Back in 2015, a rising pop star named Halsey took an unknown band from Oregon on the road as the opening act on her Badlands tour. They were called Flor, and they spent a month that fall playing small venues across the U.S. and Canada and learning a lot in the process.
“We got crazy lucky with Halsey taking us on tour — for a tour we probably weren’t prepared for entirely,” says lead vocalist Zach Grace. “It helped shape what we wanted. Because seeing the shows just packed with the energy, we knew this is what we were capable of, this is what we want.”
Seven years later, he, bassist Dylan Bauld, guitarist McKinley Kitts, and drummer Kyle Hill are sitting around a table sipping drinks at a Hollywood rooftop bar with the sun shining bright. Today is an off day from their current tour — this time they’re opening for Nashville pop-rock group the Band Camino — and they’re pretty tired, but they’re hosting a little kickback to celebrate the release of Future Shine, their third album for Fueled by Ramen. All four members of the band are in good moods, cracking jokes and relaxing, even though this is a big moment for them. They’re set on making this record the one that breaks them through.
“I said to myself, ‘I want this album to be one of the only albums I listen to this year,’” Grace says with an ear-to-ear smile. “I want to feel that good and that confident about what we’ve done.”
The almost-summer vibes of the hang mirror the bright optimism of the new record. And the giddiness of the four Oregon musicians reflects an obvious excitement for a project that’s been years in the making, going all the way back to when Grace, Bauld, and Kitts decided to form a band as teenagers in their tiny town of Hood River, Oregon, a decade ago. (Hill joined as their drummer a bit later via a Craigslist ad.)
With the new record, they went back to their roots. “We pretended we were writing songs in our garage again,” says Kitts. “We went back to the very beginning. And we were literal about it.”
For much of the LP’s creation, the guys sat together in Bauld’s studio and thought about what they wanted to say on the new album. Their first two records — Come Out. You’re Hiding and Ley Lines — were songs they made “in the moment,” says Bauld. This time, they wanted to think things through.
“We were quarantined for months, not seeing each other. When we finally got back into a room, we had this build-up,” Hill says. “It just kind of exploded.” Adds Grace, “It felt like we had gone away for summer and then come back for the first day of school… That energy of being like, ‘Oh shit, all my best friends are back together. And we’re here again.’”
At first, the record was going to have a darker name: The Last Safe Place was one possibility they considered, Grace says. “But that was like a little too much,” he adds with a laugh. “We took that negative connotation of ‘This is the last place we have’ and turned it into, like, ‘We’re actually going into a beautiful new place.’ So rather than closing in on ourselves, we opened up, which is much more in line with the band.”
Flor’s 2017 debut album included love songs like “Heart” and “Hold On,” whose dream-pop elements explode with a natural sense of optimism. 2019’s Ley Lines was similar: Songs like “Little Light One” and “Dancing Around” are laced with a feel-good lightness.
For the guys, the new LP is a soundtrack for the “transitional” moments in life — whether that’s them entering their late twenties or a kid going through puberty. “It meets people, wherever that coming of age is for them,” says Grace. “When I was writing ‘Play Along,’ I was thinking back at who I was at 16. How every day was just filled with endless opportunity, how I believed in a better world and in the power of good.”
The LP opens with “the most left-field Flor opening ever,” says Grace. The track is lyrically bleak, but holds a synthy backbone that builds up to a happy moment. “We absolutely jar everyone with this first song, which is about how we can’t figure out how to be decent human beings and how to take care of our planet,” Grace says. “I don’t really get much of a glimpse of hope.”
Adds Kitts: “The glimpse of hope is afterward, with the rest of the record. I feel like it opens the record really well. It puts you in this place and then the rest of the record kind of heals you.”
Take their single “Big Shot,” with its chorus inspired by a sarcastic inside joke between the group’s members. “Whenever someone’s ego is getting a little high up there and think a little too much of themselves, we’re like ‘Oh, you think you’re a big shot, hot guy?’” says Grace. “And it was just the funniest thing to us, probably because we’re crazy.”
When that song began, they had a melody going but no actual lyrics for the song. “We were joking,” Bauld says. “We honestly scrapped the song and moved on, but then I went back and was like, ‘All right, that was kind of catchy. Let me see what it is.’ ” Bauld brought the song back to Grace, who was not impressed with the bassist’s idea at first: “Oh no, Dylan actually wants to do this,” Grace remembers telling his bandmates. “And then I listened to it, and I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ “
The lyrics started to build, just like the song crescendos into its massive, stadium-sized chorus: “Big shot, hot guy, long nights/Sipping on whiskey, West Coast lullaby/But you’ll be up ’til six in the morning/How you keep it going all night?”
Looking back, Grace says, “We we put our energy exactly where it needed to be.”
That same energy that exists with their inside jokes permeates the band’s relationship with each other. It takes a special level of balance, they all agree. “What do you do aside from fall in love with each other more and more?” says Kitts. “You don’t quit, you work through it, no matter what it is.”
Adds the typically quiet Hill, “At the end of the day, we just all share that common goal of ‘This is what we want out of life.’ And it doesn’t really have anything to do with the fame or the money or the rockstar lifestyle. We’re all connected by the common thread of performing music live. Every little bit of growth that we experience just reinforces that. Honestly, just get to share it is fucking awesome.”
Since their early days, the group has remained united — even if a big hit hasn’t arrived just yet. “This band has always been slow and steady growth,” Kitts says. He points to Portugal. The Man as an example of the kind of career path they aspire to: “It took them a really long time, and they eventually wrote what they needed to write.”
To celebrate the release of their album, Flor are doing performing three shows across the country within 24 hours Friday and Saturday. They’ll start in New York to celebrate the release, before flying to Los Angeles for a 10 a.m. show, and then ending the night with a performance in their native Hood River, Oregon.
They aren’t into namedropping, but Flor have picked up some famous fans on their journey. During one 300-person show in their early days at a now-defunct venue, they saw an unassuming Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots bobbing his head and watching them perform.
“He helps us load in the drums,” jokes Kitts. “We were with him the day that Blurryface came out. And he was eating Domino’s in Dylan’s house. We were like, ‘Dude, you’re album’s Number One!’ And he was like, ‘Cool.’ “
“I just really love that guy,” Bauld adds. “He is just one of the most genuine human beings I’ve ever met, and he’s so supportive too.”
He then smiles and takes off his pair of sunglasses: “Speaking of Josh Dun, he left these at my studio. I told him I’m gonna wear them for my Rolling Stone interview.”