The Next Thing: Coffee with Frankie Cosmos
In 2013, I took a couple poetry classes at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Three years later, walking from my apartment to a nearby East Village coffee shop, they’re all I can think about.
That’s when I first came into contact with Greta Kline, not as a recording artist, mind you, but as one of 15 fellow students. Though she’s popularly known today by her stage moniker Frankie Cosmos, when I first met Greta she registered as little more than a shy, understandably awkward freshman.
Since then, Greta has been tremendously busy. After first building an impressively prolific catalog of bedroom recordings, the name Frankie Cosmos broke into mainstream indie acclaim in 2014 with her debut album, Zentropy, which esteemed critic Lindsay Zoladz deemed the number one pop album of the year for Vulture. After signing to Bayonet Records in 2015, she immediately released her Fit Me In EP, earning a “Best New Music” badge from Pitchfork and a place on Stereogum’s list of 25 Great EPs from 2015. With the wind at her back Greta began recording her sincere, rewarding and critically acclaimed sophomore effort, Next Thing, released last Friday
The poetry course we shared, consisting primarily of upperclassmen, was made up of a host of disparate personalities not unlike those depicted in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club. Comprised of greeks, hipsters, scenesters and foreigners, it was the sort of hodgepodge group unlikely to see eye-to-eye on much else than an apparent interest in poetry, and even that seemed a bit of a stretch. But as the weeks went by our mismatched class came to unspokenly agree on but one point: the undeniable cool of Greta Kline. We had collectively fallen in love with that decidedly dorky freshman.
There are a number of ways Greta Kline could have sought to impress us.
She might have led off with the fact that her father, Kevin Kline, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his uproarious performance as a delightfully deranged con man in the 1988 caper comedy, A Fish Called Wanda. She could have similarly let on that her mother, actress Phoebe Cates, was a bonafide sex symbol in the ’80s, starring in such films as Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, among others.
I recall that on occasion she brought up that her boyfriend was in a band, but not that he was Aaron Maine, frontman of fellow recent breakout (and TIDAL Rising artist) Porches, which despite not being huge at the time, was at least known on the Brooklyn indie circuit. No. Greta was never one to boast. Instead, she won over the class by way of her distinct personality and undeniable craft as a poet. Where most everyone else left traces of trying real hard on the page, yours truly included, Greta’s poetry was skillfully compact, abstract and powerful, and seemingly effortless. Her music works very much in the same way, and lyrics like “your name is a triangle, your heart is a square,” from “Fool,” vividly remind me of her old poems.
“I’m not really into excess,” she tells me today with a grin. Dressed in a worn, striped polo and sporting self-styled bangs, it shows. You’d never know by looking at her that she’d been born into Hollywood nobility. You’d never know by talking with her either. Where many blessed with the combination of super smarts and hyper-privilege fall victim to ego-swelling, compulsive condescension and general snobbery, Greta is sweet, patient and soft-spoken, the very portrait of kindness. Her new album, Next Thing, reveals a host of uncertainties by way of vulnerable lines like “I stand alone” and “I don’t know what I’m cut out for,” only convince me further of her intelligence and humility.
Walking up to the coffee shop I catch Greta’s eye through the window and wave. She’s very friendly and when I step inside she stands up, giving me a hug before asking how I’ve been. Though still very much her same old self, she immediately seems more self-assured than the girl I studied with three years ago. We catch up for a moment before Greta reveals that she’s waiting to do an interview with somebody from TIDAL. “It’s me,” I reply. “I’m the TIDAL guy!” She can hardly believe it. Neither can I, really. It truly is a small world.
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Who is Frankie Cosmos? How would you introduce yourself?
Just me. It’s my nom de plume.
I read it used to be sort of an alter ego but it’s not really anymore?
At this point it’s the band name. It’s like my band. I introduce my whole band as Frankie Cosmos.
I heard the Frankie comes from the poet Frank O’Hara.
