Tell Stories About a Growing Need for Deeper Connection on New EP

Photo credit: Philippe Thibault

Montreal based pop/R&B duo Flara K (pronounced Flair-ah K) consists of Sam Martel and Collin Steinz, partners in both creativity and life. The project is an identity for the two to explore ideas and embrace originality. After releasing a few one-off singles, the duo explores growth lyrically and sonically on their debut EP Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable, released in fall 2020.

Flara K is creating music that speaks to moments people feel every day and tell stories about a growing need for deeper connection, all the more important during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing influence from artists across genres such as Whitney Houston, James Jamerson, and Young the Giant, they’ve crafted a sound full of strength and sentimentality that blends nostalgic R&B with modern, soul-infused pop. CJLO spoke with the duo about their new EP, the pressures of social media, and what they’re working on in 2021.

Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable is the first collection of songs by Flara K, after a few singles in the past couple of years.  What sets the songs on the EP apart from the material you previously released?

Sam: We really tried not to put any pressure on the creation process for ourselves for this EP. We wanted to have as little creative barriers as possible and really just let the ideas flow no matter how weird or out there they might have been. I think that really allowed us to explore another side of our creativity that we had never tapped into. Just going for whatever idea we felt rather than over analyzing and judging every bit of it (which is still a work in progress). That was a really pivotal moment for us in the making of this EP.

Collin: I think Sam nailed it. We were also collaborating with a lot of other musicians during the creation process, and the people we were surrounded by were so inspirational that we really wanted to push ourselves to explore what we could do differently.

Despite its sugary melody suggesting a love song, “For a Minute” actually deals with the pressures of constantly maintaining a social media presence, and its effect on the duo’s mental health. Do you find the pandemic has lowered that pressure to always be online, or does it only exacerbate the problem?

Sam: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I think a bit of both. I feel like the fact that everyone is home all the time and online a lot more definitely makes me (as an artist) feel like we should always be doing something or saying something, otherwise we’ll get forgotten in the fast paced and ever changing trends. However, knowing that everyone is at home takes a small amount of pressure off. I think to a certain degree there will always be a small amount of self-inflicted pressure for artists to have a great online presence in this era, which is why we wrote “For a Minute.” We wanted to shine a light on the moments where that break is needed because I think a lot of people feel that.

Collin: Yeah, it definitely feels like a bit of both. We did an Instagram Live tour this fall where we travelled across Canada in an RV, stopping in the major cities along the way to host live performances and interviews. It was super powerful in helping us grow our network, especially while in a pandemic. Now being home, there’s a sort of self-imposed pressure in the back of my mind where I think how social media is this super powerful tool, and if we’re not using it then we’re not working hard enough, or making the most of the tools at our disposal. I guess for us it may have exacerbated the problem, but we definitely go out of our way to make sure we find a healthy balance.

Mental health is actually a common theme throughout your songs (e.g., “Lost”), and because of the pandemic, it feels like there’s been more of a focus on mental health than ever in 2020. We’ve all had to develop our own coping mechanisms to deal with the current COVID-19 reality. How have you both gotten by since the pandemic began?

Collin: I’ve read a bunch of books that I had been meaning to read, and that felt great. I feel like every time you embrace a new book, the ideas hang around your mind and it forces you to think and view things in a different light. I find this whole experience super fun and fulfilling to go through, so that’s definitely helped me a lot.

Sam: I’ve been reading a lot as well, but mostly it’s been a lot of cooking and baking for me.  Kinda helps me focus my mind in a different way.

Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable is filled with songs that are 100% certified bops! At its core, what is it that makes a perfect pop song to you both? Do you have a favorite song or artist that you think best represents the form?

Collin: It depends on my mood! I’ll go through a phase where I think Carly Rae Jepsen has created the perfect pop song, but then listen to Emotional Oranges on repeat and think they have tapped into something super special. So at the moment, “West Coast Love” by Emotional Oranges or “Pretty Please” by Dua Lipa would be my picks.

Sam: I have to agree with Collin, it definitely depends on my mood too but Collin’s picks are pretty spot on for me as well.

Spotify has been in the news recently when it comes to their practices in paying (barely) artists for their work. What are your thoughts on Spotify and the age of streaming, as an artist but also as a fan and consumer of music?

Collin: This is pretty tough because we have some friends who have found a ton of success on Spotify and it has brought them some financial stability which they may have not ever had received from their music otherwise. You can release your song on Spotify without paying for a publicist, radio tracker, etc., and still do really well. At the same time, I’m sure they would love it if they were paid better for their art so they wouldn’t have to take on a full-time or part-time job and just concentrate full-time on music.

Sam: As a consumer I love Spotify. I’ve discovered so many amazing artists through some great playlists. Though, as an artist I definitely feel torn on some level. It’s become such an important pillar in how you’re judged as a “successful” artist, so it’s tricky.

COVID-19 has obviously caused mayhem on all our lives, and as artists you both understand that more than most. That said, is there any music or non-music related phenomena popularized during the pandemic that you hope continues once this is all over?

Sam: I hope wearing masks continues haha. I like the idea of being able to wear a mask in crowded places whenever I want without anyone judging, is that weird?

I’ve read that you’re both already hard at work writing new songs. Without revealing too much, will these newer songs continue in the same vein as the ones on Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable, or will they be heading in a different direction?

Collin: We were fortunate to be able to co-write with other artists during the pandemic, and at this one writing session I noticed how the artist approached his ideas with almost a sense of invincibility that was completely inspiring to me. I’ve always struggled with my creative process – second guessing it, or thinking it wasn’t good enough and just letting the idea die. Being surrounded by people who didn’t think this way made me want to feel this way, so we’ve been trying to tap deeper into that creativity and further eliminate any barriers we still hang on to.  Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable I feel, was just a starting point. While I think we will always carry a bit of that pop vibe with us, our creative process is always evolving and I think the new material will inevitably be a reflection of that.

Sam: We’re always trying to evolve and grow as artists, so I definitely think the new material will be an evolved and extended version of what we began tapping into with Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable.

Anxious, Irrational, Fashionable is out now (independent).

Alex Viger-Collins is the host of Ashes to Ashes, your home for modern pop in all its forms, every Tuesday at 8:00 PM EST.