We talked to frontwoman (and lyrical genius) Greta Kline about the lure of her reflective lyricism.
Despite being just 24 years old, Greta Kline, the frontwoman and singer-songwriter of indie-pop band Frankie Cosmos, has an undeniable introspective power when it comes to writing lyrics. Going beyond her life experience, she captures emotions in concise sentences that are equal parts simple and poignant, sometimes by asking an existential question in the middle of a busy song, then throwing you into the depths of intimate nostalgia by reflecting on forgotten memories that somehow feel like your own. We caught up with Greta just before Frankie Cosmos’ third album and Sub Pop debut Vessel was released (it’s out now guys!) to discuss her writing process, the evolution of her music, and what it means to be a female musician today.
Can you tell me about the birth of Frankie Cosmos?
It began as just me writing songs alone in my room. I played my first solo show in the winter of 2011, I was 17. Frankie Cosmos slowly expanded over the following three years, first into a two piece with drums and guitar, then adding in bass, and then keys. In the past 3 years the bandmates have slowly changed, so each studio album has a different combination of players. I still start by writing all the songs alone in my room, but the process that follows that has grown and changed over the years, particularly the release process and touring.
You really have a knack for song writing. All of your lyrics are so intimate, relatable, and introspective. Where do you think this stemmed from? Were you always writing from an early age?
Thank you! I always wrote poems as a kid and started trying to make songs when I was about 10 years old. For me, songwriting is a place where I have conversations with myself and try to crack open my emotions, so it’s definitely really personal and raw for me. I never think about how they are going to be interpreted by an audience, I just write the songs I need to write…so I think some people really appreciate the intimacy of that.
As a former English/creative writing student you also have been known to write poetry. Do you think this has shaped your work as a lyricist?
I actually never declared a major in school (I didn’t go long enough to need to) but I did take a poetry class every semester I was there. So I definitely don’t have the practiced skills of a creative writing or English major, I never really developed an academic relationship to creative writing other than those 3 poetry classes. The main thing I took away from those classes was practicing sharing intimate work with strangers, and learning to edit myself— to ask myself how much each line needs to be there and what is it’s function. I think that helps me keep my songs so concise.
“There’s something to be said for making something from your immediate response, the pure emotion with no logic being turned straight into a song.”
I read somewhere that to write about your emotions, you wait until you’ve written “a million crazed journal entries about it”, then you go through it all until you find the line you need. Can you talk more about that? What does your writing process entail?
I have a lot of different writing processes, and that’s definitely one of them. Writing all the time and making as much work as possible often helps me get closer and closer to understanding the emotion I am trying to write about. Sometimes it feels easier to write about an emotion as you get further away from it, or to write a bunch of different songs about the same thing until you get to the one that feels right. But there’s also something to be said for making something from your immediate response, the pure emotion with no logic being turned straight into a song. I like to use a mix of both kinds of writing— there’s a handful of both styles on Vessel.
Do you find your writing voice evolving as you grow older?
It definitely keeps changing all the time. I keep changing all the time too!
How would you describe your latest album, Vessel?
Musically it’s kind of all over the place— there are solo songs on guitar and piano, and then there are these bigger sounding full band songs, some with as many as 5 instruments or 4 voices. Each bandmate definitely brings their own style and tendencies to their parts, so it sounds different from the other records in that way. And David and I (who are the only same members that played on our last album, Next Thing) have gotten more comfortable on our instruments (bass and guitar and vocals) and I think that’s noticeable in some of the parts we wrote. The album sounds very spontaneous at times, and is pretty similar to the sound of our live show. There isn’t one theme to the album lyrically, but some of the themes I noticed throughout are tension and grappling (often I couldn’t fully understand what I was feeling when I was writing the song, and the perspective will change throughout one song), bodies and our relationships with them, and being a musician.
