How Greta Kline’s Honest Songs Got Her to Big Stages
Kline earlier this year, post-buzz but pre-buzzcut
Matthew James Wilson
As the songwriting heart of Brooklyn indie pop band Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline cobbles rallying cries from the awkward detritus of bad thoughts and painfully sincere observations, a potent tactic that's made her wispy voice one of the loudest among her fellow earnest Brooklynites. On Sunday, she made that point clear at her band's biggest show yet — a homecoming gig at Webster Hall, the final date of a three-week tour.
Her once tenderly strummed, introspective anthems arrived with an almost furious momentum, having evolved into nimble, rousing rockers suited to the full-fledged band Frankie Cosmos have become since Kline's earliest solo releases on Bandcamp. The near sold-out crowd hung on every word, Kline's wiry frame and short-shaved hair managing to convey both the fearlessness and the vulnerability that have been hallmarks of her work.
Kline, 22, has a fanbase mostly composed of her peers, and everyone at the show was still reeling from the election results earlier in the week. Having grown up in New York, Kline has a wide network of friends and family (her parents, actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, looked on from the VIP balcony) that she said gives her both comfort and bit of anxiety whenever she plays in the city. She thanked anyone she could think of between songs, as if accepting an Academy Award, sounding like she might be paranoid she'd leave someone out.
It was not where she expected to be when she started recording as a teenager in her bedroom. "I wasn't really planning on being a musician," she tells the Voice. "It was just something I was doing as a hobby." She saw herself playing solo at tiny DIY spaces, like Shea Stadium and the now-defunct Death by Audio, but quickly conquered those modest spaces by insinuating herself into the scene.
Kline's admiration for her cohort crops up in her tendency to name-drop; on "Embody," from Frankie Cosmos's cheekily named sophomore LP Next Thing, she references Jonah Furman from Krill, Emily Sprague of Florist, and Gabby Smith of Eskimeaux (who once played synths in Frankie Cosmos), ending with a frenzied, hopeful prophecy: "We'll embody all the grace and lightness."
Kline, Sprague, Furman, and Smith are both creating and responding to a scene that values their optimism and directness. Simple melodies once considered too twee for the mainstream now land solidly, and Kline and her friends have learned to twist seemingly obvious or overly sentimental nuggets into compositions that use space and dissonance for heavier impact. Kline's salient observations, tempered with a cautious optimism but devoid of sloganeering, is the closest thing to a brand that Frankie Cosmos has, flash-minted in the scant years between the release of their 2014 debut album Zentropy and Next Thing, which came out in April.
Kline's homage doesn't stop with the shout-outs. At the merch table Sunday, she offered a tour-only covers cassette, with songs by her boyfriend Aaron Maine (of Porches), Krill, Baby Mollusk, Rivergazer, and more. "Whenever I get really excited about a song I just want to play it, and it always affects my writing for a while, having figured out the chord progression or whatever," Kline says. "I hope that everyone who sees the tracklist goes and checks out the originals; I wanted to tell people about these bands." It's not available for download, though — the cassette format was deployed to make the release feel like a special, secret artifact, passed between friends.
Her songs, so often devoted to musing on friendship and youth, can sound deceptively starry-eyed, but close listens to her carefully considered lyrics reveal discontent. Her self-deprecating streak runs deep, but there's a confidence to her vision that sustains her work. "I recently realized, like in the last few days, that confidence almost goes hand in hand with having no self-esteem at all," Kline jokes. "I can do whatever I want [because] nothing matters, and in a way that's where the confidence comes from."
Despite having toured the better part of this year, Frankie Cosmos have half of their next album arranged already, because Kline is constantly writing. "I'm really young and my ideas are changing all the time. I want to document the way that I've written about the same things over the last few years and how it's changed for me," she says. Her rawness, and resulting openness, have been the driving factors in those changes — the ones that ultimately brought her success. "I'm really guided by interacting with people," she says. "I feel so new to the world."
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