Frankie Cosmos and Joey Nebulous Are Time Travelers

Greta Kline and Joseph Farago talk manifesting the future through fictional songs, and more.

Joseph Farago is a Chicago-based musician who performs as Joey Nebulous, and with the bands Tenci and Jodi; Greta Kline is the New York-based musician who fronts the band Frankie Cosmos. The new Joey Nebulous single, “Break,” is out today, and features guest vocals from Greta — so to celebrate, the two hopped on Zoom to catch up about their songwriting origin stories, their shared love of pop culture, and much more. Joey Nebulous’s Joey Spumoni Creamy Dreamy Party All The Time will be out later this year on Dear Life Records. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Joseph Farago: Hi, Greta!

Greta Kline: So nice to meet you finally, and with a face.

Joseph: It is so great to see you. 

Greta: Have we met in person before?

Joseph: We met very briefly at Oberlin so many years ago.

Greta: Oh, what? When?

Joseph: It must have been [when] you played at my wonderful friend Indira’s house. I remember meeting you at the radio station really briefly.

Greta: Oh, cool. That same day?

Joseph: Yeah. And I remember after the show, me and one of my friends got your band and a bunch of our friends in a circle, and we started doing a song that we made up, like an improv song.

Greta: [Laughs.]I have no memory of that. 

Joseph: [Laughs.] That’s OK, it was kind of psycho. But it was fun!

Greta: It sounds really made up! I can’t see my bandmates like being down to do that.

Joseph: I remember it so well. Maybe that you weren’t in the circle, but it was the rest of them for sure.

Greta: Can you tell me more about it? I want to know.

Joseph: Yes. It was me and the original drummer for Joey, who was my best friend at school. We would come up with the weirdest shit together all the time, and the song that we made up — it was an improv song, and everyone would go around and say three things that you’ve never done, and then the final one was, “and I’ve never made love to a man!”

Greta: OK, it’s coming back to me, actually. 

Joseph: It would be like, [sings] “I’ve never seen a whale in the ocean/I’ve never been on a skyscraper/I’ve never been to a wedding/And I’ve never made love to a man!” And then it would go to the next person.

Greta: I remember doing that now.

Joseph: [Laughs.] This is a great way to start off.

Greta: That’s a really cool game. 

Joseph: Yeah. Well, I’m sorry that you don’t remember it.

Greta: I’m sorry, too. I have really few memories from my life, so I always have to ask people if I’ve met them before. But I remember that day pretty well. Because I remember [Greta and Joseph’s friend] Becca took us to get food and we were just kind of hanging out, but then we were like, “Should we play at your house tonight?” And then suddenly they were all like, “Yeah, let’s have a show!” We went and got drums from some other people at Oberlin and just made a show happen.

Joseph: I didn’t know that’s how it happened. 

Greta: Yeah, we were not supposed to play. We were just supposed to do Studio B and then start our tour the next day. But it was so good.

Joseph: Did you have fun at the show?

Greta: Oh, so much fun. I wanted to ask, was there a big music community going to school there? And are you still in touch with a lot of those people?

Joseph: Yeah, there was. Margaret [McCarthy], who is in my band now, was in the same grade at school. Margaret’s music is called Moontype — amazing, incredible, so talented. And we weren’t really friends at school, but after she moved to Chicago, I moved back home. We reconnected, we became the best of friends, and we talk so much about what it felt like to make music at school. When we started in 2013, it was so straight-male-dominated punk bands, and I think a lot of us who were the outliers of that were kind of like, “Damn, this is not great.” There was definitely a handful of people at school who pushed against that so vocally and were like, “There’s no women on these bills,” or “there’s no queer people on these bills,” or “these bills are all white.”

Greta: Oberlin bills?

Joseph: Oberlin bills.

Greta: Wow!

