In sunny San Francisco, Greta Kline is telling her bandmates to shut up. Of course, the artist known as Frankie Cosmos phrases the demand as a question and with a laugh – a firm laugh.
The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, known for clever, conversational songs and intimate delivery, is also a bandleader these days. The New York-based artist has been prolific, releasing hundreds of songs online over the past few years, winning fans for the recordings' poetic bedroom quality. Yet currently, Kline fronts a foursome, which includes members of Porches and Gabrielle Smith of Eskimeaux. The band recorded and recently released Frankie Cosmos's second full-length, Next Thing, and she's now exposed to more intense scrutiny – and other people's hangups.
We talked about looking back at 22, Justin Bieber and pushing against imposed narratives.
Westword: How do you feel about the new album coming out?
Greta Kline: I feel good about it. It's been done for a while, and it's such a weight lifted to have it out in the world, and it's nice to have people listening to it. It's really fun to get to play it every night.
Some of the songs you've been playing for a while.
A couple of them we've been playing since our first tour.
Everyone mentions that your stage name comes from liking the poet Frank O'Hara. Is that true, or is there more to it?
To some extent, it's true. At the time when I made up the stage name, I was really into his work and had shown it to my partner, and he had nicknamed me 'Frank.' But now that's not the main root of it.
Do you think there's some resonance between Frank O'Hara's work and your songwriting?
Yeah, if anything, reading his work made me think that it was cool to write about everything going on, and write art and poetry like a journal and treat it the same way.
The stream of consciousness and the little details.
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Yeah, and finding beauty in everything. He definitely does that.
What other musicians (or non-musician artists) are you in conversation with?
I feel like I am in conversation with everything I take in, because whether I like it or not, it's going to influence my thoughts or cause a reaction in me. But if I had to pick an artist that I look up to and am inspired by, it's Matisse, because of how many times he would paint the same idea until he felt like he maybe got it right, and I try to do the same thing with my writing.
About the choice to perform under a stage name: Does it allow you to do something different with your music or performance?
It allows me to be more vulnerable. It's kind of a wall between just like Greta getting up on stage and saying shit that's happening in her life. More like a character in a story.
It seems like people interpret your lyrics as Greta saying shit.
Yeah, and I hate that [laughs]!
Would you like people to read your songs as more of a persona or voice separate from Greta?
Yeah — I hate having people make assumptions about what the lyrics mean in the first place. Or projecting things onto my relationship that they don't know about is really stressful.
Are there examples of that happening?
Recently, I've had three or four articles say that a song of mine [“Is It Possible/Sleep Song”] is about a quote-unquote abusive relationship, and that's been really awful to read. Because they're totally making it up, and that's annoying. That's new terrain for me.
Next Thing is looking back at your teenage years. Do you feel like whatever you're writing now — is it going to also be looking back, or is it all new?
I think part of the process of putting out a record is always looking back, because by the time a song comes out, it's been a year since you wrote it. Half of the next record is written already, so definitely that stuff will feel pretty old by the time it comes out. Although all the new stuff I'm writing is a lot about touring, so it'll feel pretty relevant, if my life is anything like now. I feel like I got a lot of stuff out of my system.
You're really prolific. Is there anything from early days that you wish wasn't online or available to people?
I don't think about it that much, but I think it's cool because I'm not embarrassed. It's good for people to be able to see an archive of an artist learning how to write and getting better, especially for teenagers who are starting to write. To see that I started out making pretty easy and weird and bad-sounding music, and that you can teach yourself how to write over a long period of time.
It's like artistic transparency.
Can you tell me about your collaboration with Gabby Smith of Eskimeaux?
This is our last tour with Gabby in the band.... She is really great. I needed to have a last tour with her for my own emotional experience of losing her as a bandmate because of her own success, which is a great problem to have. In a way, we tricked her into coming on this tour.... 'If we do the Eskimeaux/Frankie Cosmos tour, then you have to play in our band!' I've done what she's doing, playing two shows a night in two different bands, and it's really taxing, so I'm sure that's slightly annoying for her, but she's doing great. She's the biggest trouper I know. It's really fun, especially because this album is the first thing with all of our bands' influences on it, so it's good to have three-fourths of the album band on tour, and you can really hear Gabby doing her parts.
I'm going to ask you a question I hate to ask, but I have to keep asking while it's necessary. What's the most fucked-up thing you've experienced as a female musician?
[Laughs.] Wow. The thing that I'm feeling the most right now because it's the most continuous thing that happens – it's not necessarily gendered, but it feels like maybe it wouldn't happen if I were male – it's having people touch me, unwarranted. That's definitely the hardest thing about being on tour and 3,000 miles from my partner: having someone ask to take a picture and then throwing their arms around me and touching my body, and I didn't say that you could do that. I could tell a lot of things that probably other women have told you...[laughs] I could go on all day.
What would you say to men in the music industry to be better allies?
I've never had an experience where a bandmate was making me feel shitty in a gendered, sexist way. It's always coming from strangers. I don't know what bandmates are doing to make them feel terrible, but if you have the opportunity to not have an all-male band, definitely do it.
This is a stupid example, but it's a good example of how to be a good male bandmate: My bandmate David has often had the promoter of the show come up and say, “Who should I settle with?,” assuming that he's in charge, but he always points to me and says, “She's the boss.” That's the best thing you can do — make sure everyone's on the same page. I feel really lucky.
Also, I guess my advice would be [if you have a problematic bandmate], get that dude out of your band.
On this tour, I got to choose [the venue] in one of the cities, and it was between a venue that was not as good and a venue that had a really sexist sound guy, and we picked the venue that was not as good. Once you're in a position where you can choose to not be around toxic environments, just do that as much as you can.
Amen. In the “Art School” video, you play an obsessed Justin Bieber fan. What are your feelings about Biebz?
Honestly, I only knew one song of his before we made that video. His new stuff, I kind of love it. He became a sensation just after I was the age where I could have gotten into him, so I feel like I missed out on something that a lot of my peers actually did like. Probably because I was precocious and obnoxious. Now that I'm down to like what I like and not be pretentious, I love the new Justin Bieber. Shout out to Justin, if you wanna collab.
I just saw him, and he was pretty dead-eyed.
Oooh, that's where I'm headed.
He was kind of like a heartthrob robot.
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That's what I wanna be: a heartthrob robot.
In the song “I'm 20,” you wrote, “I'm 20/Washed up already.” If you were to write a song called “I'm 22,” what would it sound like?
It would probably be about being unexpectedly set on a career path for the last few years. A lyric might be “I'm 22/Still doing this weird thing I do.”
Frankie Cosmos plays Lost Lake Lounge on Saturday, April 23, at 9 p.m. Eskimeaux and Yowler also perform.