On Figuring It Out, Publicly

A conversation with Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos) and Hannah Read (Lomelda).

Greta Kline is the driving force behind New York’s Frankie Cosmos; Hannah Read is the LA-based artist who performs as Lomelda. Here, the two good friends discuss Read’s new album M For Empathy, the weirdness of being young and figuring yourself out in a public forum, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
— Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse Music

Greta Kline: I was gonna ask you if you made this album by yourself?

Hannah Read: I made it with my brother, just the two of us in Texas. I went there for a weekend and we put this together while I was there. He plays piano on a song, and guitar on [another].

Greta: Is this the least people that you’ve had play on a Lomelda album?

Hannah: This is the least. Actually, it wasn’t that different than the past — I guess the only difference, usually, is I’ll have a drummer come in. But pretty much everything else I always do myself.

Greta: You had said that it feels really personal, but I think all your music feels like that. So it’s not that different, but I can imagine that it was just you making it. I was imagining just you in your house, even though it sounds really good.

Hannah: That’s cool! I was gonna ask if it gave you a visual, because I obviously think it sounds like where I made it, but I think it sounds really tangible in a certain way — that it feels like a place to me. That’s a really exciting description to me, though, that it sounds like I made it in my house, but nice.

Greta: It just feels very alone in a really nice way. I’m obsessed with the way that you record vocals. [It’s] my favorite production. It just feels like you’re next to me. I think that your voice is perfect for it because you have such an expressive singing voice — even if you were singing nonsense words, you could make a feeling come across. It’s really raw.

I think your other records are like that too. Do you feel like this album is different from the other stuff that you’ve made, in any in any particular way?

Hannah: Yeah, I think it’s better.

Greta: Do you always feel like that though? Because I always feel like that.

Hannah: Yeah, I do always feel like that. I hope that I always feel like that. I hope that if I didn’t like it more than the last one, I wouldn’t even put it out. But it’s definitely different; it feels like it’s kind of the thing that I’ve been trying to make. I think that there are hints of it on the previous ones, but it never quite went to this particular place.

Greta: I wanted to ask you about making a record knowing that your audience has grown. Does it take a special effort to keep it real knowing that there are more people listening and making assumptions about you and the meanings of the songs, or just even having their own personal relationship with it?

Hannah: I definitely [think about the audience], but I guess this one does, like you said, feel like it was made to feel like it’s just in you in your headphones — like it’s for one listener. So I guess I didn’t think of a big audience, because I was just wanting someone to listen to it on their own.

Greta: It feels like you would have made it either way, and that we’re just lucky that you are choosing to put it out [Laughs]. It feels like a diary, where it feels very personal to you making it — or not even that it’s like a diary, but that it’s for you.

Hannah: It 100% is for me. I think I told someone recently that I needed it — I said it without knowing what what I was saying, really, but I think that’s probably true.

Greta: Do you say stuff in music that you wouldn’t say in real life? Like, do you need to make the album to express something that you maybe wouldn’t be able to otherwise?

Hannah: Yeah. I used to feel that way a lot more. I think now the way that I need it is it makes sense of the things that I want to say a little more clearly for me. There’s something about being concise that is helpful to my understanding of the world — boiling it down to a handful of lines.

Greta: Other than you, is the album for anyone specific?

Hannah: Usually when I use the word “you” in a song, I’m hoping that anyone else who listens to the song has a “you.”

Greta: Not that the listener is the “you,” but that the listener is Lomelda.

Hannah: Yes, that they have a “you” and are me [Laughs]. The “you” is hopefully never the audience. Not on this record. These are really melodic [songs] that are singable, so as soon as someone else is singing it, it’s theirs.

Greta: It’s funny, because I can’t sing them [Laughs].

Hannah: Yes, you can!

Greta: You’re such a good singer, and there are so many things on this album that a layman could not sing. I think that about all your music — it can get stuck in my head, but I can’t actually sing it. You know you’re a skilled singer, right?

Hannah: [Laughs] Um, sure. I know that I sing a very particular way.

Greta: But you imagine other people singing these songs to themselves?

Hannah: Totally! Do you imagine people singing your songs?

Greta: I don’t.

Hannah: You never do? Because people do.