Joseph: Yeah. And throughout the couple years we were there, it completely changed. I feel like that’s when I started feeling empowered to start doing Joey stuff, because I was like, Who wants to listen to my little weird gay music? And then I was like, No, I should be playing. And I know Margaret felt the same. I feel so blessed to have been there for that time.

Greta: That’s so cool. Yeah, I feel like our age group — I don’t know if we want to come out and say that we’re both 28 years old. 

Joseph: We sure are.

Greta: Redact that from the transcript. [Laughs.] But I think we were right on the brink of that culture shift. I feel like young people now might not believe me when I say that I remember playing shows where I was the only girl in any band, and all the years before that attending shows where there was not a girl or a non-white person to be seen in any of the members of any band.

Joseph: Was that the same for you in New York?

Greta: Yeah, totally. It was all just straight white men every which way. And I think it’s still like needing to shift more, obviously, but I think what happened for white women can now happen for people of color and queer people. People are still are fighting for a seat at the table or a spot on the show, and I think whatever we did as a culture for white women, we need to now do for all those other kinds of people. Because it worked! I don’t think in the last, like, six years I’ve played any shows where… There’s no straight white men at my shows. Like, you don’t see them.

Joseph: And they shouldn’t be there in the first place!

Greta: [Laughs.] No, no, no, all are welcome. But it’s kind of unbelievable when you think about how much it’s shifted. It’s because we started our bands, is why.

Joseph: [Laughs.] I would believe that for you! I don’t think I can take that credit.

Greta: I mean it sounds like you started our bands around the same time did.

Joseph: Did we? Joey started in  2016. But you started in 2013?

Greta: Yeah, 2012. But I was in some bands before that. I had a riot grrrl band in high school and stuff, you know? 

Joseph: So sick. 

Greta: Did you not make bands as a kid? 

Joseph: No.

Greta: Oh, my god, you should have!

Joseph: I’m so envious of your life, of that experience. 

Greta: But you get to do it now.

Joseph: Yeah, we’re catching up. 

Greta: I do feel like your music is so playful and youthful and fun in a way that it is like you are getting to make that kind of band that you could have maybe [had as a kid]. It feel like you have a childish energy that you bring to making music. Is that a fair…?

Joseph: Absolutely. I mean, I think that mostly comes from me being extremely immature. [Laughs.] But other than that, I think that you totally nailed it. I’ve been writing songs for so long in my life, but a lot of them could be really morbid or serious. I was obsessed, growing up, with Fiona Apple and Joanna Newsom, and these really wonderful songwriters who played piano, which I played. And I think I really tried to emulate that. 

Greta: So you wrote songs as a kid?

Joseph: Yeah. It would be, like, to me and my piano teacher — that’s how I would get out of practicing, because I’d be like, “OK, we could play this Bach piece that you really wanted me to practice, or I can show you this little song that I’ve been working on.”

Greta: And would you sing it? 

Joseph: Yeah.

Greta: That’s great! I never showed my classical piano teacher the stuff I was making.

Joseph: Did you think they would be too critical? 

Greta: No, I just think he’s an old man and I didn’t want to, like, offend him with my little freaky, horny, songs. [Laughs.] 

Joseph: Oh, they were horny?

Greta: I don’t know! You know when you’re a kid, I feel like you write about your crushes. I was writing all kinds of crazy stuff. 

Joseph: I mean, that’s awesome to me, because I was definitely too scared.

Greta: My songs were like what your songs are like.

Joseph: [Laughs.] I’m trying to be you 20 years ago.

Greta: I will fall in love with the weather guy.

Joseph: Yeah, exactly. 

Greta: One of my favorite songs, by the way.

Joseph: That makes me so happy. I mean, you’re 100% right that it was like, something changed — I got to college, I became confident in myself, had so many queer friends, felt so much more like me, and then was so leaning into writing songs from a goofy, silly perspective and being honest about my life now. And I know a lot of queer people talk about having that second kind of teenage phase where you’re like, Wow, I didn’t get to experience the jovial, non-serious crushing stuff, or having those feelings out in the open. You kind of have to play catch up sometimes.

