Pop goes the Hollywood kid
Greta Kline has emerged from her actor parents’ shadows to carve her own path, writes LaurenMurphy
Greta Kline’s boyfriend has a joke he likes to tell about her.
“He says: ‘I’ll go to the bathroom and come out and you’ll have written a song,’” she says, laughing down the phone line from her New York apartment. “Actually, I wrote a song just last night and I was really pushing myself to make it better after I thought it was finished.” She pauses, deadly serious. “So it ended up being a multiple-hours process.”
Finishing a song in a matter of hours might sound like an impressive feat, if not for the fact that Kline has been banging out tune after tune in this manner since she was 15. She’s still only 23, mind, but she’s already got a discography that exceeds Bob Dylan’s for volume, with around 50 albums released under various guises, such as Ingrid Superstar, Greta or Zebu Fur.
These days, she fronts the band that took its name from her pseudonym Frankie Cosmos, who sound like a lo-fi version of Best Coast mixed with the anti-folk scene she spent her teenage years absorbing. Most tracks rarely clock in over two minutes, but they’re charming and damned catchy.
Music has always been in Kline’s blood – her paternal grandfather was an “amateur opera singer” – but it wasn’t the family trade. Her parents, actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, never pushed her into following in their footsteps despite a small role in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale when she was 11.
“I was really shy when I was a kid, and I was not interested in acting,” she says, adding that she suffered badly from stage fright up until a few years ago. “But there was no more pressure on me to act than any other kid. My mom, for the last 10 years or more, has actually run a store” – a boutique called Blue Tree in Manhattan – “and I spent a lot of time working there – but I never felt ‘Yeah, I’m gonna work at the store forever’, either.”
As a child, she was your average Spice Girls-loving child of the 1990s before her older brother Owen began shaping her taste.
“I really liked punk music and experimental music that my brother was taking me to go see in the city, when I was probably like, 13 years old. I was seeing a lot of teenagers making ‘weird’ music, and I think that was probably a big part of the reason that I actually started to play myself.”
Kline was studying at NYU when Frankie Cosmos began to take off. Before then, she had also been playing bass and touring in her boyfriend Aaron Maine’s band, Porches (Maine is also a former member of Frankie Cosmos). Her first “proper” release on a label – notwithstanding that extensive back catalogue, released via streaming site Bandcamp – was 2014’s Zentropy; a song on last year’s excellent follow-up Next Thing called If I Had a Dog references breaking the news to her parents that she was dropping out to pursue music full-time.
“It was a really long process, dropping out of college,” she recalls, chuckling. “I was there for a semester, then I would take a semester off and go on tour, then I would go back for a semester. There was definitely a weird period of time where you’re sitting around the table at Thanksgiving, or whatever, and telling your family, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just taking a semester off, I’m gonna go back soon. Definitely.’”
She says that having famous parents has not affected her career adversely. She recently realised that making an effort to go and mingle and talk to her fans was probably her subconscious telling her to “prove” herself.
“I don’t know if I’ve had to fight harder, but I definitely had a chip on my shoulder about it – whether or not that’s anyone’s fault but my own. I’m always the one sitting at the merch table and talking to everyone at the show – and I think it’s because I have this deep fear that if I’m not approachable or I’m not there, people are going to think I’m a brat. I really exhaust myself socially on tour, just to prove to every single person, ‘I’m nice! I’m friendly!’ But I do so much stuff with Frankie Cosmos – for a long time, I was booking our tours before we got a booking agent – so I know that I’ve earned it. It’s still a worry that because of my parents, people are going to think that I’m some kind of spoilt Hollywood kid, or whatever.”
Far from it: the likeable, self-effacing Kline is the antithesis of a Hollywood brat, with a self-awareness you’d imagine is rare among the progeny of big stars. She recently signed a deal with Sub Pop and is planning to release the third Frankie Cosmos album with the independent label early next year, suggesting that the band’s sound may change and evolve on it. At the same time, there is a hankering to scale things back and return to her DIY roots and “try and make another album on my computer, like how I used to make them when I was younger”.
Kline’s sense of ambition is tussling with her determination not to get too far ahead of herself, and her joy in songwriting and playing music.
“The thing is, I feel like it would defeat the purpose of being a musician if I let any kind of fear of failure affect my songwriting, or making an album, or whatever. I really like the fact that I get to spend all of my time doing music, and managing this band, so I wanna keep it that way. I would love to be able to do Frankie Cosmos forever. And it’s amazing to get to go to these places that I just never thought I’d get to play. And I want people to like it, so hopefully that’ll keep happening. I’m just trying to keep it true to myself. I’m trying not to overthink it too much.”
I have this deep fear that if I’m not approachable or I’m not there, people are going to think I’m a brat. I really exhaust myself socially on tour, just to prove to every single person, ‘I’m nice! I’m friendly!
Kline (right) with her fellow band members Luke Pyenson, David Mystery and Lauren Martin Frankie Cosmos forever