GRETA KLINE (FRANKIE COSMOS) IN NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 2016. PHOTOS: DAEMIAN SMITH + CHRISTINE SAUREZ. STYLNG: NINA STERGHIOU/BRIDGE ARTISTS. HAIR: HOLLY MILLS AT TIM HOWARD MANAGEMENT. MAKEUP: KAJSA SVANBERG AT ART DEPARTMENT USING DIOR ADDICT. MANICURE: YUKIE MIYAKAWA AT KATE RYAN INC FOR DIOR VERNIS. SPECIAL THANKS: SOHO GRAND HOTEL.
Greta Kline is not used to wearing makeup. The 22-year-old singer/songwriter (whose stage name, Frankie Cosmos, is an homage to writer Frank O’Hara) arrives at our interview straight from a photo shoot, wearing turquoise eye shadow and heels, and introduces herself with an embarrassed laugh, “I’m Greta. I don’t look like this,” before taking a brief leave to remove the makeup and change into overalls and Blundstone boots for our conversation.
Kline’s new album, Next Thing (out next Friday, April 1 via Bayonet Records), is her second label release (although she has nearly 50 demo albums on Bandcamp), and it’s as unpretentious as she is. Full of punchy guitar lines and playful harmonies, the 15-track folk-pop LP is lighthearted and witty, yet deeply introspective, and even melancholy at times. On the song “On the Lips,” she sings, “I watch David Blaine / Find myself believing / in anything … Sometimes I cry ’cause I know / I’ll never have all the answers.”
“I wrote half of the songs on the album when I was younger,” the Manhattan-based musician says, “then I let my emotions sit for years and wrote the other half about the same subjects, but from a more mature perspective.” The result is a moving, thoughtful record, from a singer who is clearly—and refreshingly—acting like no one but herself.
We spoke with Kline about Next Thing over coffee at the Soho Grand Hotel.
EMMA MUNGER: Was music a big part of your childhood?
GRETA KLINE: I started studying piano when I was six and my older brother introduced me to some cool bands pretty early on. He has weird encyclopedic music knowledge. When I was 12, he showed me Jeffrey Lewis, The Moldy Peaches, and all that New York, anti-folk scene stuff. It’s good to have an older sibling.
MUNGER: When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
KLINE: It was kind of a gradual thing. When I was 14, I listened to lots of songwriters from Westchester, like Old Table, Kate Ferencz, and Aaron Maine [also known as Porches], and they made me realize I could record in my house, so I started doing that. But years went by before I had any kind of itch to perform. I played my first show when I was 17, and that was a big moment. I realized it was something I could keep doing.
MUNGER: Where was that show?
KLINE. It was at a café in Westchester, and Aaron booked it as our friend’s going away party. But I had no idea how to play a show. I didn’t make a set-list. I didn’t even bring a guitar. I was so stupid! I borrowed Aaron’s guitar, which is how we became friends, and now he’s been my boyfriend for four years.
MUNGER: Do you enjoy playing intimate shows like that?
KLINE: They make me nervous. At that show I remember playing a song that was clearly about this boy I knew, and I looked up and noticed his brother walking into the room. I freaked out and completely froze. Even now I prefer performing to a huge room of strangers than a very intimate group of friends. I close my eyes hard when I play.
MUNGER: How did you and Aaron first meet? Was it at that show?
KLINE: It was before that show. I was a big fan of his music, and I kind of forced us to meet…it was a little manipulative. [laughs] We had a mutual friend, Steve, and I kept asking him to introduce us. But a year passed between us meeting and us dating. Eventually he got texting on his phone, and he started texting me. And I sent him my music. Some time after that he called me and asked if I’d like to play a show, which was really nice of him. Totally took a chance on a fresh face!
MUNGER: You and Aaron recently stopped playing in each other’s bands—he played drums in Frankie Cosmos and you were the bassist in Porches. Do you miss Porches?
KLINE: It’s definitely going to be sad touring separately, but it’s also such a weight off—I appreciate not having to play multiple sets a night. When I first joined Porches, I felt like I needed to be in the band, because as Aaron’s girlfriend, I couldn’t be in the audience watching him play, especially because lots of the songs then were about his ex-girlfriends. But now I don’t feel like a groupie because I played in the band for three years, so I can watch my boyfriend serenade me, and it’s nice.
MUNGER: Do you like touring?
KLINE: I do like touring, but Aaron doesn’t.
MUNGER: I don’t know why, but I’d guess the opposite.
KLINE: I feel like touring is a man’s game. And I don’t think that’s sexist; I just think on tour you can’t really take care of yourself the way you want to. But it’s also a young person’s game, and I’m younger than Aaron, so that’s my advantage.
