Greta Kline On Reclaiming Old Love Songs & Frankie Cosmos’ New Album Vessel
Over the last few years, starting with 2014’s Zentropy, Frankie Cosmos has become less the sole outlet for Greta Kline and more a shifting coterie of musicians that are pulled into her orbit. Kline’s songs have become more confident and dexterous with time, and her third full-length, Vessel (out at the end of March), is perhaps her most accomplished collection to date. It’s certainly the first where it feels like there was more than one creative voice in the room, ping-ponging off each other to create some truly magical moments.
For the recording of Vessel, the cast of characters included Kline, bassist David Maine, keyboardist Lauren Martin, and drummer Luke Pyenson. That lineup has already shifted, with Alex Bailey — formerly of Warehouse; also in side project Lexie with Kline — taking over on bass. Kline has locked into the potential of having a full band backing her, something that’s apparent in the more ambitious and muscular compositions on Vessel. There are swerves and slides here that Kline wouldn’t have been able to pull off nearly as well on her own.
“Everyone’s trying not to stifle each other’s creativity,” Kline explains. “I come in with the song — and maybe all I’ll have are the chords or the vocal part or a little idea for something — and then it’s just about doing your thing and making what you want to make. We talk about it and try different stuff out. There were certain songs on this new album that we tried a hundred different ways to get the perfect way. There’s a little bit of a laboratory feel to it when you’re arranging.”
That more collaborative approach can be heard on every song on the album. New single “Apathy” (which you can listen to below) is fizzy and exuberant. It showcases each individual instrument, all fitting tightly together like a puzzle piece. The way the bass snakes around the drums, how the keyboard chimes in as the rest of the band takes a breather, the way Kline ebbs and flows around the entire construction. “Do you wanna go on a date? Or would that be hard to orchestrate?” she sings, each syllable matched with a shift in the track.
The flexibility seen while plotting out these songs has also translated over to Kline’s writing, which is more mature and multiplicitous than ever. It’s a change that’s laid out on “Apathy” in the song’s closing lines: “You could take me and my apathy/ Turn us into clarity.” That newfound clarity makes itself known throughout Vessel: This is Frankie Cosmos elevated to an even higher level, bursting with melody and ideas.
I spoke to Kline about reclaiming old love songs, staying sane on tour, and what her new album is about. Read our Q&A below and listen to Frankie Cosmos’ new single “Apathy” right now.
STEREOGUM: How do you feel like your personal writing process has changed over the years?
GRETA KLINE: It’s not really different, although after I’ve written a song or made a demo, sometimes I’ll discern that it might be better with the band. Or I might think, This is kind of finished as a demo. There are four songs on the new album that are not with the full band, and that’s a decision that I made. These songs are finished, I want them to be super bare. There’s a tiny song that I wrote on the piano that’s just piano and vocals, nothing else on it. And there’s a demo recording that made it onto the album where’s it’s just me, so it sounds really different.
STEREOGUM: Which one is that?
KLINE: “The End.” We had tried to arrange it and I wasn’t really feeling it, so we just did that instead. I guess I’m a little bit more aware that the demo’s not always the finish line now, where as in the past I would make a demo and would be like, The song’s finished being written, I don’t care about it anymore. Where now I’m like, Well, I wrote this song, I have to really like it, and I have to bring it to the band and work on it and then we have to record it and play it live for three years.
STEREOGUM: You want to make sure that it’s solid.
KLINE: Exactly. Songs that are more fleeting or that I’m not super emotionally connected to maybe won’t make the cut. But it’s still the same kind of writing process in general.
STEREOGUM: Is there anything you miss about the spontaneity of throwing songs up on Bandcamp and being done with it?
KLINE: I do miss the urgency of it and not having to worry about it. I’ve written at least 40 or 50 new songs since the songs on Vessel were written, so those are all way newer to me and more exciting, and now I have to sit on them. I do sometimes wish that I could throw a bunch more music out, but it is such a long process to put out music.
STEREOGUM: Can you not do that because of the business side of things? Or is that just something you don’t want to do anymore?
