‘I think most women are aware of it from a young age as soon as they go to a show and feel unsafe.’
After saying this, Greta Kline [Frankie Cosmos] gives a short laugh in an attempt to alleviate the tension that’s now been evoked. We each take a moment to consider the gravity of what’s just been said – the fact that women can go to a concert, a place which is meant offer the brilliant experience of hearing music you love played live by the musicians who wrote it, and it can become a threatening and dangerous place within seconds, simply due to the immoral intentions of others. As we both think, Kline points out our mutual conclusion.
‘I don’t think it should be anybody’s job to try and stop it. People should just not be like that.’
It’s a sad reality we all have to face up to. In a world where 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year, and just weeks ago 26 women reported sexual assault at a German festival, it’s no longer an issue that can be dealt with through simply wishing people could have a better moral compass. As Kline says, ‘If only the good people ended up having kids and raising the next generation of people. Maybe those kids would end up in a world where this stuff doesn’t happen’. It’s a nice, idealistic perspective of the future, but we both realize it’s impossible. We instead turn our attention to the more pressing matter: what can, and should, be done?
When I first meet Greta Kline, I’ve been sat in a pub in Hackney for the past twenty minutes, working myself up into a nervous wreck over the fact I’ll be meeting and interviewing an artist I greatly admire. But when her tour manager arrives and introduces himself, I barely even notice Kline appear behind him.
There’s no fanfare; no air of self importance that announces her presence into the room. She gives me a friendly smile and introduces herself before inviting us to sit down. As the interview progresses, she is casual in her speech, insightful and hopeful in her ideas, and apologetic when she feels she’s not properly articulating what it is she’s trying to say. In short, Kline is perhaps the
most unassuming artist I’ve ever met, despite the fact she has every reason to
be the opposite.
Kline fronts, and is the beating heart and mind of, the band Frankie Cosmos. She’s recently put out her sophomore ‘proper’ album, Next Thing,
receiving the same acclaim her debut ‘proper’ album Zentropy received. These two albums fall alongside nearly 50 other releases, the majority of which are recorded using just an acoustic guitar, her voice, and the speakers on her laptop. From this, Kline has worked up enough of a fan base to be touring both Europe and America multiple times throughout 2016. But, most importantly, that fan base is a heavily committed one: the people who like Frankie Cosmos don’t just enjoy her music – they love it. Whilst it’s not to everyone’s taste, those who get it well and truly fall in love with the personal snapshots Kline provides in her music.
Our discussion begins here, with me pressing her for her favourite of the lo-fi
albums she released before her ‘proper’ albums. After hesitating, citing the
fact the albums are all so different and representative of very different times
in her life, she decides on 2012’s Much Ado About Fucking (also due an award for best album title of all time). ‘I wrote it when I was really starting to fall in love and date my boyfriend,’ she explains, ‘so it’s like a really special time capsule for me.’ Kline’s ability to capture moments in time and frame them with melody is the reason so many people are drawn to her music, but the intensely personal nature of her songs does come at a consequence on her conscience.
‘As a person writing really personal songs, I worry about people hearing them and taking it the wrong way. It’s terrifying thinking someone might think it’s cool to get drunk underage through listening to a song of mine. I don’t want to have a negative effect on someone.’
Kline is very much aware that a lot more people are now paying attention to her music and that this will attract a wider, more diverse audience. Consequently, when our topic of conversation turns to sexual assault at gigs, she takes a very mature and well informed approach to what should be said to the perpetrators.
‘I’d obviously say “you should just respect everyone equally”, but I’d also say “I really think there’s the possibility to learn from your actions and change. Instead of removing yourself from a scene because you’re not in-mind politically, be more open and learning from the people around you. Try and change.”’
Whilst this call on the perpetrators of sexual assault to change is inspiring, Kline’s main concern is, of course, with the victims, and how the performer themselves can make a difference. She mentions the fact that Speedy Ortiz have set up a hotline to provide support for those who feel unsafe at shows, where the victim need only text a number, and the issue will be immediately relayed to the security (later that week, I see Modern Baseball have done a similar thing). Kline has also seen friends stop mid song to call out people fighting in the audience and ‘remind people this is supposed to be fun’. She also reminds the victims of sexual assault, in any situation, the importance of self-care.