Greta: Do you feel like now when you write songs that it’s an exercise in nurturing your inner child?

Joseph: Kind of! I think more for me, as someone who has dealt with mental illness and anxiety and depression and all that good stuff, I think when I sit down to write something, most of the time instead of being like, I want to nurture my inner child, I feel like my head is like, I want to make me laugh and I want to have a good time. And playing music, I’m having such a good time, so I want us all to be like in on it together. 

Greta: It shows, and it works.

Joseph: Thank you!

Greta: Do you feel different when you perform live than when you perform for a recording?

Joseph: Totally. I mean, some people have said it’s, like, 15 minutes of jokes and 15 minutes of music. I feel like no one should have trusted me to have a microphone. And I feel like I realized at school that you can really say whatever you want — like as long as you’re confident, people will be having a good time.

Greta: When you’re the person holding the microphone? [Laughs.] 

Joseph: Yeah! Is that not how you feel? 

Greta: No, it’s dangerous. I feel the same.

Joseph: It’s so dangerous!

Greta: You know, I think there’s two belief systems: I think some musicians really believe that part of the job is being a comedian and some really don’t. 

Joseph: What do you believe?

Greta: I don’t know. For me, my banter comes from a place of anxiety and putting off starting the song. So I almost have to shut it down. I almost have gotten to a place where I barely say anything. I have stuff that I try and say, which is like, “Thanks for having us, we’re in blank city at blank venue, y’all are so great,” and introducing the bandmates. I just have to hit those points, and then if I start going, I’ll spiral, and then my drummer will suddenly be clicking off because he’s pissed off at me.

Joseph: And you’re like, “Don’t cut me off, I have things to say!”

Greta: “I have to tell a joke right now!” [Laughs.] My problem is, I think I’m a lot funnier than I am.

Joseph: You are so funny! I think you are hilarious.

Greta: Thank you. I think maybe we’re on a similar wavelength. I think it’s possible for people to hear both of our music and not know that it’s funny — or not know that we think it’s funny. And those people are going to have a really different experience of it.

Joseph: Absolutely. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I’ve played many times where people come up, and it’s mostly the gay stuff people want to talk about. 

Greta: Really? 

Joseph: Yeah. 

Greta: I mean, I launched right into it with you today, I guess. Because your bio is, like, “gay band.” 

Joseph: Yeah. I mean, it’s sweet, too, because some people want to talk because they don’t have queer people in their life. And I get that. But other times it’s like, yeah, but what you’re saying is maybe not seeing the irreverent, funny, silly, goofy aspect, and [only] seeing a very earnest, serious aspect.

Greta: Well, I think what’s beautiful is that those things can hold each other up. For example, the “Jennifer Aniston” song — it’s a funny concept, but it’s also emotional. It’s real. 

Joseph: This is something I really wanted to talk to you about as well, because I feel like we both reference pop culture in our music. “Jennifer Aniston” is listing a bunch of Jennifers in Hollywood — which, Jennifer is one of my favorite names. It’s like, if I’m making up a fake name, it’s “Jennifer” something. So it’s kind of an inside joke in that way. But I feel like I, as someone who is living my music through this kind of childlike sense, if I was a teenager I would also be looking at these pop culture icons that I idolize and love, asking them for support in a telepathic or a metaphysical way. I don’t know. But yeah, I just wanted to ask you too — you’ve got David Blaine, National Geographic. What about you compels you to add those things in into your songwriting?

Greta: It’s funny because I would say that the references in your song and in the songs of mine you just named are not super current stars, you know what I mean? Like, Jennifer Aniston and David Blaine are not currently like in their A-list moment. And, you know, we’re talking about the toxic entertainment industry, so what I’m saying is problematic, but they’re older than us.

Joseph: That is true, though. You can’t argue with that.