So where does the “Cosmos” come from?
Just a theme that me and Aaron [of Porches] were both writing and talking about a lot. He was writing his album called Slow Dance In The Cosmos – it came out a couple of years ago – and he just started calling me that. He was writing about the cosmos a lot and came up with the name.
I remember from class, you explained that you two had nicknames for one another…
I actually signed some of those poems, some of the ones that I brought to our poetry class, “by Frank” because it was like an alter ego at the time.
Does a lot of your music focus on the connection you and Aaron have?
Not really. I mean as much as anyone is going to write about their partner, I guess. But also, yeah we just are, we throw ideas around. At least I know I can hear his influence on my music, because I was a fan of his music when I started writing songs. But we’re not always collaborating. It’s more like, “Hey, I wrote a song. I wanna show it to you.” It’s not, “Whaddaya think? Please help me!”
I feel that because on some of the songs on ‘Zentropy’ reminded me a lot of what I heard on ‘Pool’, the new Porches record.
I mean, he was a huge part of Zentropy. We went into that recording just having drums and guitar, and then he and I were both playing all the bass and keyboard, so you can hear more of Aaron on that than on [Next Thing] because we have more collaborators now.
Whereas Aaron’s work has more of an electronic sort of influence, your new record seems much more guitar-based. Would you say that’s how you differ musically?
I mean for years Aaron was doing guitar music but Pool is his first non-guitar thing. Personally I don’t feel confined to guitar forever. We just put out this EP [Fit Me In] in November that was almost all electronic, which Aaron produced, so it was definitely an experiment. But I do love guitar so I feel like I’m going to stick with it for a while.
I remember when I put out the EP I did an interview where someone asked me, “Do you think it even makes sense to play guitar anymore in 2016,” and I was like, Yeah, it’s a classic instrument! For me it still holds a lot of meaning, so I’m not trying to make pure pop just yet. I’m not going full Taylor Swift! [laughs]
Your songs, like your poetry, are so compact. What speaks to you about economy?
I just think that I’m not really into excess. If I felt that a song needed to be longer I would write those longer parts. Sometimes a song will repeat the chorus three times and it’s saying the same thing. Unless it’s growing in meaning each time it repeats, then I’m not really interested in it. I mean, sometimes it’s really powerful to repeat stuff, but I’m just really into keeping it as simple as possible, also for my own attention span. If it’s done gaining meaning then it’s done.
So you like some pop elements but don’t care about conventional structuring?
Yeah. Like today, part of me was thinking about whether I wanted to sit down and take a bunch of super small pop ideas and turn them into like one crazy pop song. And I could do that, and it would be really fun as an experiment, but that’s not the kind of thing I wanna do.
That sounds like The Who doing “A Quick One While He’s Away.”
Yeah, for sure. Like, old pop music and hits had this one catchy chorus that you would wait and wait for, and you would finally hear the chorus and be like YAS. Current pop is like: the verse is catchy, the bridge is catchy, the chorus is catchy, so it’s like really on 10 the whole time. I feel that way about every Taylor Swift song. With Justin Bieber, like every part of it is insane and I love that. But I don’t really want to make pop music right now.
Then lets talk about your “Art School” video. Justin Bieber is prominently featured. Did he ever reach out to you?
I wish. That’s the dream. But that video was more the vision of the director and it was originally going to be One Direction, but I didn’t really know who they were so I said “Lets do Bieber,” and I actually hadn’t heard more than one Justin Bieber song at that point, but now love his new stuff. I finally gave him a listen and “Sorry” is SUCH a hit. I really love that song.
You recorded ‘Next Thing’ in Upstate New York, which you described as “very moody” in a recent interview. Can you elaborate on your choice to record there?
