Greta Kline is an anomaly. The offspring of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, she’s a celebrity progeny that couldn’t be further from a “brat”. Despite being plagued by self-admitted shyness , Kline remains one of the most open and approachable figures in modern indie – picking up wide-eyed, teenage penpals with the same regularity as she accrues plaudits from jaded critical cognoscenti. Her breezy, fleet, perfectly formed pop has, for many, proved irresistible in its coalescence of diaristic candor and touching universality. With a Dublin date and a much anticipated new LP on the horizon, her first for venerated imprint Sub Pop, Greta was kind enough to take our call…
So, how goes the new record? Last I heard you guys were saying you were something like 70%…
Really good! We just took it into mastering and once we get off the phone I’m going to check the masters so I’ll know if it’s done or not!
Well I already feel guilty about keeping you from that…
No no no, not at all. The longer I have a break from the record the more I like it. I’ve heard it plenty, I don’t need to be listening to it right now.
On Next Thing there are a few tracks where you revisted stuff from previous Bandcamp releases and fleshed them out with a full band. Is the new record strictly new material or did you take the same approach? How do you make a call about which songs are worth revisiting?
It’s mostly new stuff but I think three of the tracks are old. The way it happened with this record was that two of the songs were getting requested a lot at shows. I even played one of them solo because somebody really wanted to hear it and we didn’t have a full band version. So, it usually comes from someone else requesting it and me and my band realising that it would sound cool with a full band arrangement.
I ask because, correct me if I’m wrong, so much of your work has that diaristic quality. For a lot of people looking over their old diary entries can be pretty cringe inducing. You don’t feel that way? You’re happy to revisit that sort of stuff?
I mean, a lot of them are pretty embarrassing and I’ll look back over them and be like “Ugh! Who was I?” But then a lot of them I can look back and remember what the song was about when I wrote it and it mean something completely different to me now. For example, there’s this song I wrote on my first tour called Bus Bus Train Train that we ended up putting on the new record. The lyrics are about travelling and kind of bad feelings in my relationship. All the stuff that is written about in that song I have totally new meanings for. I guess it’s a little more vague than a diary. It’s not like “Today I did this…”, that stuff can be more cringey. A lot of the songs I want to revisit aren’t the ones that have really specific stuff going on in them.
It kind of tripped me out when I saw you had signed to Sub Pop. They’re this big label in the sense that I’ve known who they were since I first found out what a record label was. How did that sit with you considering the Frankie Cosmos project is so closely associated with home recording?
Yeah, It’s really crazy. The good thing is that they have the same feeling to me as a smaller label where don’t want to make any changes to the way the record sounds. When I signed with them I said I wanted to work with the same producer I always worked with and they’re totally down with the record I want to make, I’m sure if I handed them over a record I made on my computer they’d be down to release that too. There’s no pressure to make it more fancy than my other recordings so that’s really nice.
There’s definitely a lot more weird planning involved which is a little bit out of my comfort zone. In the past I’d say yes to everything, “Oh you’re having a show tonight? Cool, I’ll come play.” Whereas now we know that we should probably plan to do one show in New York every 6 months as opposed to 15. I like it though! It’s not like I’m itching to play every single night anymore.
It’s an interesting process you went through. From being absolutely petrified of performing to playing every night to now being a little more selective.
Totally! Our tours are so different now too. We’re headlining shows so we have to play for 45 minutes or something so it’s a little bit more emotionally intense to be playing – I’m going through so many different emotions when I’m on stage. Even the fact so many people are watching! In the past I was down to play all these shows because nobody was coming to see me so there wasn’t any pressure to do a good job even! I wanted to play just because it was fun and now people are listening and want to hear certain songs and they’ll get mad if you don’t play them. I take all that stuff so seriously, it’s kind of funny. I just want everyone to like me Laughs
So, about the kind of diaristic quality of a lot of your work. Is it an unfair assumption for people to think that any given lyric pertains to a lived experience? Do you experiment much in terms of writing from different perspectives?
Oh yeah, I think it’s wrong to assume it’s all lived, there’s a lot of stuff in there that isn’t totally diaristic. For me, I think songwriting is this place where I can sort through stuff – anxieties or emotions or whatever. So, if I’m feeling weird towards a friend and I want to figure out why, I’ll sometimes write stuff down about it and it helps to try and do it from their perspective. I think that’s the extent to how not about me it’ll get – basically writing a song about myself from somebody else’s perspective
I refuse to think about anyone else’s experience of the song while I’m writing it though. I’ve been thinking about that a lot – how communication is such a joke. There’s no way that I’m going to say sentence and you’re going to hear it the way I meant it and felt it when I was said it. So, you can’t plan or curate what someone will take from your song. You just have to write it and they might get something completely different from it and that’s NOT YOUR FAULT Laughs
Do you think that outlook is born of the fact that when you first started recording you had no intention of anyone else listening to it?
