Greta Kline has released fifty-two albums to date. She is just twenty-four. The New Yorker has gone through many on-stage personas since her 2009 inception, including Ingrid Superstar, Little Bear, Zebu Fur – and, most recently, Frankie Cosmos. It all began on Bandcamp with debut release, Adventures, which sounds so lo-fi, it may have been recorded on a flip phone. Most tracks are under a minute long. They crackle and ring with subdued Daniel Johnston-esque vocals. Awkward and charming, they are the internal grapplings of adolescence sung softly in the night so as not to wake up mum and dad.
She’s come a long way. In 2014, Kline released Zentropy, her first studio album. Now, she’s touring her third. Vessel is certainly more sturdily built than her earlier releases, recorded in a studio rather than Kline’s bedroom, but it continues to sound honestly produced. The Sub Pop album boasts eighteen tracks in total which flit between decked-out, polished singles and skeletal vignettes. Butterscotch smooth and cymbal-heavy, Kline drops morsels of dreamy, feel-good nonchalance your way, while quailing heartache and anguish. A broken heart's never sounded so desirable.
Editor, Woody Cecilia, talks to Greta about that superhuman work ethic, getting homeschooled and Vessel, her band’s latest studio album.
Frankie Cosmos with new track, 'Jesse'
"If Iʼm not journaling or writing songs, Iʼll end up not being very in touch with how Iʼm feeling. I donʼt know if songwriting is as directly helpful as therapy, but itʼs where I have conversations with myself."
Cool Brother: So, if Vessel is your 52nd album ever released, how many unreleased songs do you think you’ve written?
Greta Kline: Probably hundreds! I would say at least three-hundred or so…
CB: What happens if you don’t write for a while?
GK: Well, I haven’t gone that long without writing something – I think I just go through different phases where the way I write is different. Like, particularly when we’re touring, as I don’t have time to sit down and play music, so that’s when my writing songs gets weird. I’ll have a notebook filled with ideas, and then I’ll get home with all these songs that I wanna make. But, because I have so many different things that I’m trying to make at once, it ends up very different to if I was just sitting down on a regular day and starting a song.
CB: Do you find yourself in a different headspace to usual if you can’t write?
GK: Yeah! If I’m not journaling or writing songs, I’ll end up not being very in touch with how I’m feeling. I don’t know if [songwriting] is as directly helpful as therapy, but it’s where I have conversations with myself.
CB: How do you go about writing a song, whatʼs your method?
GK: It depends. Recently, I’ve kept a notebook filled with scraps of ideas and then I’ll sit down and try and turn it into a song from there. I don’t usually have full days devoted to writing a song, but I’m pretty much songwriting during any free time that I have. It’s often really late at night after a long day of doing other stuff. It’ll be bedtime and I’ll just start coming up with an idea and working on something then. It’s always kind of been like that for me, ‘cos when I was in school, I’d get to write a song when I was done with my schoolwork.
Frankie Cosmos with new track, 'Being Alive'
"I was playing a song about this guy and in the middle, his brother and good friend walk in, but thatʼs something thatʼs continued to happen throughout my life. Iʼll have a song that I feel is obviously about someone, and then I have to wonder whether theyʼre in the room, or whether they know."
CB: I heard that during one of your first shows, you sang a song you’d written about someone and his brother walked into the room. True or false?
GK: [Laughs] I was playing a song about this guy who I had this weird relationship with. At the time, I thought it was very obviously about him – and, in the middle, his brother and his good friend walk in. I felt like such a freak, but that’s something that’s continued to happen throughout my life. I’ll have a song that I feel is obviously about someone, and then I have to wonder whether they’re in the room, or whether they know.
CB: How do you handle those sorts of situations now?
GK: I think now, for me, when I write something that’s about a specific person, it’s usually getting boiled down to a feeling that I associate with the person, so there are lines that I remember writing about certain people, but they don’t mean the same to me anymore. I’m not saying people’s names or making comments about them – it’s more just a memory or feeling, so it doesn’t affect me as much.
CB: What made you decide to drop out of high school?
GK: I spent my whole summer leading up to tenth grade reading and writing music and learning on my own. I’m a naturally curious person, and I’m not against learning – but then I started tenth grade. I was like, ‘This feels like a really stifling environment and it’s making me stupider.’ I’d been reading about alternative schooling methods for maybe four months leading up to it, so I presented the idea to my parents with some literature about it. It was weird, because it wasn’t such a thought out thing when it happened. I got sick at one point, so I had a week off school – then, by the time I was better, they wanted me to catch up on all the work that I’d missed and it just seemed impossible. I was like, “I’ve been sick for a week and I’ve gotta write ten essays by tomorrow? It doesn’t make sense.” So, I just didn’t go back after being sick, basically.
CB: Did you know you wanted a future in music?
GK: No, not at all.
CB: But you knew you were going to do something creative…
GK: No, actually, not directly – not like a job in the arts. I mean, creative in other ways, sure – but, originally, I wanted to be a teacher. Which is still something I’m kind of interested in.
CB: Wait, you want to be a teacher, but you’re against schools?
GK: Well, I think if you have a really good teacher, it can make it worth it. I had so many teachers that changed my life. But I think that certain elements of the school system in America are really poorly designed. It requires everybody to move at exactly the same pace, which just isn’t realistic. You end up with kids who already understand something having to learn it over-and-over again, or having kids who aren’t understanding it get jumped ahead to stuff they don’t understand. I mean, I don’t know, its just very sad. It’s still something that I’m very passionate about.
CB: Yeah! The future could be a good one, but we need someone to flip everything around a bit.
GK: Yeah, my dream for a while was to start a school that’s better, but I don’t know if I’m necessarily the person to do that. I’m just really passionate about it.
