Colleen Green promotional shot for her new album, Cool.
Jenna Lemieux

Culture

Colleen Green Is ‘Cool’ With Life’s Frustrations

On her new album 'Cool,' Colleen Green moves past her angst with a shrug of punk.

Six years ago, Colleen Green couldn’t wait to grow up. She had just turned 30 and released I Want To Grow Up, the cult favorite angsty punk album that expressed desires like, “Someday I hope for a lover to kill me.” Through the album, Green tells NYLON she “exorcised a lot of demons.” Now, on her latest album Cool, she’s gotten over a lot of her angst — but is still frustrated.

“The more I think about it, the more it feels like angst is something that’s for teenagers,” she says. “I think frustration is a better word maybe, because I definitely still feel frustrated, as I'm sure everyone else does, with everything: the state of affairs and that feeling of powerlessness to change your experience.”

If I Wanna Grow Up was about exorcising internal angst, Cool is about contending with frustration from outside sources, from expectations, from the often-crushing weight of the world. But there’s a palpable sense of grounded triumph on Cool. The album feels like less the angst of rock and roll and more the shrug of punk. Green has exorcised some demons but still, like us all, struggles: with codependency, with uneven relationships, with the concept of social media self-promotion, with the idea of being with one person for the rest of your life.

Green explores these questions without overcomplicating them or taking them more seriously than they need to be. She knows that levity and frustration can exist together. On “I Wanna Be A Dog,” she sings: “All I want is for someone to tell me that I’m good,” in her quintessential stylized, breezy, sometimes spoke-sung vocals, which sound like Belinda Carlise and Kathleen Hanna dueting a lullaby. Cool is chock full of driving guitar riffs that don’t so much as step on the gas, but meander around the back roads — not necessarily building to a crescendo but twisting and turning to create dynamic riffs that are just as easy to dance to as they are to daydream to.

NYLON spoke with Green over the phone from her home in Massachusetts, where she grew up and moved back to last year after a decade in Los Angeles, about the weirdness of selfies, codependency, and how she changes her life every 10 years.

Cool is out now via Hardly Art.

Hardly Art

Tell me about the writing process for Cool. How long has this been in the works?

A long time. Some of the songs like “You Don’t Exist” are just a little diddy I’d come up with years and years ago that I never did anything with, because I was like, ‘Eh, that song is two bass notes. It's just whatever, it’s not a song.’ Stuff like that, I revisited and once I started fleshing it out, I realized it did really fit and fit with the theme and fit with the feeling and vibe of the other songs. I’d say over the past like seven to ten years, just little bits and pieces here and there, and then fully in earnest, I probably started working on it in 2017, really sitting down and being like, ‘Okay I’m making an album.’

I Want To Grow Up had a healthy amount of angst that comes with growing up. This one feels less angsty, more grounded but with your same humor, observation, and bite. Do you feel like that’s just from being older?

I think so. I definitely feel like there’s been a shift since I Want To Grow Up came out. I feel like making I Want To Grow Up, and especially releasing I Want To Grow Up, and witnessing and experiencing the reaction that people had to it really allowed me to exorcise a lot of those demons and all the stuff that fueled the angst that was detailed on that record. I feel like maybe it's not, like, a 12 step process I’m in, but each one of my albums has been a step in the process and I Want To Grow Up was a step, and it was maybe an admittance or recognition, and it helped me. I think it really helped me just come to terms with the actual problems, so in the interim I got to face those and try to deal with them, and Cool is the outcome of that.

Do you still feel angst? Maybe just about different things?

I don’t know if I’d call it angst at this point in my life. The more I think about it, the more it feels like angst is something that’s for teenagers. Maybe that’s something that has been conditioned in me, because you always hear about teen angst. It feels like more of a frustrated state of mind. I think frustration is a better word, maybe, because I definitely still feel frustrated, as I'm sure everyone else does, with everything: the state of affairs and that feeling of powerlessness to change your experience. But yeah, I think that's what I'm trying to do. The idea of trying to change the world at large is really daunting and overwhelming and that’s where a lot of the frustration comes from and the hopelessness and the powerlessness, but trying to start with what’s immediately around you can be a good first step, so I guess that’s where I’m at now — realizing there are some things you just can't change, or are going to take time, but you can start with yourself, and hopefully that will cause a ripple effect.

It’s funny. Angst is equated with being a teen, but it’s such a sexier concept than frustration. But they're kind of the same thing.

Right. It’s more rock and roll, too.

I read an interview where you said that at age 30, you were excited to grow up. Do you still feel like that?

Yeah, I’m still excited. I remember being very excited to be 30. I know my mom and dad would probably have something to say about this matter. Right now, I'm really enjoying the journey and enjoying just trying to be more open-minded every day and I’m excited to be in my 40s. Like I said, I was excited to be in my 30s. I’m definitely glad I'm not in my 20s anymore. They were fun, but I think I’m at a much better place now than I ever have been before, which is such a relief. I think with age hopefully comes wisdom, and with experience comes wisdom, and just working towards that goal of peace and love more and more with every day.

I read in an interview that you feel like you change your life every 10 years. What period of your life are you in now?

I just started a new era. My first change was age 25, I moved across the country and started a new life pretty much, like shaved my head, lived in California, which is pretty much the exact polar opposite of Massachusetts, where I’m from. I kind of started from scratch. That was a little over 10 years ago. So now, almost a year ago, I moved back to Mass. and we’re starting over again.

How has that move been? Do you feel like it’s influenced you creatively at all?