KLINE: I could do it, but I think that it steps on the toes of the labels and people that have been involved in trying to push this album. I don’t want to take away from the work that everyone else is doing. Now that there are so many people involved in promoting this Frankie Cosmos album — there’s labels, there’s a booking agent — we’re like a team. I don’t want to be like, Hey, thanks for putting all this work into Vessel but I care more about this thing that I’m just going to put on Bandcamp in one second and use that instead. It feels kind of bad. So I’m respecting the process.
But I do think that’s why I’ve been doing other projects, like Lexie, to fill the time. All those songs on the Lexie album that came out last year are newer than the songs on Vessel. I just wanted to put that out because it was very meaningful to me in that moment, and nobody cared. Sub Pop was like, that’s cool. So that was awesome. It’s nice that they’re not too worried about getting in the way. And I’m fine to make sure it doesn’t get too much in the way in terms of timing. It’s more just for when I’m not on tour with Frankie Cosmos — we can do that and it’s fun. It’s a side project for fun and I’m trying to keep it feeling like that.
STEREOGUM: When you were doing it all by yourself, you played live all the time, but now that you have more mechanics behind you, it makes sense that you wouldn’t be able to do it as much. You also lose that creative outlet…
KLINE: I mean, I still have that creative outlet. I just don’t have that immediate feeling of getting to share it with other people. But I also feel like I’ve gotten to the point where the release of it is less exciting to me than the point where I just get to send it to my friends. I already sent all those songs to my friends and family as demos because it’s fun. And when the album’s done, I get to share that with my friends, too, but the release of it to a wider audience is less significant to me. It’s more just like, OK, now we get to play the songs live. I’m still trying to negotiate my relationship with performing and what it means to me and how much I want it to be important to me.
STEREOGUM: Do you still like performing? What do you get out of it personally?
KLINE: I’m trying to figure it out because I don’t know. I feel like I’m not a natural performer, and I feel like performing takes a lot of emotional energy for me that I don’t know if I’m always willing to spare. So it’s very painful for me sometimes. Which is why I’m changing the ways that I do stuff. For example, keeping these songs fresh before we go on tour — that’s going to help me feel a little bit less crazy. Having someone else do merch is going to be a big thing for me, just because it’s a little bit less of my emotional energy being spent before I even get on stage.
STEREOGUM: That’s also interacting with fans, and there’s so much involved in that …
KLINE: It’s so much. It’s really fun and it’s totally really beautiful, also, but when it’s all of the time, it’s just intense. So I’m trying to figure out ways to make touring continue to feel possible and not miserable. I should add … Playing Lexie shows does that too. Because it reminds me of what it feels like to be on stage and not necessarily having a sold-out show or a devoted audience or people that have ever heard the songs before. It’s this totally fresh feeling, and a nice reminder that it’s nice to be with your friends and playing music, outside of all this other context that I have with Frankie Cosmos.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I saw you open for Girlpool a little while ago and it was interesting to see that you were the first band that played and it was half-empty and people were just getting drinks and waiting for Girlpool, which is exactly what a regular opener goes through.
KLINE: Totally. And I’ve been trying to have it not be like, This is a Frankie Cosmos spinoff, because it’s super different. It’s a co-writing project — Alex [Bailey] is also the frontman of that band equally and co-writes the songs. It’s a good experience for me to get in touch with ways to have performing be more emotionally sound for me. So that it doesn’t feel so much like a job and so much like I’m spent after tour. Which I’m learning over many, many years of trying to learn this. It’s getting better every time … or slightly worse, and then it’ll get better. But I think it’s nice. Like, right now, I’m on break from touring, but I’m hoping by the time we start again in April, i’m going to be like Yes, let’s do this! Let’s go! So that’ll be interesting … I’m just depriving myself of performing.
STEREOGUM: It gets tiring, I’m sure.
KLINE: Yeah. Sometimes I think that maybe I’m too sensitive to be a touring musician and to be a public figure at all. I think for some people it’s worth it because they really want to be famous, and for me it’s kind of like I got thrown into this weird job. And now I’m like: Do I want this? How do I want it? I’m constantly reckoning with it.