Greta: Later I see it, and then I think about it. But when I’m making the thing, I never think about that. I think this is more the influence of my bandmates, but sometimes now we think about what songs are gonna make people dance, or how they’re gonna react physically.

I never think about people singing along, although I do really enjoy hearing [the audience] say certain things back at me at shows. I think it’s kind of insane when you see, like, young men singing my lyrics. It’s really shocking, and moving. I just feel like a lot of the songs, in my mind, there’s no way that anybody can understand what they really mean, so it’s fun to see people who have really different experiences than me find their own meaning. Or maybe they do understand it, and that’s even more crazy to think about.

Hannah: That’s sort of the nature of melodic songwriting, it’s always going to play with that. It’s always going to be a little bit of a mind trip in that way, because it makes it so someone else can own it in a certain sense, or even create it themselves. It makes everyone think that everything’s relatable, even though it’s really far removed experiences.

Greta: That’s such an interesting way to think about it. I love that. It’s a cool reason to make a song — to get other people to sing along and be saying this crazy thought that you had that’s really personal to you.

Something that I always want to ask other artists about is if they think about the effect that their music has on people, but also particularly young impressionable people hearing their music — if you feel at all responsible towards them, or care about something specific that you want them to gain?

Hannah: I do think about that. I think about the audience a lot, but especially a young audience — that always turns my mind towards what can be learned, or what am I learning, and wanting to include that in the song. It just leaves me with some feeling of being unsatisfied if it doesn’t have that turn.

Greta: It scares me to think that I’m teaching any kind of younger person anything about anything. I’m just trying to figure it out, and it just happens to be being viewed publicly.

Hannah: It’s terrifying.

Greta: But I also think that the positive side of it is that it makes the listener feel less alone. I feel like listening to your music, it’s not like I need you to answer these philosophical questions for me. It’s more like, you maybe don’t know either, and I feel camaraderie and I feel less alone when I hear that this person I respect and admire has a similar feeling to me.

Hannah: Totally. I feel like I get responses like that from peers or friend. Then when it comes to family, it just becomes concern instead of camaraderie.

Greta: It’s scary to show your parents your scary feelings, right? Do your parents talk to you about scary things that you say, or feelings of yours that you’ve expressed in a song?

Hannah: That has never happened, but I’m 100% sure that my dad will read this interview, so we’ll see what he says afterwards.

Greta: When I used to just willy-nilly put up music on Bandcamp, I’d put out an album and my mom would call me like, “Did you guys break up?” I’d be like, “No, I’m just writing some sad songs about my feelings. There’s no news.”

Hannah: It’s like if your boyfriend or girlfriend or something writes a song, and you’re reading into it like, OK, so what does it mean?

Greta: [Laughs] Yeah, I’ve been there. It’s so scary. That used to just torment me. I would just be like, “What the fuck is this? Do you hate me?” And I wrote songs like that, that were just like “I hate you.”

That’s kind of what I meant earlier when I was asking if you write songs for people to hear, and do you write it almost as a way of telling them something that you wouldn’t tell them in real life? Because for me it’s that, but it’s even deeper than that — the only place I would even let myself have the thought is in the song.

Hannah: Now that you say it that way, I can see it.

Greta: Sometimes when I’m feeling angry, or I want to write an angry text or something, I’ll just write a song instead. It’s like, this is crazy as a text message or a tweet or an email, but it’s not crazy as a lyric. That’s where I’m allowed to have the crazy thought.

Hannah: I remember you one time introducing a song like, “This is a song that I made instead of yelling at someone.”

Greta: [Laughs] Yeah, they are all like that. But it’s also really funny thinking that the “you” in the song will never know that it’s them sometimes. That’s pretty freaky.

Hannah: It’s pretty fun.

Greta: Yeah, it’s fun and interesting. It’s like witchcraft, like a secret. It’s almost like kind of bad, putting this thing into the world but not giving it to this person directly. And then what if somebody thinks it’s about them and it’s not? That’s horrible.

Hannah: Oh, that doesn’t bother me.

Greta: I just mean, what if I hear a song of yours and I’m just like, Oh, man, this song is about how Hannah hates me.

Hannah: OK, that would make me sad.

Greta: I’m so self-centered that I have that experience listening to lots of things. I’m like, This is about me and I suck. I mean, it’s not, but it’s definitely a thing that I have to keep at bay. This is turning into stuff I need to bring to therapy, not to Talkhouse [Laughs].