Yeah, that’s definitely why. I think the other side of it is that it kind of comes from privilege. I know that being a musician isn’t the only hope I have to have a career. Like, I’m educated and I have other options. I feel for a lot of people making music there is this drive where they think this is the only thing they can do. It’s very easy for me to be like “ I hate stupid, boring pop music that’s only being made to be marketable”. But, the other side of that is that people are making that stuff because they need to make money, that’s their job. I’m not going to judge people as artists because I think their art isn’t “pure” or something. Me writing songs just for myself is such a privileged thing because I get to write about whatever I want because if it failed I’d probably be ok. It’s kind of scary now though because I have bandmates who are relying on me the record to be successful! It’s not just me anymore…
To what extent did your proximity to “celebrity” colour your decisions in relation to entering the public eye at all?
Yeah, it’s kind of funny. I grew up in New York so I feel like I had a different experience to a lot of other kids of actors. Most of them would grow up in Hollywood or whatever which seems like a very different “celebrity experience”. I didn’t really see a lot of that part of my parent’s lives. I feel like the only time I ever realised he [Greta’s Father] was a celebrity of some sort was when we’d go to the theatre and somebody would always say something to him. It’s not like they’re Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and they can’t walk down the street.
My mom has a job that she’s been at five days a week for the last 10 years, so I mostly grew up visiting her at work. I guess I didn’t really know about what it meant to be in the public eye, It’s not like I had any training for that. I was always really shy as a kid and I never thought that I’d be somebody that would be photographed or in a magazine or a newspaper or anything, that’s all still so crazy to me. I’m definitely not cut out for any kind of celebrity thing. I just want to be a writer, write songs and have people listen to them. The idea of having to run a brand or something around my personality is really strange. I guess it’s weird because it’s really just my personality that is driving a business now.
Seeing Dad getting stopped in the street wasn’t the same as me having that experience. There was no way I could understand what it felt like to have people know who you are. I think I went one time to a screening of a movie where I was on a red carpet and it was horrifying. I was so freaked out, there were flashing cameras everywhere. I was like 15 and looked really freaky and awkward, standing behind my parents trying to hide.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the time when people discuss your work they tend to use diminutive language. They’ll say it’s “miniature” pop or talk about how tiny it sounds. Can that be a backhanded compliment or is it reflective of the work itself?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t really take in reviews because I don’t want to let it freak me out, I’m just trying to make the songs or whatever. But I do think it being referred to as small or a “mini” version of something, if anything, has to do with the length of it. The songs are so short that it’s totally fair and that’s definitely a weird thing about them. I think people are interested in the fact the songs are so short and like “that’s so weird, why are your songs so short?” but they’re never saying “Oh wow! You’re like subverting the basic pop formula, why?”. Nobody thinks of it as this like genius thing, they just think I’m lazy and don’t want to finish the song laughs. Nobody says “I notice you don’t have choruses, you just write verses”. I guess that diminutive language is a way of skipping over the details of it. I don’t really mind.
One thing I wanted to ask you about was how the concept of “The Muse” fits into your work. I feel like you’ll go through these stages of having a spate of songs that are all inspired by a particular real life relationship or even your relationship with your dog. I was just curious what you think of the idea of “The Muse” and how it fits into your approach to writing.
Yeah. I think that relationships are just really interesting. The fact that humans or animals interact with each other. I find it really interesting or weird how everyone is kind of using each other as a mirror. I feel like, it’s so crazy, I spend so much energy putting my feelings about relationships into songs and sometimes it’s still so hard to understand what the song even means. The record we’re about to put out, I wrote it over the course of 3 years, even now some of the songs that have been brewing that long are just starting to make sense to me.I feel like I write the same song over and over again because I’m trying to get to whatever it is i need to get to to actually distill it. I’ll write about the same subject so many times just trying to find the right way to express it or because I’m still figuring out how I feel about it.
For example, Next Thing came out when I was 4 years into a serious relationship and that album had songs on it about the guy I was dating previous to that because I was still processing my feelings about the relationship. There is even a song about that person I dated when I was 16 that’s on the new record because the way that I feel about that relationship keeps changing. It’s funny, I mean, this isn’t a person I even talk to anymore and we hardly dated laughs. It’s just a weird thing how certain stuff sticks with you and you just have to keep trying to figure out how you feel about it. In terms of making it seem like that person is a Muse – really you’re just so conflicted that you need to keep writing about it.
That’s interesting. I really wanted to ask because the more I thought about it the more I reflected on how rarely you hear Muses discussed from the perspective of a female artist. It’s so often used as a means of cheapening the female member of an artistic partnership. I’m thinking of the likes of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton or something…
Totally! It’s always taking the woman and making her into a mirror for the male artist. Or even making them into a failed version of that, as if she wasn’t enough of a mirror for what the man wanted. It’s funny, I wrote a lot of songs in my last relationship that were songs I’d wish my partner would write about me, a lot of love songs to myself. Laughs. I think it’s a really good way or sorting through that stuff, I don’t know. I think an obsession is pretty much the same as a “Muse”. Like, if I’m writing a lot about being in the public eye that idea can be the same as a “Muse”. I just keep processing things again and again until I make sense of it.
Frankie Cosmos plays Whelan’s on Wednesday August 2nd. Tickets €13
Words: Danny Wilson
Illustration: Ruan VanVliet