STEREOGUM: I feel like it’s about working up to getting to a certain point where you can start making demands and making things how you want them to be, where you can just tour a few months out of the year or whatever.
KLINE: I’m not even thinking that far in advance, but yeah, that would be great. There’s a level of stuff that you have to go through to get to that point, but I also think the earliest days of touring are the most special and beautiful and after that, you’re kind of trying to feel that feeling again. What is this crazy thing? Oh, this is just my life, everyday. And it starts to feel very different. You develop a different relationship to it. When I’m at a show now, I need a job to do. I just don’t feel comfortable standing at a show and just enjoying music. I need to be doing something, I need to be selling merch, I need to have a reason to feel like I’m allowed to be there. It’s a weird relationship to have to this thing that was originally just my hobby that was supposed to be fun. But it’s still fun. It’s just different.
And there’s another interesting aspect to it, I think, in terms of the songs. The way I relate to songs has changed. Yes, I’ll write a song and it’s finished, but there’s this feeling that it’s never finished because I’m going to keep playing it, and every time I play a song I feel differently about it. It’s constantly changing. After three years of playing the same songs — the songs on Next Thing — I have completely different meanings and feelings associated with them. I use to make something, instantly put it out, and then it was finished, and it meant one thing.
STEREOGUM: Life changes, but you’re still singing the same lyrics.
KLINE: Like, how can I connect this to my current life? Or, it’s like, now I get what this means.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, like, where did this come from and why didn’t I see what it meant at the time?
KLINE: Totally. I feel like that’s what I’m doing now. I’m reading a diary by a person that’s not fully formed and I’m understanding it better than the person who wrote it, which was me three or four years ago. It’s very cool. I like it, it’s just a different relationship to have to your own music than the thing I’m used to from when I first started making music.
STEREOGUM: In terms of the songs on Vessel, what exactly were you going through during it? I don’t know if I’d say it’s a cohesive whole … there’s a lot of different threads. It’s not completely sad, it’s not completely happy, there are songs about falling in love and out of love. What happened to make it so all over the place emotionally?
KLINE: Well, the songs span a pretty wide period of years, the oldest song being from, like, 2014, and the newest song being from the end of 2016. The songs span this really long period of time, but what I’ve been noticing is that even those newer songs I already feel different about from when I wrote them. I feel like I’ve realized so much about what I was going through that I didn’t realize when I was writing them.
What I think is super consistent throughout the album is this tension between what I’m allowed to say out loud in the song, what I’m not saying to myself, what I’m putting forward, and what I’m actually feeling. I feel like now I can break it open and be like, This is what this is about. I was suffering and I wasn’t going to say it. And so that’s been a really interesting experience because I now view it as a different album from when I wrote it.
STEREOGUM: Where’s that divide for you between what you want to put forth into the world and what you want to sing about on stage every night, and your personal life? Where does that split happen?
KLINE: I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a lot about it today. I was listening to this podcast that I like that’s a call-in advice thing, and I was thinking of calling in and asking for advice about being a private person and feeling like parts of you are for yourself, and being a public person and being open and sharing with people. How can you do that in a way that keeps you sane? And still can have parts of you that feel like they’re just for you.
What I’ve been doing to understand it is to have my own relationship with the songs and not worry about what other people’s relationship is going to be. I’m totally open to hearing about how someone else interprets a song and that’s interesting to me, but I don’t want to let it affect how I feel about the songs or the way I feel about myself. Just to know that I made this thing, I care about it, it’s finished. No review of it is going to affect the way that I see it. I don’t really care what other people think, and I’m just trying to hold on to that. This is not about a career, it’s not about anything … I just view it as art. The art is done, I don’t care. I’m just going to have my relationship with it and I’m going to focus on respecting that relationship between me and my feelings and my art.
It’s a weird line to draw. I’m never writing a song where I’m like, Ooh, I shouldn’t say that because someone’s going to hear it and they’re going to think it means this. I never worry about that. But I do feel like the tension that’s on Vessel is between me and myself in terms of understanding what I was even feeling. I was writing these songs that were so grappling and struggling, and not understanding what I was facing or what I was even writing about. It’s so crazy. It’s like reading an old diary, where you’re like: I wrote in my diary that this person did this horrible thing to me, and then I kept letting them do it to me over and over again for this many years. How? And then you see the diary and you’re like, How did I write this in 2013 and just not do anything about it?