Greta: And I do realize I just said I was 28, but I’m actually 29 now. I admit that I lied about my age, as women are supposed to do. [Laughs.] But for me, there’s a part of it that’s a marker of where I was when I wrote [the song] or what was happening in the world around me. But it’s also so specific to me — it actually doesn’t put the audience in that place at all. Like me referencing David Blaine, I’m talking about me and my friends getting really into watching David Blaine’s Street Magic In 2013 — when those videos were old. And my friends had a house show spot called David Blaine’s The Steak House. For some reason, David Blaine was our special interest in that moment. They would have these house shows and get everybody in the audience to shout “Fuck Criss Angel!” for some reason. [Laughs.] I mean, some people who hear [the song] might go, “Oh, yeah, 2013, shows at David Blaine’s The Steakhouse,” or whatever. But it’s not a cultural marker for every audience member hearing it. It’s more just putting me in the place. I really do feel like it’s a diary entry, and people can take from it all kinds of different stuff.

Joseph: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that was so inspiring about your music to me, being like, “This is music that is meant to be personal and it’s meant to ground you in the place that you’re in.”

Greta: It’s not for the audience.

Joseph: It’s not for the audience, but the audience are going to listen because the melody is so hot. Which, I love that approach of music, like, “I’m going to write anything and I’m going to make you like it and be interested in it as long as it’s got a hook.”

Greta: Yeah. I feel like that brings me to something that we did want to talk about, which was the art of children for grown-ups, or cartoons for grown-ups. I don’t watch a lot of the cartoons that are for grown-ups, although I’m not averse to them. But we wanted to talk about Bob’s Burgers.

Joseph: We did.

Greta: That’s not a show for kids, really. I don’t think.

Joseph: No, there’s a lot of risque jokes in that show.

Greta: I guess there’s also risque jokes in, like, SpongeBob. It’s for the babysitter to enjoy, too, or the parents. But, yeah, I think “letting yourself like stuff” is something that maybe we have in common.

Joseph: I love that idea. I agree.

Greta: I mean, a lot of people just are snobs.

Joseph: I agree. And I think a lot of pop culture is taboo to talk about, especially making indie rock or alternative music. I mean, I was so obsessed with Grimes, and I don’t know what she’s up to now and her head space, but when she was starting off, she was like, “I love experimental electronic music, but I also know that my influences are Mariah Carey.” And that was so inspiring to me, because I felt the same way. Pop artists should be celebrated and we shouldn’t be ashamed for liking those things. Pop is so important too me, in the same way that Bob’s Burgers is so important to me… Oh, my God!

[Greta’s dad, Kevin Kline — who plays Mr. Fischoeder on Bob’s Burgers — enter’s the frame.]

Greta: I’ve got a special guest from Bob’s Burgers for you, Joey.

Kevin Kline: [Puts his hand up to his eye like an eyepatch.] Which eye is my patch on? I forget.

Greta: We got Mr. Fish over here!

Joseph: It’s so nice to meet you! You have some of my favorite lines in the show.

Kevin: It’s nice to meet you! Greta told me you said that.

Joseph: I heard you don’t really watch yourself back in the show.

Kevin: Well, it comes on, like, six months after I do it, and I’ve moved on then. 

Greta: [Laughs.] Anyway, here he is in the flesh. I just wanted to, you know.

Joseph: It is so nice to meet you. Were you just standing there the whole time?

Greta: No, he just happened to sort of come in.

Joseph: Incredible. 

Kevin: Yeah, I heard “Bob’s Burgers” as I was walking in. 

Joseph: It is a really important show in my family.

Greta: Aww.

Kevin: That’s great! It’s nice to hear that.

Greta: Alright, well, you’re released. We’re going to keep talking. 

Kevin: I’m released? Bye!

[Kevin leaves.]

Greta: But, yeah. It’s an interesting cultural phenomenon.

Joseph: Absolutely.

Greta: Wait, I want to go back to what you were saying about Grimes and pop music. Because I actually feel like I’m realizing as we’re talking about this — and maybe this is obvious — but that thing of it being uncool to pop music or fun popular culture is rooted in sexism and homophobia.

