By Tony Inglis
Greta Kline is right in the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe and she doesn’t even know it. The singer, songwriter, guitarist, and artistic driving force behind New York band Frankie Cosmos, is fresh out of sound check at La Belle Angele, the night’s tour stop, wedged between shows in Dublin and Manchester. Just out with the confines of that winding Edinburgh close, thousands of people are bustling around from venue to venue as the city’s famous festival has just got underway.
Kline is oblivious, though. After a long drive straight to the dimly lit club, just off the capital’s Royal Mile, her only experience of the festivities is bad traffic. “Our tour manager has been trying to park the van for an hour. He’s definitely having a hard time right now.”
Kline is in the thick of yet another European tour behind the band’s most recent album, Next Thing, released in April of last year. Her life has been taken up by constant shows and moving from location to location, with little time to take anywhere in – the classic tour life.
Kline, who is still only 23, tells me that her work – earnest and open advent calendar sized windows into her personal life, made into instantly quotable and immediately catchy songs – has taken a bit of a hit as she’s focused on life on the road. “When I was in high school, every night I was sat home in my house and I could write a song. Now I’m almost never home. Even just the amount of songs I have time to work on, the time I have alone, to sit and work, is so limited.
“In the past, I’d be writing 100 songs a year and now it’s 30 because that’s how much time I have at home to work. It’s so much harder to write on tour and I really miss having that time to work on music. I feel like when we’re done, I’ll write a song every day because I feel like it’s just been bottling up inside me.”
Despite this, she seems utterly buoyant – completely happy to chat despite little sleep and having yet to eat. I suggest we go a walk, to take in the atmosphere. PRs, for shows dotted about the city, hand out flyers to prospective audience members crowding the pavements. We find a spot to sit beneath a statue of the architect William Henry Playfair. Kline asks, “Who’s this guy?”. I confess I have no idea.
Luckily, I am clued up on Frankie Cosmos’ live show, having attended their gig in Glasgow back in September of the previous year. Kline gasps. “That show in Glasgow was so fun! It was such a fun night. I’ve got to say that Glasgow crowd was amazing, it’s going to be a tough act to follow. We’ll see. It would have to be a really amazing crowd to live up to that show. Honestly, Glasgow was one of the most memorable gigs of the tour. Everyone was so into it.”
I ask why they would change it up this time around if the reception in Glasgow was so enthusiastic. “We’re still touring the same album so we’re trying to go to a lot of new places. Hardly any of the cities we played this time were ones we played before, you know, new markets…”, she laughs.
“It’s been really nice on this tour. It’s weird to still be going with the same album. Touring doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it has been really fun. It’s crazy how many people come out and see us again in the same year. It’s very affirming to come back over here and be like ‘people still like us, Frankie Cosmos isn’t a passing trend, we’re still appreciated’.”
Kline has been making music for a time so long, it betrays her young years. With over 50 albums scattered around the internet, and her breakthrough records Zentropy and Next Thing (along with a brief but excellent EP), she is the definition of prolificacy. “We have an almost finished new album, we’re putting some finishing touches on it and hopefully it’ll be out early next year and I already have the album for after that written, so really I’m ready to start working on the touring for two albums away.”
It is no surprise that she misses the freedom of being able to write whatever and whenever she wants. Her expertly crafted songs, slight-seeming but by no means insubstantial, are short stories that, usually in only a couple of minutes, give a very detailed insight into her experiences of being young and misunderstood. Attempting to summarise them is impossible – they are already boiled down to their essence, unable to be any more finely tuned. It’s hard to imagine her writing falling into the narrative traps of the highs and lows of touring that many bands submit to after long periods playing and promoting their music.
That night Frankie Cosmos plays to another big crowd, and after an announcement met with hushed excitement, they play a new song. Kline tells me that while she’s overjoyed at how they’ve been received on the tour, her and her bandmates are looking forward to something new. “We’ve been on the road for a year and a half with the same 20 songs and playing them every day. Even though the way I play those is different now, just to keep it fresh, I’m definitely ready to be done with that and put out the next album.”
We get up to go back to the venue and spot a poster for the show depicting Kline with her bandmates. Despite going by the name Frankie Cosmos, Kline has total power over her art. It seems to me that Greta Kline is Frankie Cosmos, and should be billed as such.
But Kline takes issue with this. “I feel really conflicted about this stuff. I mean we all work together on it. Sure, I’ll be like well ‘I want the bass part to sound like this’ or whatever, but it’s definitely not like they’re my robots. Some people have a full band vision but I’m really open to other people’s ideas.
“All the press photos I would prefer to be of the full band all the time. I myself am not a band. I still feel like it’s better to have some distance. Sometimes people are like ‘Frankie what’s up’? But that’s fine!”
We talk about this in some depth, referencing bands and artists who have expressed a differing of opinions on this subject, from Waxahatchee, to Crying, to Chris Cohen.
As we talk, it strikes me that Kline is constantly outspoken and passionate about what she’s saying which, I put to her, does not seem to be how she is often portrayed in music media, which instead opts to paint her as shy and timid. This could not be further from the truth to me. She understands. “Someone was saying to me the difference between an introvert and extrovert is that an introvert isn’t necessarily quiet, or doesn’t go out, but doesn’t gain a good feeling or power from being out there talking to people.
“So, I’m not shy, like I can totally hang, I can handle a sesh for hours, I can hang all night, but I’ll be drained at the end of it. When I perform, that nervous side isn’t very visible. When I play a show, I am escaping that part of me. All those parts disappear.”
On stage that evening, Kline could not be less nervous. Bantering with the crowd, overcoming technical gremlins with professionalism and ease, at times even with aplomb, playing it to her advantage. She is totally in control and it is easy to see she is having fun. Doubtless when she returns to Scotland, with however many albums worth of material under her belt, she will be raving about how great all our crowds are, regardless of whether they hail from east or west.