Frankie Cosmos Is Ready to Be Herself
As Brooklyn's premier twee-pop singer readies her proper sophomore record, 'Next Thing,' she navigates the tricky intersection between adolescence and adulthood
Greta Kline needs a haircut. When we meet in early February at a Williamsburg coffee shop, the Frankie Cosmos frontwoman bounds in and suggests a change in evening plans: Instead of going to browse potential sweatshirts to sell at her band’s merch table like we had originally talked about, she’d like to try walking into a salon.
It’s been about a decade since Kline visited a professional stylist, so she’s understandably nervous about it. But given her persona — an endearing combination of chipper and jittery — she could just as easily be excited; it’s not always easy to tell. Usually, she says, she cuts her own hair and asks her boyfriend, Porches singer Aaron Maine, to fix up the back. Her last cut was pretty severe — she says she separated her once-long hair into two braids and hacked them both off, creating a Ramona Quimby-looking fringed bob. Overall, she’s pleased with the drastic change, but her mother, actress-turned-small business owner Phoebe Cates, keeps pointing out the unevenness of her ends. But appeasing her mom isn’t her sole motivation: Kline just feels that it’s time for something different. “I think I’d like my hair to be perfect,” she muses. “I’m at that point.”
Getting an Adult Haircut is just one building block of the 21-year-old’s personal renovation from a teenaged bedroom-pop tinkerer with no precise agenda to a commercially viable artist. Kline, who is also the daughter of Oscar-winning actor Kevin Kline, was 13 when she began writing music — her first project was a ten-song collection set put together on a day when she wasn’t feeling well. “I called the album Sick At Home And Sleeping,” she says. “It’s just really freaky, feverish sounds with a lot of effects on it.”
A couple of years later, Kline started tossing creations online, crediting them to Ingrid Superstar. That eventually led to her posting more than 40 albums’ worth of material on Bandcamp under a new name, Frankie Cosmos — an alias Maine coined, combining Kline’s love of the poet Frank O’Hara with his own tendency to write Porches songs about the great unknown. Soon, people were swooning over Kline’s music, posting and reposting her songs on Tumblr and various DIY music blogs. “I originally [posted to Bandcamp] because it made my music organized in a pleasing way, and it made me feel like they were ‘real’ albums,” she says. “When people other than my close friends started listening, I was surprised and excited but it didn’t really affect the way I viewed the project.”
Now, Frankie Cosmos has expanded to a full band that records in studios and Kline has grown more accustomed to releasing (semi)-traditional albums — beginning with 2014’s Zentropy (Double Double Whammy), a 17-minute quickie which New York Magazine flagged as the best pop album of that year, and which was termed “practically perfect” in Brooklyn’s L Magazine. Its forthcoming follow-up, Next Thing, is out on April 1 via Bayonet. “This is the first time that I’m putting something out with the knowledge of what it entails,” Kline says. “I feel like [with Zentropy] it was just like, ‘I just made this thing!’ Now, I’m like, ‘We made a record. We’re planning on putting it on vinyl.’ Everything’s more thought out, and we’re, like, a real band.”
“I admire how much of a professional [Kline] is when it comes to dealing with all that is Frankie Cosmos,” Maine says over the phone. “Especially coming from a background where initially she only intended for it to be heard by a close group of friends. And how fast she adjusted to her music reaching a wider audience, whether it’s staying on top of merch, keeping track of records sold, or making sure everyone feels good in the band.”
Her new record’s title may come off like a two-word coming-of-age descriptor, but Kline insists that it’s not. “The reason it’s called Next Thing is because I was calling all the folders that on my computer,” she says. “It just stuck with me.”
At this very moment, though, Kline’s “next thing” is figuring out if any Williamsburg salons or barber shops accept walk-ins. The one she had in mind doesn’t, so she, I, and Frankie Cosmos bassist David Maine (Aaron’s younger brother) traipse through town looking for alternatives. Corner Barber can see her immediately. Kline has decided not just to get her ends trimmed but to get a slight undercut, too, meaning that she wants the underlayer of her hair completely shaved. “I’m going to look exactly like Dustin [Payseur],” she giggles, referring to the Beach Fossils leader and Bayonet co-owner, who also sports a half-shaven head. It’s daunting how quickly and comfortably she’s settled into this decision, but she doesn’t look at all frightened sitting in the comically large, made-for-men barber’s chair. On the contrary, she gazes contently at herself in the mirror.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kline is fine sharing hairdos with a cohort — friendship and her ongoing relationship with Maine are the thematic bedrock to her songs. Inside jokes tend to burrow into her lyrics; tracks with the name “Ronnie” refer to Maine, for instance, whose pet names also include “Ronnie Ronaldo” and “Ronnie Mystery.” Even her own O’Hara-referencing stage name, which she also calls her alter-ego, is like a private wink and a nudge. She’d considered studying English at NYU, where she’s been attending for the last two years, but she says that because of her hectic touring schedule, she’s had to drop out of the university. “I would leave for a semester and do a tour, and then go back, and they were kind of unaccommodating,” she says with a laugh. “It got to the point where I was like, ‘I would really like to work remotely, can I do a semester abroad?’ And they were like, ‘No.’”