I was just a different person. It’s such a weird emotional experience to go through. I feel like I’m really different in a good way. I’ve learned a lot since writing this album, so it’s really fun to go back and hear the songs. It’s crazy what I’m saying, and that I hadn’t even fully understood it and I was able to write these songs without even fully understanding what I was going through. It’s cool. I love it.
STEREOGUM: Perspective is scary.
KLINE: Three years ago, if I was putting songs on Bandcamp, I wouldn’t be going back to listen to the songs a year later and thinking, That’s weird.
STEREOGUM: You didn’t have the time to let them settle and live with them.
KLINE: It’s a different way of facing them and interacting with them because now I’m thinking about how I’m going to play them live, particularly. Especially after the experience of playing Next Thing live for so long. I was like, This album has to be something I’m okay to play live every night for a long time. I have to get in touch with how I feel about doing that. I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
STEREOGUM: I know that a lot of your songs are autobiographical. Do you find yourself detaching from the more personal side of it when you find yourself playing these older songs? Because they are about specific people and circumstances, and maybe they become more emblematic of a feeling that people go through rather than a feeling that you went through.
KLINE: Yeah, I think they just change meaning for me. A good example of what I think you’re talking about is the song “Duet,” which is on this album. It’s a really old song. When I wrote it, I was like, I’m writing a love duet and it’s supposed to be between me and my boyfriend. Like, it’s exactly what I would want us to say to each other in this weird tale. But, also, it’s actually a really sad song. When I hear it, I’m like, What was I thinking when I was writing this? Why did I think that this was a good relationship to be having in this duet? And I think part of what’s really funny about it is that I’m singing it with myself, and it’s all about projecting this stuff onto someone else. There’s not even another person there — the duet is between me and what I’m hoping for. And what I’m hoping for is still messed up.
So it’s come to mean this really different thing to me. When I wrote it, it felt like a love song then, and now it feels really different because I’m rethinking it. As a grown-up, I’ve understood that that relationship was really bad. It’s fun to perform now because it’s this weird emotional experience to perform it. I’m playing the character of me as a teenager and I’m playing the character of this guy who’s singing the duet with me. It’s become funny and also tragic and way more complicated. It develops new meaning. I think a lot of my old songs that I thought were maybe love songs at the time — I mean, they were love songs and I was in love — but they’re also really messed up because you can hear that it’s bad. I remember when I was like, 18 or 19, every time I would put music out on Bandcamp, everyone would call me and be like, “Did you have a breakup?,” and I would be like, No, this is just about my life. What? I don’t get it.
There’s not usually a song that’s sooo hard for me that I have to emotionally detach from it, because I also feel like it’s not really worth playing a song that I’m emotionally detached from because it’s not going to be a good performance if I’m just doing robot and saying the lyrics. So it’s better for me just to create a new meaning for it and reclaim it and be like, Here is what this is about now. Maybe even change the lyrics a little bit, sometimes, to make it make sense. That’s part of what makes performing kind of fun for me… Just being like, OK, how can I use this and make it relate to me now? And make it a meaningful performance so it doesn’t feel like a waste of everyone’s time.
STEREOGUM: Not to get too personal, but a lot of your songs and a lot of the narrative, for lack of a better word, and mythology of the band has been about this relationship between Ronnie and Frankie, between you and Aaron [Maine, of Porches]. I guess I wanted to ask about how it feels now that you’re leaving that behind because, especially when you were first starting, a lot of people, the press included, made it into such a thing.
KLINE: And are like fans of the relationship? Oh my god. Phew. Wait until you go through a breakup and while you’re going through the breakup, people are giving you fan art of you kissing your ex-boyfriend. It’s insane. It’s crazy.
STEREOGUM: How do you feel about that?
KLINE: I feel like, yeah, I was a teenager and I wrote a lot of love songs about him and that was totally meaningful to me at the time…
STEREOGUM: And that’s normal, to an extent, because that’s what you write about when you’re that age.
