Frankie Cosmos began as one of many aliases used by bedroom pop songwriter Greta Kline, who released dozens of collections home-recorded songs (with titles like much ado about fucking and Jared Leto Can’t Read) throughout her teenage years. In 2014, the prolific songwriter expanded the project to a full-band lineup, and the releases that followed brought massive amounts of attention and acclaim. The band’s brand-new LP Vessel cements Kline’s reputation as an enthralling and empathetic songwriting voice, whilst clever arrangements showcase a quartet who refuse to rest on their twee-pop laurels. Xavier Rubetzki Noonan spoke to Greta Kline about maintaining DIY ethics in the wake of success, getting into character, and trying not to freak out about the future.
FOR MANY YEARS YOU WERE UPLOADING MUSIC REGULARLY, ALMOST CONSTANTLY, TO BANDCAMP, BUT IT’S BEEN A COUPLE OF YEARS SINCE THE LAST RELEASE. YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY BEEN BUSY, BUT DID YOU FEEL BOTTLED UP DURING THAT TIME?
No, I mean, I’m always writing music. I just don’t put everything out anymore… I don’t put everything out all the time anymore.
DO YOU THINK THE WAY YOU WRITE MUSIC HAS CHANGED NOW THAT YOU’RE RELEASING MUSIC ON A MORE TRADITIONAL SCHEDULE? HAS IT MADE YOU SPEND MORE TIME ON EACH SONG, OR DO THEY JUST END UP PILING UP?
A little bit of both. I think mostly I just end up stockpiling a bunch of music, but I do think that the amount of my time that is devoted to writing is overall less, because we tour so much that I just have so few days at home, and that’s where I can like, finish writing a song. I think my process hasn’t changed that much, I’m very focused on making sure that my process doesn’t change too much – I mean, it changes all the time in different ways, but I’m not thinking about the fact that anybody’s gonna hear it. I think that I have to block that thinking out – I don’t think about what the finished product’s going to be when I write songs.
SO IF YOU’RE STILL WRITING ALL THE TIME, IS THAT STUFF THAT YOU’D JUST KEEP FOR YOURSELF, OR WOULD THAT BE LIKELY TO COME UP IN FUTURE PROJECTS AND RELEASES?
I think some of it will probably end up on the next Frankie Cosmos album, maybe other projects. Sometimes I’ll send a bunch of new song demos to my friends. I think for the most part it’s just private for now; I like to sit on them for a while, and wait and see which ones I think are good later, and then maybe those will be the ones we work on as a band.
DID KNOWING THAT THIS ALBUM WOULD BE RELEASED THROUGH SUB POP, PRESUMABLY TO A WIDER AUDIENCE THAN EVER BEFORE, INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU PUT IT TOGETHER?
We hadn’t signed with them yet, when we were arranging the album, and when I was writing it. Even when we started recording it, the deal wasn’t totally sealed yet, so I didn’t really feel that pressure on it. I just knew how I wanted it to be, and I think I put my own pressure on it that way, but it was pretty, you know, chill. The whole point of music is that making it is fun, so I try not to freak out about the future of it.
I LIKE THAT THERE’S STILL A LOT OF SPONTANEITY ON THE NEW RECORD. THERE ARE SOME REALLY STRIPPED-BACK, ALMOST DEMO-SOUNDING MOMENTS, LIKE THE END, OR THE LITTLE FALSE START IN UR UP. WAS THAT A FOCUS FOR YOU?
Actually, it’s such a weird thing that ‘The End’ ended up being like that. We actually tried to arrange it as a full-band song, but I ended up deciding that I just really wanted to put the original demo on there, which is like – I made it on my computer by myself, using just the internal laptop microphone. I knew that it wasn’t the best recording, but I really liked the intention behind it, ‘cause it was like, right after I wrote the song, and it was just this really personal moment for me when I recorded it. So that’s the first time that a demo has made it onto a final record for me, which was exciting. But I wasn’t planning on having anything like that on this album.