Actually, she’s not even sure if she’s officially dropped out. “I don’t really understand how to do bureaucratic things — school-system things,” she admits with a shrug.
Born in 1994 in New York, Kline appeared in a few movies alongside her parents and brother (she shows up in the 2001 comedy-drama The Anniversary Party and again in the 2005 arthouse flick the Squid and the Whale). But as she got older, she started to favor music and began playing guitar in seventh grade. “I was really little when I was in those movies, and was basically just a kid hanging out with my parents at work,” Kline says. “I never was interested in acting, and I never became good at it.”
Later, Kline would join her brother, Owen, on trips around the city and Westchester and Purchase to check out DIY acts like No One and the Somebodies and Maine’s old group, Space Ghost Cowboys. Another city she’d visit would be Binghamton, a chronically cloudy upstate locale where she and the rest of Frankie Cosmos recorded Next Thing last year. “It’s really intense there,” she says. “Really moody.”
Despite its upbeat, chirpy melodies, Next Thing’s thoughtful, sometimes-brooding lyrics are reminiscent of the overcast town. Album single “Sinister,” for instance, “is all about Greta Kline, age 16,” she says. “Heartbroken. Emotional. Growing up. Being sad.” Feelings of unease resurface on the slow-building “Too Dark,” where Kline asks over and over, “Do I belong?” That one, she says, is about feeling embarrassed while watching another girl flirt with Maine at a show, and she’ll only play it when the audience is being quiet enough to hear it. “I refuse to play it if they’re talking, because there’s so many silent pauses in it,” she says. “But I like using it as an opportunity for like, ‘You guys deserve this because you’re being so quiet.'”
Over plates of sushi in Greenpoint, the rest of the band (David, Eskimeaux’s Gabby Smith on vocals and keys, and Luke Pyenson on drums) compare relationship notes. A freshly (and successfully) shorn Kline talks about being with Maine for four years, while Smith and her boyfriend Oliver Kalb, of Brooklyn bedroom-punk upstarts Bellows and Told Slant, have been together for five. David is currently “Netflix and chilling” with an ex, Pyenson recently broke up with someone, and I tell them a little about finding my way through the maze of wedding planning. Kline’s face breaks into an enormous grin.
“I, like, love marriage,” she gushes. The others at the table look poker-faced at the prospect, but she brushes it off. “These guys are children of divorce,” she notes before clarifying, “I’m just 21, I’m not gonna get married anytime soon. But I love going to weddings. I love movie scenes of weddings. Even like, TV-show weddings — I cry at every wedding. I just went to my friend’s wedding at City Hall — it was so beautiful. I just love that s**t.”
Kline’s romantic side is something she attributes to her parents’ long partnership of more than 20 years. It’s why she feels so at home in a longterm relationship with Maine, who used to play a much larger role in Frankie Cosmos when he was the group’s percussionist. Kline, too, used to play with Maine in Porches. But as their separate careers developed, Maine and Kline left each other’s projects to more closely pursue their own. “It just got insane between the two bands, and practicing and the shows,” Maine says. “I felt like both acts were gonna miss out on good opportunities independent of each other, so it just seemed like it would be good to not have to dedicate twice the amount of time to another project and just kind of focus on our own things.”
When it comes to managing her own band, Kline is equally practical. On the walk over to their rehearsal spot, also in Greenpoint, she rattles off a long list of who’s supposed to send her W-2s, how she’ll get paid from her previous label, and when she can expect to receive dividends from her new one. Then, just as soon as she finishes describing a rather complex-sounding financial process, she reverts back to her playful self, and does an impression of her older, slow-speaking accountant: “Hiiiii Gretaaaaaaaa, it’s Phiiiiiiiiiiil,” she growls, sending everyone into giggles.
Her seamless transitions from serious to silly are not only indicative of how she carries herself — it’s a trait that informs how Kline interacts with the rest of Frankie Cosmos. During band practice, she’s just as cuddly and lighthearted as she was walking to the studio or eating vegetarian sushi with her friends, but once she’s outfitted with a six-string, she adopts a more businesslike tone. Smith closely follows Kline’s lead from song to song, but Pyenson and David goof off and tease their leader that they’re actually using this time to write songs for Porches.
Kline maintains her composure, but her patience is wearing thin. “This is the one I lost it on,” she says before they play “Sinister,” referring to another practice where she lost her temper with the band during a run-through of the song. She’s still working out how best to manage the group.
But she’s getting there. Slowly but surely, Kline is growing into herself — not just here in the practice space, but also at home with Maine. “As an adult it’s like, ‘Am I allowed to be negative?'” she wonders with some urgency, getting sidetracked from practice. “I was just talking to Aaron about it. Like, ‘I know I’m allowed to be myself with you, of course, but am I afraid to not be a positive person all the time?’ I think when [Aaron and I] first met, [he] thought I was this really fun, young person, which I was. But it’s like, ‘Wait, I just want to be myself now.’ Being like, ‘F**k it, I want to be happy.’”