KLINE: I mean, I don’t think that every 17-year-old, including myself, should be given a big stage to do that on because it’s crazy. It’s a crazy thing to go through, so that’s the first thing I think about it. But, second of all, I think it’s kind of time to create that same mythology, get to do that same thing but be writing love songs for myself and for people who deserve it. To be able to go through this … I feel like I’ve been through such a spiritual and personal and emotional awakening since that relationship ended over a year ago. It’s been the best year of my life. I feel like a person that was set free from a cult. It’s like, now I get to devote all that love and all that energy to my own journey.
Anyone who is going to not like my music because it’s not about my ex-boyfriend — that would be crazy. If anything, I’m just worried that people are going to associate us because it’s embarrassing. I’m just like, Please let me be my own person separate from this weird, fucked up part of my life. That’s a horrible thing to say, I’m sorry. It’s weird … I doubt there are Frankie Cosmos fans that are like, Darn, she went through a break-up and, darn, now we get a break-up album? If anything they’re like, Thank god. Because I think that everyone could hear through the songs … everyone but me. Everyone could hear how bad that relationship was through both of our songs. Every single person in the world except for me.
So, uhh, I definitely don’t feel beholden to telling that story through my music. I also feel like I get to explore a lot more on the new stuff. I’m in love with someone who’s really great, so that’s cool, that’s nice. And I’m still writing love songs, but my love is really different. My whole life is really different. I feel like all the processes that I’m going to go through … I don’t think I’m ever going to write love songs like that again. That kind of love is … if it’s ever going to happen for me again, it’s gonna be very far in the future because that’s a very young, doe-eyed kind of love. But I can also appreciate it for what it was and I can be like, How can I write this new, mature kind of love song? How can I love someone outside of my music? How can I love someone after going through this thing? I’ve been re-evaluating my whole relationship to love.
The other cool thing is that I think my whole life, I’ve been writing love songs about my friends and about people that weren’t Aaron, so I get to keep doing that too. And a lot of the love songs that I wrote when I was dating him were songs that I just wished he would write about me. I would write love songs for myself. You can’t hear that — people think it’s just a love song that I wrote — but a lot of them are about me. So I get to explore it in even more ways, and it’s fun.
STEREOGUM: I feel like a lot of the album is about that because a lot of it is about feeling uncomfortable in your own skin and not really understanding why. There’s the title track, the title of the album … It’s about your relationship to yourself.
KLINE: Oh totally. I would say, yes, it’s a break-up album, but it’s also about me getting in touch with myself. That’s what most of this album is about. A lot of it is not a breakup album. Only on a handful of songs is that obvious.
STEREOGUM: I was a little surprised that it wasn’t like, “The Frankie Cosmos Break-up Album,” because that’s not a narrative you necessarily want.
KLINE: I gotta say, Record Time! is kind of that … I used Lexie to put out my break-up album because that was very immediate. That was like, two months after my break-up that I was writing those songs. It felt less scary to share it through there.
STEREOGUM: Because there wasn’t as big of a spotlight?
KLINE: I was like, no one’s ever going to hear this. But it’s nice to have. Definitely some of the songs on Vessel are break-up songs, and some of them I wrote while I was in that relationship and they’re pre-break-up songs about just freaking out. Do I fix this relationship? Do I leave? What do I do? And I think that tension is really visible in the songs, especially if you’re picking them apart as much as I do.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense. You write a lyric and you’re like, well, how many different ways can I view this one?
KLINE: Totally. I think that one of the scariest things that happened is that I realized that a lot of people viewed my relationship as this perfect thing because I had painted it that way. I’m so in love and I’m so lucky I found the one. That’s how it felt as a 17-year-old. And so all these kids who were hearing my music were coming up to me like, I didn’t believe in love and now I do. And I was like … Oh my god. When I was going through my break-up, someone said that to me and I was like, Oh my god, what am I going to do?