Joseph: Oh, absolutely.

Greta: It’s like, that’s stuff that girls and gays like, so it’s not cool.

Joseph: I can remember a time in high school where I would measure out how many pop singers who are women I was listening to, and being like, Well, I need to make sure that I’m listening to guy bands too so I don’t seem gay. You know, all that shit, which is so mentally draining and stupid.

Greta: I think a lot of adults function that way too. They pick what they like because they think it says something about them. I can’t pretend to like something, or to not like something.

This feels related, but I was going to [bring up the idea of] self-mythologizing, because I feel like you have some Joey mythology.

Joseph: Yeah, I also was self-referencing. I totally would love to talk about that.

Greta: I feel like that’s something that we both have have dipped our toes in. 

Joseph: I love the way that you do it. Does it go with the diary kind of essence, or is it more fantastical?

Greta: I think it’s more fantasy. I think there’s a pop music element to it. I feel like it’s like, “It’s Britney, bitch.” It’s that kind of thing.

Joseph: “It’s Britney, bitch.”

Greta: Another band that I wanted to shout out is Krill. Krill had had a song, “Krill Forever,” that I think really paved the way for me to do some self referencing.

Joseph: Incredible. I mean, for the song “Break,” that we both sing on — which I’m so happy that you wanted to collaborate on it.

Greta: So fun.

Joseph: And something with the mythologizing is that I love writing songs that are not real or about a future that I’m making up and trying to manifest. The whole song is [about] having this kind of romance with somebody and like being really guarded, but having them pursue it in a beautiful, compassionate way that makes you drop your guard. 

Greta: Is that something you’re trying to manifest? Are you guarded?

Joseph: I mean, I feel like I’m mostly a very open book, but I can definitely be like, “Oh, I’m seeing somebody,” and then I’m just kind of like, “This is too much for me,” or there’s something that I’m not feeling and I just kind of shut it down. And that’s here nor there. 

But the other thing that I wanted to say was, I just wrote a song that we started performing called “Sex With You,” and the chorus is, “Sex with you/It is so good/It is so good/It is so good.” Who is it about? Nobody! Nobody in particular. But was I was just like, I’m going to make up this song where I have this person that I’m in love with, or just having an intimate time with, but it’s awesome.

Greta: [Laughs.] It’s really, really funny in conversation with the Rihanna song

Joseph: I mean, that was obviously a nod!

Greta: It’s really funny because, “It is so good,” actually sounds, like, bad.

Joseph: [Laughs.] Wait, what do you mean?

Greta: Because the Rihanna song is like, “Sex with you, so amazing.” And you’re just like, “It’s so good.” [Laughs.] It’s like, kind of mean.

Joseph: [Laughs.] That’s so funny. I did not think about it that way. I’m not Rihanna, so I don’t think I could ever be like, “sex with me so good.” I’m definitely not confident in that way.

Greta: I forgot hers was “Sex With Me.” Yours is, “Sex with you — it’s so good!” 

Joseph: [Laughs.] Yes! It’s cheerful. But that is all to say, I love talking about real life, but I also love making your life this fantastical thing and writing about from places that aren’t so real, or [you’re] wishing would be real. Because all in all, it’s art and it’s fun and it can be irreverent.

Greta: Totally. I think writing fiction into it is very interesting, because sometimes you end up being like, Wait, that actually then happened.

Joseph: Like in the future.

Greta: You do kind of find that those songs come back to mean something specific to you.

Joseph: Absolutely. I mean, all writing comes from a place of truth, you know?

Greta: Yeah. And I think we’re a little bit time travelers, as musicians.

Joey Nebulous is helmed by Joseph Farago, the Chicago-based musician who also performs with the bands Jodi and Tenci. Their record Joey Spumoni Creamy Dreamy Party All The Time will be out later this year on Dear Life Records.