Greta Kline is not here to make music for you.
But she doesn’t mind if you’re listening, either.
At the age of 22, the singer-songwriter better known as Frankie Cosmos has developed a style of indie pop distinctly her own. She writes less traditionally etched songs than intricately doodled vignettes. Each one offers a brief peak into her life – at times cutting, at times heartbreaking, always peppered with details and executed with an economy of words and sound. Her ability to pull this off – to craft tunes that pack emotional heft, wit, and personality into a slim 150 seconds – has justifiably attracted praise from critics and fans alike over the past few years.
Ultimately, though, there’s only one person to please.
“I think that if I’m gonna do this as a job or for the rest of my life, which is what I hope to do – right now, at least – being in a band has to be something I care about and what I want to make,” Kline says, with enough conviction as to erase any doubt in either one of us.
Though she’s at the front end of a marathon of phone interviews to promote her upcoming album, Next Thing, and the accompanying U.S. tour, Kline maintains an air of assertive calm when I reach her over the phone early on a Tuesday night in late March. As she sits in her Greenwich Village apartment, the musician is unperturbed by the swell of external expectations surrounding her music.
“If I have to cater my thoughts to an audience, that’s not the job I want to have,” Kline continues, with measured delivery. “I’d rather have nobody be hearing it and be making what I want.”
Your songs often explore relationships and interpersonal dynamics – a mix of the present, past, and fictional. When do you decide to draw from your experiences versus something outside of them?
It really depends. Sometimes, I’ll be only writing about experiences for, like, six months. Sometimes, I’ll write a bunch of really big ideas about concepts for six months, you know? Sometimes, it’s one style a day after the other. It depends on what I’m feeling or what I want to write about.
Do the lines ever begin to bleed over? Can you ever truly separate yourself, Greta, from your output as Frankie Cosmos?
I don’t know. I think that in anything that I write, whether or not it’s about me, it’s definitely going to have my emotions in it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a story about my life or whatever. It’s hard to separate.
Plus, in a much crazier way, who is “me?” Is it who I think I am or is it who someone else perceives me to be? So, if someone perceives a song to be about me, then maybe it is. [Laughs]
You’ve discussed taking pleasure in keeping some of your art private. Do you feel any tension about that as a performing artist?
For me, partly, it’s because there’s so much of me that’s out there through my songs that part of me just wants to have stuff that’s private – private stories, and who I am, really. I don’t want to always give my full self to the world. I like having some stuff that’s just secret. [Laughs]
What’s the criteria for what gets released and what you keep to yourself and your close friends/family? You’ve already got a discography of over forty “demo albums” on Bandcamp. How much more is there that you’re not sharing?
When I was putting out music on Bandcamp, I was putting it all out. There was no throwaways.
Now, since signing with labels and holding back on releases because we’re focusing on these bigger albums, there are things that get left out. I’m a little bit more selective about what songs I choose to bring to the band and “finish,” because sometimes I feel like I’ll never finish a lot of them. It fluctuates: Sometimes I’ll write three songs and want to put them all on an album, and sometimes I’ll write ten and only use one. This is a new thing for me. [Laughs]
From the outside, the anticipation for Next Thing feels different from those previous records. Maybe it’s just that with each record, more people have paid attention. But it seems as if more eyes are you than ever before. Is that something you’ve felt?
Yeah, definitely. This is the first time that I’ve made an album knowing that it would be written about and reviewed and heard. I think this had a big impact on my emotions during the process, but I really tried to not let that affect the actual writing.
Did the increasing amount of attention you’ve received changed how you approached Next Thing?
I guess the metaphor for the kind of experiences I’ve had is this: If you meet a person you have a crush on, and they like you and ask you out, and you’re freaking out about what to wear on the first date, you should just wear something you would wear normally, because they like you normally, which is why they asked you out. [Laughs]
Obviously, the reason Zentropy received acclaim or had people writing about it – which was a huge surprise to me, because I made it for fun – is because it was coming from a pure place. I wanted to make this next album be what I would have made anyways. I just want to make me, normal; not thinking about what song is going to be the single or the hit or whatever.