Hannah: I would love for my therapist to hear this record.

Greta: Do you show your therapist your music?

Hannah: No, but I want to.

Greta: I wonder if your therapist would know what the songs are about, or would be able to relate them to the things that you’ve told them otherwise. Maybe you’ve said some of the thoughts in the songs in other ways.

Hannah: Maybe, I don’t know.

Greta: You kind of have a hard shell to crack, right?

Hannah: [Laughs] OK!

Greta: Do you feel like sometimes you try to sort of not have the emotion?

Hannah: Oh, yeah. For sure.

Greta: I feel that way about myself, even though I come off as extremely emotional, and I like to pretend I’m really in touch with my feelings. I’m realizing that I’m actually not, and that a lot of what I do is sort of a way of not letting myself experience my feelings or process them. I think that song is the weird place where I let myself say something that I would never let myself think.

It’s so crazy, the other day I was recording vocals on this song and as I was doing it, I was like Oh, my god, I wrote this song a year ago and I just understood why. I was able to write it, but it took me a year to understand what it meant. It’s just like this wall between me and my emotions that I don’t know how to break down. I think songwriting is part of the process of breaking it down. Do you feel like your songs change meaning for you over time?

Hannah: Yes. I mean, that’s kind of a redemptive quality, right? That it changes, because I change and the world changes.

Greta: One of my favorite quotes from that book Bluets — there’s this part about, “No man steps into the same river twice, because it’s not the same man and it’s not the same river.” I love that, because everything’s always moving and changing. I find that comforting, because even if you find yourself doing something that feels repetitive, or that you feel wasn’t right for you in the past, it’s different now. It’s like a little sense of hope.

Hannah: It’s extremely hopeful. That’s the greatest sense of hope that I have, that things change.

Greta: And that you’re changing. I also want to mention that I love that a lot of your lyrics pose questions. I wonder if you ever feel like, later, those questions get answered by [playing the songs] over and over again on tour every night? Do you ever feel like, Right now, at this moment, I know the answer more than when I wrote it?

Hannah: Oh, my god, I am so looking forward to that happening. That has never happened, but I really hope that it does [Laughs].

Greta: Maybe in a year when you’re playing one of these songs, you’re going to go, Oh, I now know that when I sleep, I’m still me.

Do you want to explain the title of the album?

Hannah: [Long pause.] I don’t have a very good explanation right now.

Greta: It’s good that you’re not doing a lot of press for this album, because you would have to find an answer for that if you’re going to talk to more interviewers like myself [Laughs].

Hannah: I’m really glad that I’m not [Laughs].

Greta: That’s cool that you’re doing that. Was there a particular reason, or you just don’t want to?

Hannah: I mean, a lot of the album is about not wanting or to knowing how to say something — or whatever it is that keeps me from talking — and finding peace in only saying so much. So it seemed really fitting to just say what I’m saying on the record and not much else.

Greta: I’m also just realizing now: every [song] title has a pair, almost. There’s [three] “M” songs; there’s “Bust” and “Bunk;” there’s “Talk” and “Tell,” and the two “So Bad” songs, and then, “Watering” and “Slide.” I don’t know if that’s on purpose, but I’m just noticing that.

Hannah: The one on its own is “Me.”

Greta: Was that on purpose?

Hannah: It crossed my mind.

Greta: Did you have an order in mind when you were recording it, or did you figure it out afterwards?

Hannah: It was ordered. I actually tried to do the vocal take all the way through, but that ended up being a logistical nightmare, so we didn’t do that. I wanted it to feel like how it would feel to move through it for me — it’s all about me, to me [Laughs].

Greta: I wanted to ask: You’ve done multiple versions of songs in the past, and something that I feel is that, I don’t think that there’s an ideal version of any song. I think the song is bigger than the recording, and that it can be recorded a million different times, in different ways. I wonder if you feel like that?

Hannah: I think it can be a forever thing, for sure. I mean, that’s the same sort of thing that you were saying earlier — why I like music so much is that each time it’s different, and that can be really hopeful. Every single time I’ve gone on tour, it’s like rewriting all of the songs. Though I do love the art of recording, and I think that there are versions of songs — like, other people’s songs — that I’m like, that’s it, that’s the song. For example: Bill Withers’s “Lean On Me” — I think that Bill Withers’s recording is my favorite song of all time’ it’s so good. But it’s been almost overdone, so you don’t even hear the emotion of it anymore, because everybody just sings it like karaoke. It’s kind of sad.