STEREOGUM: It’s hard because a lot of your fans are so young and they see this person that they admire…
KLINE: Part of me is really excited because now I get to say to them: Don’t let people treat you badly. Take my example. Walk away when it’s bad. I think it’s cool because people get to watch me go through it the way that they watched me go through that relationship, too. And people who are young and haven’t been through that kind of thing… It gets to normalize it for them a little bit. You’re allowed to go through heartache and you’re allowed to try and get in touch with yourself and you’re allowed to emerge a new person. Which, if anything, I hope that I can inspire people to not keep dating their shitty high school boyfriend or whatever. I think a lot of people come up to the merch table seeking advice, and it’s been a weird year of advice for me because I’m just like, Dump him! That’s my advice all the time … just dump him. But it’s good. It’s good advice sometimes.
And I just want to have it on the record that I’m not trying to personally attack Aaron as a person because it’s not about that. It’s not like, He treated me bad. It’s like, the relationship was bad. And also, it’s not about, People are bad and you shouldn’t let them date you. It’s about being in touch with what you need, who you are. I’m not trying to put negative energy towards him, I just need to figure out myself and I’m trying to heal. It’s not about good versus evil. It’s about some people not being good for each other.
STEREOGUM: I mean, you were put in a crazy situation where it was all somehow playing out in the public eye. People go through break-ups all the time, but it doesn’t leave an immediate circle of friends. But when you have this kind of spotlight …
KLINE: I mean, you’d be surprised how many friends treated it like we were their parents getting a divorce. It was funny. Because we were like, This is cool, guys, chill. But I think people really projected a lot onto that relationship and it was intense for me. That was my first relationship, that was my first boyfriend. That’s what I thought it was supposed to be like. It’s like, you have this immense pressure to stay together for your whole life. That’s what I thought love was? It’s crazy. It’s horrible. So, yeah, I don’t wish that on anyone.
But I think it’s good for me to be super open with myself and with the young people who I’m reaching. You’re allowed to stand up for yourself, you’re allowed to be the person who changes and request to be treated better in your life. And this is not just about my relationship. It’s about what a lot of the album is about — it’s particularly about being a woman and particularly about needing to be heard and maybe not being heard, in a lot of different contexts.
STEREOGUM: There’s that song, “Accommodate,” which is basically about exactly that.
KLINE: Yeah, and that song has nothing to do with Aaron. I feel like that’s one of the themes on the record: Grappling with how do I stand up for myself, or when do I stand up for myself and when do I leave. That’s more a general theme, as opposed to a specific story or a specific thing.
STEREOGUM: So … Final question: What do you want for Frankie Cosmos in the future?
KLINE: I wish I knew. I don’t know yet if I’m cut out for myself being my job. So that’s … I’ll put that out there.
STEREOGUM: You’ve been doing it a long time. That’s a lot of your life.
KLINE: I’d be curious about trying something else and then coming back. Or maybe not. I’m curious about trying out a lot of different relationships with music. I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing. I’m excited to go on tour… hopefully for less than a year with this new album. I think a year is when it starts to get like, OK, we need to make a new album. I’m trying to write a lot of songs. I think the biggest realization I had this year is that, when I die, I want to have as many songs as I could have written exist and be out in the world. And I think sometimes when you tour too much of it gets in the way of just writing, and that’s the thing I care about.
If it’s possible for me to have a different job that’s maybe not even related to music, and if I’m going to write more songs that way because I’m going to be home, then maybe it’s that. But whatever it is, I’m just trying to develop. I’m 23, I’m very young. I have a lot of time to figure out my relationship to music. That’s my hope … is that I figure it out. And still share it with people that want to hear it, and not be depriving people of it. I’m not going to be a recluse. It’s not like I’m trying to hide away, but I am trying to figure out how much of me wants to perform, how much of me wants to be writing. How do I balance those things? How do I stave myself and not get too wrapped up in trying to not have a persona?
STEREOGUM: That also ties into how you’re emphasizing the band more. Like, this is a band and not just me.
KLINE: I’m not Frankie. Yeah, I think it’s nice to have a little bit of the pressure off me. I have bandmates, everyone’s out here working together. But there is a part of me where it’s like, These are my songs. This is my brain you’re seeing into. So I’m just working on how to keep that for me, while still sharing it. That’s my main goal.