CB: If you’re passionate about it, that’s a good start though.
GK: I read this really great book that you should read. It’s ‘A Mathematician’s Lament’ by Paul Lockhart. It’s really good – it’s written by a math teacher who talks about how math is just taught completely wrong. Like, to the point where we don’t even understand what math is correctly. It’s really interesting.
Frankie Cosmos with 'Outside with the Cuties'
"I spent my whole summer leading up to tenth grade reading, writing music and learning on my own. Iʼm a naturally curious person, and Iʼm not against learning – but then I started tenth grade. Iʼd been reading about alternative schooling methods, so I presented the idea to my parents with some literature about it..."
CB: What was getting homeschooled like then, what were the perks?
GK: The perks were being able to have a flexible schedule, being able to go outside, not having to sit in a chair for eight hours straight – and I also had really amazing teachers. I had three different teachers, and one of them is still one of my best friends. She was kind of my English and history teacher, but we would talk for hours, often going past the allotted class time. She also taught me how to write essays, which I think is a skill that I’m really happy to have, especially when I moved to college and if there was something that I wanted to explore, I could. I had some control over where the studies went. It wasn’t just like, ‘Here’s your curriculum and it’s unchanging.’ So, yeah, it was awesome.
CB: That sounds pretty creatively stimulating.
GK: Yeah! I think the best thing about it was if I was working on a song and I literally wanted [to get it] done, she could just not come over – or she’d be like, “Move our class time back two hours and you can finish the song!” You can’t be doing that in real school [laughs]. I feel like that was definitely really good for me.
CB: Okay, so talk to us a little bit about Vessel. What’s it about lyrically?
GK: It’s kind of all over the place, lyrically. There are a lot of conflicting ideas within the same songs, and there’s a lot of me trying to understand what I want and grappling with what to do and how I feel in certain situations. There’s a lot of tension and there are a lot of questions marks. When I looked at all of the lyrics, I was like, ‘Wow there are so many question marks throughout the album!’ I think that’s the theme throughout.
CB: Did you get any answers to your question marks?
GK: I think I’m slowly getting a lot of answers. I think one of the coolest things about writing songs is seeing how they change after you’ve written them. We finished the album almost a year ago, so these songs have really evolved. It’s really interesting seeing how the meanings of them have changed and seeing what they were really about has become clearer. I think they were an outlet for the things that I felt I couldn’t say, and now I get to not only understand what I was feeling, but I also get to say it out loud every night for the next year.
CB: Let’s hope no ex-boyfriends’ brothers walk in the room though!
GK: Yeah, pray. I just found out that I have to go to a wedding that that persons gunna be at and I’m so freaked out.
CB: What’s your favourite song on the new album?
GK: Ooh, my favourite song! I wanna say ‘Ballad of R&J.’ It’s just really new sounding for us, and it’s the first song I’ve ever not sang all of the main vocals on, so it’s kind of exciting in that way to me.
CB: ‘Jesse’ is great too! I heard there’s a quite a cool story behind that song…
GK: Umm yeah, it’s about a bunch of stuff. There were two things that really inspired me to sit down and write that song. One of them was this dream that I had, and the other was that I had read this book and I had visited this really weird art installation while we were on tour. They both made me feel like reality was just one dimension of many, and that made me feel very empowered to make big changes. I felt like reality was subject to change and that perception is very personal, and that everybody has such a different experience of the world. It was just really weird, so I felt like I had to write about it! But, yeah, I wanted to mess around with these different ideas and question what I want from being in this realm. Like, do I want you to be scared? Do I want to be alone? Do I want to change? Just kind of questioning a bunch of things.
Frankie Cosmos with 'Art School'
"Vessel is kind of all over the place, lyrically. Thereʼs a lot of me trying to understand what I want. When I looked at all of the lyrics, I was like, 'Wow, there are so many question marks throughout the album!' I think Iʼm slowly getting a lot of answers."
CB: And I guess songwriting must be good therapy for things like that in a way, just putting things into words or into music. What’s your general mood and feeling once you’ve put out a record?
GK: It’s funny, because it’s such a long process that I go through so many different reactions to it. I really like the song ‘Jesse’ – I was really excited to put it out, and I just decided that I didn’t care what anybody might think about it. It doesn’t feel different to have it out than to have it just exist, to me. So this is the first time of me figuring out the way of dealing with it being out in the world. Part of why I write songs is that I can’t express certain things just in a conversation, so that’s why I write them, and so to me the song is extremely personal and an extremely deep part of me that’s then being presented to the whole world for them to have their own interpretation of, which is totally fine – but it’s a bit freaky to have people interpret it differently than me. So, yeah, I have a very sensitive reaction to releasing music. I’m still figuring out my system for how to face it.
CB: So the night before your album’s released must be a mixture of emotions! Does it kind of feel like the night before Christmas when you’re a kid?
GK: [Laughs] I guess so! It’s funny ‘cos, for me, the most exciting thing is sending it to the people that I’m really close with. Like, I was so excited when the album was finished and I got to send it to the people who worked on it. That was more like that feeling. Like, I can’t wait to see what these people think because they help me exist. And just getting to share it with your friends too, so I almost feel like it’s out after that point… I don’t know – I think I feel very excited every time that I send it to anyone, because usually it’s my friends. But having strangers hear it is also exciting and scary, as they get to hear the next thing I’ve made.
Wait, what’s the best reaction that you’ve had to it so far?
GK: I mean, I love my friends – they often will be listening to the album and text me the entire time they’re listening to it, in all caps, being like, ‘OH MY GOD, THIS SONG,’ sending me their favourite lyrics and stuff. That’s really nice – just watching the people I care about, who’s opinions I respect, react to it.
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