Greta: But also it’s cool, because the perfect version exists, but it can continue to mean different stuff for different people.

It’s funny, because just today, I was reading this — my aunt clips out [the Wall Street Journal’s] Anatomy of a Song; they’re articles dissecting how a song was made — I was reading about the Doobie Brothers song, “What A Fool Believes.” Back then, two people would get together and write song, and then they would both be like, “This is my song,” and they would both make it on their albums. I guess the guy that co-wrote it with one of the Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, wanted to put it on his solo album, and then later, the Doobie Brothers put it out and it became a number one hit. I listened to both versions and they’re so different. I was like, wow, that’s so sad! This poor guy! It would be like if Carly Rae Jepsen did a version of “Fool” by Frankie Cosmos and it was a number one radio hit. I’d be bummed! I mean, I don’t know her, but you know what I mean — the same song can be so different.

Do you listen to music for fun?

Hannah: [Laughs] Because you don’t?

Greta: I don’t not, It’s just, when I’m touring a lot, I feel overloaded sensorially, and now when I’m home I can feel like I actually enjoy music.

Hannah: Yeah, I guess I do listen to music for fun, though when I got home from the last year of touring, I didn’t. I really took a break because I was completely uninterested in engaging with music.

Greta: I also go through big breaks like that, where I’m like I can’t deal with this at all, and just attach myself to my other hobbies.

OK, so now let’s talk about Buffy [the Vampire Slayer]. Did that influence your songwriting at all?

Hannah: [Laughs] I hadn’t started watching that when I wrote all of these songs, I think.

Greta: Honestly, I just want to talk to you about it since you and I haven’t talked since you started watching it.

Hannah: I stopped watching it, though, actually.

Greta: [Gasps.] It’s really worth finishing. The ending will be with you forever. Where did you leave off?

Hannah: I watched the first episode of season seven. The season six ending [took] an emotional toll. Everything with Willow just made me feel so much.

Greta: That season — I mean, all of Buffy is like this, where the real life metaphors are so powerful. Like, even if you don’t believe in magic or vampires or demons, it really hits on some stuff that feels really real to me. The Willow stuff feels really relatable and intense, and same with what Buffy goes through in season six — they really do a good job of showing her depression. It’s so genius, that show. I actually started to read a book of, like, critical theory of Buffy, and I was like, this is too much. I’m not smart enough. But, like, the fact that that exists is enough for me [Laughs]. I’d rather just watch it.

I love TV. That’s my big hobby when I’m home. What’s your number one hobby other than music?

Hannah: I haven’t actually actualized it in my own life, but I’m very interested in fermentation. I’ve done a little bit of pickling, but it’s very, very amateur.

Greta: Isn’t fermenting more dangerous and complicated?

Hannah: It’s not that dangerous, but it requires — I mean, it’s definitely not a tour thing. You have to be home to do it, and attending to these things. I guess my hobby is just watching YouTube videos about fermenting things. There’s one that I’ve watched several times that’s about tofu; It’s so beautiful.

Greta: I also just got into YouTube. Like, YouTube culture — I haven’t been following it for the last seven years, but now I’m back in. I’m loving it.

Hannah: What corner of YouTube are you in at the moment?

Greta: Well, It started with — like, sometimes when I finish a TV show that I am sad there’s not more of it for me to watch, and I’m not ready to start watching it over again, I’ll watch behind the scenes stuff, or interviews with the people who made it. This is a pretty embarrassing one: The other night, I spent, like, two hours watching press videos from the cast of Riverdale. I love dumb press videos.

I also started watching makeup YouTube. I started watching this girl; she does makeup and talks about her life. She dropped out of high school to be a YouTuber, she’s really famous. I don’t know what that even means, but it’s pretty interesting. I also like videos parents post of their

little kids doing funny things. I love it all. Anything YouTube shows me, I’ll watch it and I’ll love it.

(Photo Credit: left, Caroline Tompkins; right Laura Lee Blackburn)

Greta Kline is a musician from New York City. She has been the lead singer and songwriter of the band Frankie Cosmos since 2012.