An indie-pop prodigy takes off
Greta Kline wants to meet at her high school hangout, the local diner where she and friends would loiter for a bit too long after class let out. At Eli's Market on New York's Upper West Side, the macaroni-and-cheese costs so much per pound it may as well be made of gold, and fussy toddlers crumble cookies into the laps of unruffled nannies. "Everyone came here after, like, prom," says Kline, 22, slinking into her seat. She pulls the sleeves of her oversize vintage varsity jacket over her hands and seems to want to hide even in plain sight. "I was really shy as a kid," she says by way of explanation. "I'm still really scared of being seen. I don't like my face on display."
Shyness hasn't kept Kline from becoming one of indie rock's best young songwriters. Offstage, she is an NYU student on hiatus, native Manhattanite and onetime child actor, the daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. (You may remember her warbling Mr. Mister's "Kyrie" in The Squid and the Whale.) Onstage, she is Frankie Cosmos, singer of introspective odes to swelling emotions. At times on Next Thing, her new LP, Kline sounds like the millennial heir to Liz Phair's sardonic bedroom-tape sound. Her songs are tiny koans about growing up brainy, sensitive and introverted in the big city; they take the confusing "what the fuck?" moments of being young and alive and infuse them with lightness, juxtaposing heartbreak with goofy punk riffs, alienation with sunny, fuzzed-out chords.
Everyone asks Kline about her parents and her age (she was only 19 when Frankie Cosmos' 2012 debut, Zentropy, was released to huge critical acclaim). In "Young," a single from last year, Kline addresses these fascinations, singing, "Have you heard I'm so young/And who my parents are?"
"Is it annoying that people ask about my family?" Kline asks. "Yeah, I wish I could forge my own narrative. But I'm also willing to accept that if it allows me to make my music. I mean, I'm close to my parents. They come to all my shows in town."
Kline started playing music at 14, after her aunt gave her an electric guitar. She was drawn to bands including the Moldy Peaches, the Strokes and Jeffrey Lewis, New York acts who forged a distinct, attitude-drenched sound out of relatively simple, straight-ahead riffs and chords. She began releasing a torrent of songs online under the name Ingrid Superstar. When Kline met Aaron Maine, now her boyfriend, they formed a duo called Porches when Kline was still in high school.
Soon, Kline and Maine were performing all over the country as both Porches and Frankie Cosmos (Kline retired the Ingrid Superstar name once she developed a more unique sound). But as Kline began studying at NYU, she found she didn't have time for both bands. "I was playing two shows a night," she says, "and going to school, and traveling in a van all over, and managing all the tours myself."
Once Zentropy took off, Kline decided to take a break from college, though she wants to get back someday. "I want to study education or psychology," she says. "Something that, you know, leads to a job. But for now, I have to follow this while it's an opportunity. And my parents understand. They're artists. My mom started working when she was 16."
Kline still manages her own tours, in addition to writing all the Frankie Cosmos songs and art-directing her music videos. Kline now has a full band behind her: Maine's brother David on bass, Luke Pyenson on drums, Lauren Martin on keyboards. Kline gets frustrated that she doesn't always get credit for bootstrapping the entire Frankie operation herself. "People love to take credit from you when you are a woman," she says. "It was written somewhere that my boyfriend co-wrote my albums. Are you kidding me? [Or] sometimes my parents get the credit for creating me and this music. They're great, but they aren't the ones doing the work."
Kline may come off as timid in person, but she grows tall onstage. She throws her whole body into strumming her guitar, and allows her vulnerability to become a strength – she sings about romantic confusion, urban malaise and maintaining a sense of optimism, with the forcefulness of someone who knows exactly what she wants to say. "All the stuff I feel in normal social situations is lifted onstage," she says. "I try to take into account that I'm being watched as much as I'm being heard. So when I play, I'm open to having an out-of-body experience." Rachel Syme