You open “Sinister” with the simile of your soul and a water park, which like a lot of your songwriting, struck me as something both unusual and compelling. Do you try to avoid easy, more conventional metaphors?
I don’t actively try to avoid them. I should also probably say that that metaphor didn’t come from me – someone once said to me that my soul is like a water park, and I was kind of fighting against that. [Laughs awkwardly] So, I’m not going to take credit for that one.
I think everyone is probably trying to fight against being cheesy or being really obvious and using cliché metaphors. But I also think sometimes clichés can have a lot of power, so I’m not against them.
That song features a subtle reference to Arthur Russell. What’s your favorite record or song by him?
Oooooh. Well, my current favorite song of his is “Your Motion Says” because it’s just the freakiest song. I don’t know why, it’s just been really making me excited recently.
What’s your go-to song for when you’re feeling sinister?
I guess it probably depends what kind of sinister I’m feeling. If I want to wallow in it, and feel sad, I’d listen to a sad song. If I want to be happy, I’d listen to happier ones.
Someone just asked me in another interview what the best album is to listen to when you’ve just been dumped, and I said Another Side of Bob Dylan, because to me that’s a classic relationship troubles album. I want to say that again – I think that album is really good for when you’re sad. Especially if you’re feeling crazy about love. It’s super about that. I don’t know – it’s very complicated. [Laughs]
You’ve had some experience on the booking side of the house, through your work with Showpaper. Do you think your sound was affected by working there and the exposure to so many different bands and art styles?
I think one of the most important things it did for me was hearing bands and people making music in their homes that was amazing. I was excited about. It made me want to record at my house. I also saw a lot of young people making music and playing shows. Showpaper is where I first heard Eskimeaux.
Also, I booked the first few Frankie Cosmos tours myself, and I feel like booking shows is a really good way to get in touch with what’s going on when you’re playing shows, so you don’t become a brat who just expects everyone to be working for you. There’s so much going on behind the scenes at shows. It was a good experience for me to have before having my own band.
Are you still connected/involved in the New York DIY scene? Do you think the nature of DIY scenes – both in participants and locations – is inherently one of turnover and change?
Oh, interesting. [Pauses] I don’t know if I’d call myself “involved” in the current DIY scene. I play shows at DIY venues. We decided that we’d have two release shows at a smaller DIY venue that we feel connected to because we’ve played there a lot and gone to a lot of shows there and love it. I feel like I’m connected to it in that way. I guess I am, but I don’t book shows anymore, and I don’t help that much. [Laughs]
But I do think that the nature of scenes – all scenes – is about change. The people that were playing the shows when I started going to shows were high school kids. And when I got to high school, those kids had gone off to college, so there were new bands.
When I started playing music, the bands I started playing with were not from the city proper; they were folks traveling around. It definitely feels like the scene that I’m aware of now is much bigger than just New York: There are bands from Philly that we are friends with, and bands from Purchase. It’s always a bigger scene than you know it is.
It’s a shame that a lot of the great venues like 285 Kent, Glasslands, and Death By Audio have closed. We’re beginning to see some of that in DC – a great DIY space, Union Arts, is being replaced by a hotel.
The venues changing is really crazy. I feel like I just got to the point where I got to play a show at Death By Audio before it closed, and I could have missed that opportunity. I used to go to shows there when I was a teenager. And, like, Silent Barn and Shea Stadium – it’s great that they still exist, and that they survived the moves, but it’s definitely different people running them from their older iterations.
It’s crazy, and it sucks to have a venue close, because there are so many special memories from them. You just hope that someone will take the torch of booking cool stuff.
On the bright side, I feel like for every venue that closes or band that disintegrates, there’s always going to be a counterpart that never quits. For every band that breaks up, there is the one band that has stuck around for twelve years and playing consistently. There’s always the good stuff for the people who really care.