Yeah, it’s a small town sort of moodiness. I have a friend who lives up there and he has a really awesome studio with a ton of old gear and it’s very fun and very isolated. We go into the studio and work all day and all night and you just kinda go crazy in a really fun way. People can get really in their own head when recording and freak out about the takes. I feel like some of the best takes come from just letting loose and being weird and that’s what I like about being upstate there. It’s not in New York City, it’s just isolated enough that I feel like I can get in the freaky zone to get the right take.
So does that have to do with the album art then? Is it depicting a drive out to the studio?
The album art is more about touring for me, because we’re just driving constantly. But recording in a way is similar to touring because you’re driving to get there and it’s kinda far. I love the album art.
What do you think about the power of song to make people happy ?
I think that people who love music are really special and I think it’s actually really rare to care about music in a passionate way. I think about songs that I loved when I was younger and how when I hear them now it like brings me right back to that moment. I feel like I’ve written about that a lot, actually, about that feeling of hearing a song and having it almost take you back to a physical place.
I feel there are songs that have shaped my world. As a teenager, and even now, when I hear a song or album that I listen to every day: that shapes the way that you view the world around you, especially if you listen to your iPod when you walk, which is new for me. I hadn’t done that until the last six months and it’s been really weird because partially I don’t want to be that separated from the world all the time, but when I do do it, it makes life a lot more bearable. On the train, for example, it’s so much better to have beautiful music.
It really can clear your head but at the same time you don’t want to be too disconnected either?
Totally. I think that’s one of the coolest things about going to see live music,.I mean, not to sound so obsessed, with it being my career, but I really think that live music is a market that will never die because there’s a need to be moved and to experience performance and be moved by it. It’s not the sort of thing you can get listening to a record in your house. To go to a show and to connect with everyone in the room through a joint experience, it’s really special.
So, what have you been listening to?
Recently I’ve been listening to the All Dogs album Kicking Every Day. We went on tour with them in November and pretty much once a week since the tour, at least, I’ve been listening to their album. It’s just really good pop punk. This other album hasn’t come out yet but it’s from this band called Whitney, I’m sure you’ll hear about them because they are about to blow up.
They were actually featured in a recent TIDAL Rising list. They were formerly of the Smith Westerns, right?
They were and I do. It’s very Neil Young, very relaxed. For me it’s the opposite of listening to a pop punk record like All Dogs. It just feels like you’re in the closing credits of a movie scene. We played with them a bunch at SXSW and we were joking about how, in a good way, they’d be a really great wedding band. It just makes you feel good. [laughs]
Weddings. I know you love weddings.
I do love weddings! How do you know that?!
Because it’s my job!
Oh. I said that in an interview, didn’t I?
With SPIN actually. Like you’re unabashedly in love with weddings.
I love, love them. [laughing]
Would you say you’re in love with love?
Yeah. I believe in love. My parents have been together over 25 years so that’s an inspiration. But yeah, I think it’s just cool. Maybe I’m a romantic.
I love that. So do you have any advice for those poor members of the Lonely Hearts Club?
Advice? For people who are not in love?
I believe, as the old saying goes, that “true love will find you in the end.” But also, it doesn’t have to if you don’t want it to. Do whatever makes you happy, that’s the most important thing. Just fucking go for it. Make yourself your priority because if you haven’t figured out who you are you shouldn’t be putting that on someone else. Don’t go out looking for love if you haven’t figured out yourself yet. That’s the best advice I could give to a young teen. For all the teens out there [laughs]. that’s what I would say to myself were I still a teen.
To conclude, if your music was a physical object – I think you’ll be good at this – what would you liken it to?
For what it does for me, I would liken my music to coffee because it makes me feel really jazzed. Performing music makes me feel so good that the next day I need to perform again if I want to feel that good again. But for other people, I’d liken my music to a tree that people can choose to visit to if they want to. One that isn’t going to impose itself on them if they don’t want to.
An invitation not an imposition.
Yeah. That’s what I hope it is. I hope that nobody ever has to listen to my music that doesn’t want to.
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