‘Everyone’s different, but in my experience, attitude and opinion, I think it’s really helpful to try and not make it a part of your identity, to try and escape from it and not let it define your life. Stuff like that is just awful, and it can really mess you up and ruin your life for a while. I’m not saying you should ignore it, but do whatever you can to get past stuff like that. Whatever process you need to go through, including speaking out about it. Just don’t let that person or that situation affect your life as a whole. Don’t let your life lose value to you because of it. Be strong!’
Here, Kline takes another pause. I can see she looks worried, and the reason behind this is something I would never have guessed. ‘I’m worried what I’m saying sounds like “get over it”, and that’s not what I mean at all’. It’s clear that her concern for the victims goes beyond that of just a passing worry – she genuinely cares about the safety and mental well being of her fans, and the last thing she wants is for her words of support to be misconstrued. ‘There’s such a horrible stigma, it seems so dated to me, but so many people think it’s the person’s own fault. They’ll say “oh, you shouldn’t have been wearing that!” or “oh, you shouldn’t have been drinking!” It’s so stupid.’ This victim blaming is what Kline was worried she was insinuating, and she insists that this is far from the case, as she knows, from personal experience, how awful that is.
‘There was this guy that was basically attacking me outside of a show once. I was saying to him that I didn’t want to shake his hand because I was really sick… He grabbed me and tried to hug me. I ran away and I was crying. It was a really minor thing but it was still super scary. Then when I told my mom afterwards she was just like “oh, he was just drunk”. I was just like, “why are you defending this asshole?” If someone behaves like that when they get drunk, then they shouldn’t get drunk. Just don’t be a dick!’
Kline points out that this victim blaming might be a generational influence, which she hopes will fade over the next few decades of political change. ‘I hope that whatever makes a group of people a minority – be it your gender, race, sexuality – all the stuff people are targeted for will just disappear’.
It’s here that we begin to address the fact that sexual assault at shows may be representative of a wider issue: namely the place of women in music. Kline occasionally tackles this issue in her music – the opening song on her album Affirms Glinting, ‘shmuck in the room’, refers to how ‘the weird sound guy would never touch a man that way’. On the EP Fit Me In, the song ‘Young’
brings up the non-musical criticisms Kline receives on her music: her age, her
parents and the fact ‘it’s cute that I try’, comments a man would likely never
receive. Both of these songs address the difficulties, stereotypes and irrelevant factors of perception that women face in just trying to make music,
and it’s clear that Kline has dealt with these personally. So, upon being asked
what she would most like to change about these issues, she immediately has a
stock of answers.
‘There should be more accessibility in learning how to make music and put on shows. I think that’s one of the things that’s really hard for people who don’t grow up in a place where there’s a music scene or an easy, accessible way of learning an instrument or making a band. Stuff like the Girl’s Rock Camp seems like a really cool thing. Stuff like that – more access for young people to get into making music.’
What Kline does not mention is how her music itself also provides a large access for young people to get into making music. As previously mentioned, Kline’s bandcamp has nearly 50 albums that she just recorded in her bedroom, using just the sound of her voice and an acoustic guitar. The majority of the songs released on these albums are beautifully simplistic, comprising of a few barre chords that are repeated under a sweet melody. Kline’s topics range through a variety of emotions and situations, but, despite the personal aspect of her songwriting, she occasionally reflects the simplicity of her music with her lyrics. Songs such as ‘pov of toothbrush’, written about exactly that, ‘little debbies cosmic brownies’, written about being too stoned to buy brownies, or even an entire album entitled skinned elbow = now you’re cool (with picture to match), show that music does not need to be complex or well refined. This is a brilliant encouragement for young people, especially women, to simply make music for the sake of making music.
Earlier in the interview, I asked Kline if there were any musicians that she looked up to in terms of feminism. She said that, whilst she definitely focused on the music, she thinks the ways in which women carry themselves in interviews is important. ‘I love reading interviews with Joanna Newsom – she’s not directly talking about feminism, but I really like how she respects her own thing and doesn’t let people push her in interviews. I think in a way that’s a political thing since that’s so difficult to do as a woman.’ Kline achieved this easily in our interview: she brought up many thought provoking issues that spanned a wide range of topics, making it so difficult to try and manage that into an article. Overall, we both agreed that there was one message to be taken from it, a five word quote from Kline that should essentially be everyone’s life mantra:
“Just don’t be a dick.”
You can listen to and purchase the music of Frankie Cosmos on BandCamp
Interview by Mark Fenton