I hope so. It’s been hard to find motivation still. 2020 was a huge blow and it sucked and I wish I could have been one of those people, like, ‘Yeah, I recorded an album because I had all this free time,’ but I'm not. I didn't do anything. I’m still trying to get out of that funk, but on top of that, I have a whole new life now and I’m still trying to adjust to that. It’s had its ups and downs. When I first got here, I was so happy. Everything felt new. It was winter into spring and I forgot how much I love the seasons. It was so romantic, and then the reality set in, which is like, ‘What the f*ck did I do?’ I started feeling really lonely a few months ago. I totally forgot how hard it is to move across the country. To move to a new state, even if you know people, it can still be really, really lonely. Right now, today, I am feeling much better and I’m trying to start getting into the habit of working more, and I’ve met some new people here that have been inspiring me to work more if I want, in order to get the things that I want. In order to have the life that I want, I need to work harder and get off my ass and get in gear again because that's what really makes me happy, that’s what brings me joy, and I’m slowly and surely getting back into that habit of creatively regularly again.

On “Don’t Exist,” you sing about this idea of internet self-promotion: “If I had a million followers / Then maybe they would say, ‘CG so popular.” Your personality does seem to be extremely chill and not self-promote-y. How do you reconcile these two things? Self promotion is a part of being in the industry and also can be really weird, too.

It is weird. More and more, it feels like the most popular bands or musicians are just ones that use social media a lot and are really good at it, or take a million selfies because that’s what everybody loves. The people with the most followers are the ones that use social media the most and I don’t think that’s me. I know that it’s pretty much necessary in this day and age to have some kind of presence, and it does suck. I don’t think that that should necessarily be the responsibility of artists. Our responsibility should be making art, and the fact that we have to be the artist, photographer, publicist, marketer all rolled into one is kind of f*cked up, but I think for me, I just try to have fun with it and try to just do it my way because you can still be you and have your personality and get your feelings about it across. At the same time, everyone knows it's necessary at this point. I did a Selfie Challenge, so that’s like I’m sort of playing the game, but kind of making fun of it at the same time ,and making fun of myself for doing it.

It’s very tongue-in-cheek and self-referential like, “This is what I have to do, so I’m going to do it,” in a way that’s funny.

Yeah, exactly.

It’s funny though, because that is what people want even though it feels so bizarre to post.

It is weird and the more I did it — I did it for 2 weeks straight — it was fucking exhausting. I was so tired of taking pictures of myself. I was like, “How do people do this?” It’s so much.

Switching gears a little bit: This album touches on things like codependency and the concept of long-term relationships. On “How Much Should You Love a Husband,” you write that love is “considered a career.” These are such important questions and I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind this.

That’s something that I think about a lot. It's almost like a follow up to “Deeper Than Love,” the most opposite follow up you could possibly get to that song, but it's kind of a continuation. I’m well past marrying age probably at this point, or the societal norm of marriage age, so that’s something I think about a lot. Seeing a lot of my friends my same age or younger than me getting married, I see more and more by the day as I get older — it’s kind of hard not to think about it and just ponder, is this going to happen? Do I want this to happen for me? Am I the type of person that could actually make that work and could be happy in a marriage or even in a long term relationship? I don’t know! I still don’t have an answer so that’s why I think that song is a question. The whole thing is one big question.

I interviewed my grandmother once for a project in 5th grade and she got married at 15 and started having kids at 17 — she’s 102 by the way — she had 8 kids and after her husband died, I don’t think she was ever with anyone else. Thinking about stuff like that, it’s like, whoa, what the f*ck. I must have asked her, “Why didn’t you get a job?” and she was like, “Eh what’s a career? Your career is your family.” It’s been like 25 years ago since she told me that and it always resonated with me. If that’s something that you want, you kind of have to dedicate your life to it, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

I appreciate that it is a question because a lot of people do question the idea of marriage, or the idea of being with one person forever. It’s very relevant.

The idea of forever is so wild. And then you have people like Elizabeth Taylor, who was married five times and it seems like she was chillin’.

Right — because the idea of one person for a long time is kind of a wild concept.

It is, but then you have some people that are like, “F*ck yeah, one person forever, that’s what I want.”

“Someone Else” is my favorite track. It feels like it’s coming from a place both of being simultaneously in a situation where you’re with someone who you know has so many other people — but also you’re past it, and maybe triumphing over it, especially the line: “I can be as free as you.” Does it come from being in a situation like this or past it or both?

I think both. That song is based on a poem that I wrote over 10 years ago and it was about somebody that I was seeing that had somebody else. With every new person that I met, it’s just like the realization solidified more and more that everybody has somebody else. I have somebody else. I have a lot of other people, especially in this day in age of never losing touch with anybody you've ever met with social media. When I first wrote that poem, it wasn’t so much of a huge thing, but now with texting and Instagram and DMs, it’s like, do you ever really lose touch with anybody? That’s kind of the concept behind that. And also just the concept of codependency and realizing that you're responsible for your own happiness. You have a choice over what type of reaction you choose to have to a situation. It’s not about someone else dictating your happiness. It's about you and your choices dictating that.

In my mind, it’s a positive song and it’s kind of about, again, circling back to that concept of, who are you going to be with when this is all over? There’s a line at the end, like there’s always someone new but at the end of the day who do you want in your corner? Ultimately, you are going to have to make a decision. It is talking to someone else but it also is autobiographical. I’m talking about myself at the same time and that “do you” part at the end was originally a question, but then once the song was finished, I did realize it sounds like I’m telling someone to “do you.” That’s also an advisory to myself, too.

Is there anything about this album that nobody has picked up on yet or asked you about that you want to talk about?

Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t know, I’ve been really pleased so far with how much people have picked up on and how much people are really understanding the album so far, and pretty much every interviewer so far has been female, which totally sweetens the deal that much more. The fact that women of a certain age, but over a range, have responded well to it, and I think understood it and appreciated it — that means the world to me.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.