MUNGER: Did any non-musical careers ever appeal to you?
KLINE: At one point I wanted to study teaching. If I ever go back to college I’d study art education.
MUNGER: I read that Sharon Van Etten is going back to school to become a therapist, so anything’s possible!
KLINE: Wow! That’s beautiful. One of the cool things about traveling and being a musician is that you meet so many people who have studied different things, and have different careers. It teaches you about all the things you could do that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. Every time we play a college show I feel like I’m shopping for colleges.
MUNGER: Any colleges you really liked?
KLINE: Plenty of them. The first day of the first Porches tour was at Bennington [College] and I loved it—you could tell special stuff was coming out of there. We also made a friend there who’s now the bassist of Porches.
MUNGER: I saw Porches play a fantastic show at Kenyon College when I was a student there.
KLINE: I remember that show! We played with SPORTS. Oh my god, they’re so good. I think they covered “Party in the USA,” which was awesome. Kenyon is another school that made me think, “Damn, this is a cool scene.”
MUNGER: Did you have stage fright when you started performing?
KLINE: Yes. Playing in Porches really helped me overcome that. It wasn’t so personal, and I wasn’t the focus, so it really brought me out of my shell.
MUNGER: How do you write songs?
KLINE: I always have a notebook on me and I write lyrics in it a lot. When I’m walking around, I’ll whistle a melody into my phone [because I feel embarrassed singing on the street], and then write down lyrics. Then I spend a couple days to a couple weeks turning those vague, quick ideas into a song, and I bring it to the band when it’s finished. Then it’s very collaborative; we help write each other’s parts. Next Thing is also the first four-person band arrangement, which is exciting for me.
MUNGER: The songs on Next Thing are very personal. Do you feel vulnerable when you perform them?
KLINE: A lot of the songs on Next Thing are about me at 16 or 17, and playing them live feels like going through my life again. The last track, “O Dreaded C Town,” took me years to write, and I doubt that the person I wrote it about would know or care, but it’s a total “fuck you” to them. I wish my 16-year-old self could’ve heard it because, really, I wrote that song for her. I would love for a teen to hear it and think, “Oh yeah, I get that, fuck this person in my life.” It’s not about my shit; it’s about a more universal emotion, I think, I hope.
MUNGER: Do you get asked frequently about what it’s like to be a female musician?
KLINE: It’s something people don’t talk about enough. I manage our tours, and at the end of every night, the people at the venue will go up to a boy in my band and say, “Hey so who do I talk to about settling?” My band mates always point at me and say, “Her!” and I’m like, “Yeah, didn’t you just watch me front the show? I’m clearly in charge.”
I also think getting labeled as a “female musician” is stupid. It shouldn’t be a thing. I’m a musician. The boys in my band are musicians. It’s gross that it has to be gendered. Somebody referred to Maya Laner, the new bassist in Porches, as “the new girl in Porches,” which really pissed me off. And yes, Porches did purposely choose a girl because I was singing vocal parts when I was in the band, and they wanted a girl to sing them. But the idea that it’s a token girl…it’s just gross.
MUNGER: That reminds me of this Portlandia sketch—Fred Armisen plays an obnoxious audience member who lectures St. Vincent about her guitar gear.
KLINE: Oh my god that’s so real. When people say things like, “You should use this amp,” I’m always like, “Um, I’ve already figured out what kind of amp I should use, you asshole.”
MUNGER: Who have you been listening to lately?
KLINE: A lot of Joanna Newsom, also Townes Van Zandt’s record Live at the Old Quarter, and a lot of my friends’ bands. I’m excited about the new Cende record, which is the solo project of Cameron Wisch, who drums in Porches. I’m singing on it, and it’ll probably come out next year. And Anna McClellan, who’s opening for us on tour. I’m obsessed with her album.
MUNGER: How would you spend your ideal day?
KLINE: It’d be the summer and I’d just walk around with Aaron. Then we’d relax at home and watch TV—Seinfeld or something. That’s my dream day, especially now that Aaron and I are about to spend a lot of time apart on tour. Whenever I have free time I’m like, “Aaron, wanna hang out?” ‘Cause he’s my best friend.
MUNGER: Well, thanks for doing this. How will you spend the rest of your day today?
KLINE: Thank you! I have a voice lesson in a bit. I’m done with press for the day—now it’s on to personal improvement.
NEXT THING WILL BE RELEASED NEXT FRIDAY, APRIL 1, 2016 VIA BAYONET RECORDS. FOR MORE ON FRANKIE COSMOS, VISIT HER BANDCAMP.