“Jesse”—your first single which gave your listeners a glimpse into your sound with new label Sub Pop, was released before as a 2014 demo. The intro sounds so classic Frankie Cosmos, and then the song progresses into life with the new contributing elements you and your other band members added into your sound. When it comes to bringing out a new album, especially now you’re with a new record label; was there much discussion with the rest of the band about how you were going to evolve?
I think the evolution is very natural, it has never been a discussion or a plan. “Jesse” is actually one of the newer songs on the album, I wrote it in 2016 during the first tour with Next Thing. The recording has a noticeably bigger sound because our new bassist, Alex Bailey, wrote a second guitar part for it before he was in the band, and after I thought the song was done being arranged. He just had this idea and it really took the song to a new level for me. We have always been a band with mainly just rhythm guitar, almost never having two guitars at once, but after that, I started feeling like I could add more sounds like that without worrying about how we would do them live, which led to arrangements like Same Thing, Accommodate, and Ballad Of R&J making it onto the album.
“I have kinda given up on worrying too much about proving myself to strangers”
I love your second single, “Being Alive”. Can you tell me about the creative process and what went through your mind when creating this song? What does this song mean to you?
Thank you! “Being Alive” is one of the older ones that I previously released as a demo, so I wrote it a while ago and don’t fully remember what was going through my head. But we arranged it for the live show in 2016, and I can’t remember whose idea the tempo changes were (probably Luke, the drummer) but I love how it pairs with the lyrics. To me, this song is about feeling uncertain about your relationships, and wanting to know how everyone is feeling. It’s about searching for meaning in small moments- like when someone says “maybe see you later” to me and I wonder if it means something bigger than it sounds (or I want it to). The choruses are a refrain for times of hardship, a reminder that confusion and pain is part of something bigger, and being alive is a gift.
What do you draw on for motivation and inspiration?
Everything. Particularly humans and how we relate to each other and interact. I think it will remain interesting to me for many years to come.
In an interview you had somewhere, you were discussing how it important it is to talk about what it means to be a female musician, and you spoke about a couple of incidents where, despite having just fronted a show, you’d still get people coming up to the guys in the band to ask about the technical stuff or whatever. Do you feel like you constantly have to prove yourself?
I do feel this way at times. Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard you work as a woman, people are going to credit your work to men or make stupid assumptions. I have a chip on my shoulder about it, which also goes hand in hand with having started out doing everything myself for this band- including making merch by hand, booking tours from scratch, and self-releasing music that I made entirely by myself. It used to really piss me off to have people overlook the amount of work I put into making my art and managing everything. So because of that, I developed a reluctance to delegate—I still run our online merch store myself (hopefully not for much longer) and still do all of our accounting. I am slowly starting to accept that the business has gotten too big for me to possibly run every part of it, it gets in the way of time I could be spending working on actual music. I have kinda given up on worrying too much about proving myself to strangers— as long as I know I’m in charge, it’s fine.
What are you listening to right now?
2 Dope Queens! As for music— the new Anna McClellan album that’s coming out in March on Father/Daughter records. And My Episode by Pill Wonder.
You’ve just announced a biiiig tour. Have you got any memorable moments from touring in the past?
So many memories. I spend most of my life on tour. One of the most fun parts is getting to know the bands we go on tour with and collaborating with them…mostly we have people from the other bands come sing a chorus on Being Alive each night. So those are some fond memories from the past couple years.
Do you find it hard to get emotionally involved when performing your older songs? Or do you still feel connected to them in some way?
I always try and find new ways to connect to the songs. Sometimes they grow to mean something else entirely for me. If I didn’t find a way to emotionally connect, I think the performance would be pretty boring (for everyone) and I’d probably cut those songs…I don’t want it to feel like a robot is playing the show.
Apart from the tour and the new album, do you have any other plans for the year?
I started using a habit tracker this year and so far it’s been really good for me to hold myself accountable for eating better, drinking lots of water, exercising regularly, and other goals. I’m working hard at making that stuff part of my daily life while I’m on break from tour…so hopefully when all the touring starts I will be able to take those habits with me.
For more info on Frankie Cosmos and touring details, head on over to their website.