I’m surprised by how many more stripped-back and solo-y songs made it onto Vessel, because I feel like the full-band arrangements are so big, and the drummer [Luke Pyenson] particularly really brings it, and makes the songs so full-sounding. He’s also somebody who, when I show him a song, will be like “I don’t think that drums will benefit this song,” so I really appreciate that kind of sentiment that my bandmates bring, of like, “maybe for this one, you should keep it solo”. They’re not greedy players. (laughs)
BEYOND THE AESTHETICS OF THE ALBUM, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE SPIRIT OF DIY IS STILL IMPORTANT TO YOU? HOW DO YOU STAY IN TOUCH WITH THAT AS THE PROJECT GETS BIGGER?
Oh, yeah, I mean – we still don’t have a manager, we still make all of the decisions about the band ourselves. It’s very personal, you know – we work really closely with everyone, we have the team at Sub Pop and a handful of other team members, like our booking agent, but pretty much me and my bandmates are still behind every decision. That feels pretty DIY in that sense.
And yeah, I mean… I think that having been in charge since the beginning is a big part of that for me; I don’t know if I would be able to run the business like this if I hadn’t grown with it every step of the way. I definitely think that’s part of my DIY roots, having started out booking all the shows myself. And in terms of recording, we worked with the same friend that made the first two Frankie Cosmos records [Hunter Davidsohn], the same guy engineered this and stuff, so…
I’VE HEARD YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT TICKET PRICES, TOO.
We know our audience, and I know that for me, I’d rather play a sold-out show that’s all-ages, and has low ticket prices, and maybe we pocket a little less money, than to play a big show that’s got super-expensive tickets and no-one’s gonna be able to afford to come, and like, the kids that want to see us can’t come. So honestly it’s a business priority too, like I think just knowing who is listening to Frankie Cosmos… Kids can’t just drop like forty dollars on a ticket for a show. We always are pretty aware of the inner workings of – I mean, you can’t always control it. Every show is different, there’s a promoter in each city who runs everything, so sometimes it’s not really up to us, but when we can control it, we’re always pretty on top of that, just knowing that it makes the show better.
THERE ARE A FEW OLDER SONGS THAT YOU’VE REWORKED FOR VESSEL. HOW DO YOU PICK THE SONGS THAT ARE GOING TO WORK IN A NEW OR A DIFFERENT CONTEXT?
I’m pretty sure that all three of the songs that we reworked, it was because they were requested at shows. People will shout out that they want to hear a song, or even message me and be like, “Can you please play ‘Duet’ tonight?” or whatever, and I’ll be like, ‘Damn, we don’t have a live version of that song,” and then we’ll go to band practice and figure out a way to play it live. And then if we are really excited about the new live arrangement, it’ll feel like a new song, and then… that’s how those songs ended up being on the new record, yeah.
DO YOU FIND IT WEIRD TO PERFORM OR RECORD SONGS THAT YOU WROTE A LONG TIME AGO, LIKE WHEN YOU WERE A TEENAGER? HOW HAVE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH THOSE SONGS CHANGED?
Yeah! It’s weird. They’re different, and it depends on the song. The three songs that we picked for this album are particularly – I have different relationships with each of them. Being Alive is one that totally takes me back to the moment that I was writing about, that happens in the song. With Bus Bus Train Train, I can remember when I wrote it, but I have turned it into, kind of… I can take it and make it relate to my current life, ‘cause it’s about travelling and stuff. I wrote it on a trip, way before I was even touring, but now I feel like it’s about tour more than it’s about taking a trip. And then Duet is one that’s become… I sort of view it like acting in a play, when we play that one. I’m doing a duet, and I’m doing both parts, and I’m kind of doing a character; I have to sort of get into character to play it, because it feels so… The lyrics, particularly, are weird for me to think about, because it says my ex’s name and stuff in it…
SO WHEN YOU’RE GETTING INTO THAT CHARACTER – IS THE CHARACTER YOU? IS IT YOU A FEW YEARS AGO, WHEN YOU WROTE IT? OR IS IT SOMETHING TOTALLY APART FROM YOU?
Well with that song, I’m almost doing… It’s definitely like an exaggerated version. Half of the song is being sung by a kind of wide-eyed, first-love version of me, and the other half of the duet I’m singing as the guy that… I’m thinking would be singing the duet with me, who’s supposed to be like a moody kind of boyfriend type. So I kind of get into both characters and I switch back and forth. It’s kind of fun. It’s not particularly, specifically based on real people, but it is a performance for me that I have to separate from the current version of Greta Kline singing it.