Universal Joys: Frankie Cosmos Interviewed

Greta Kline tells it like it is: the native New Yorker behind Frankie Cosmos conjures universal truths from minute details of daily life

Feature by Graeme Campbell | 29 Aug 2016

It’s just gone 9.30am and Greta Kline has not long woken up in her home of New York City. From outside, the frequencies of NYPD sirens punctuate our Skype connection, and also audible is the whirr and clank of everyday street life. For some, such an environment would hardly be conducive to quality downtime but, after a mammoth spring tour and run of early summer shows, Kline is thankful to be home – even if it might seem different to how she left it. “I think home starts to feel weirder because you’re less rooted every time you come back, and have less connection to being there. Also it feels like vacation… but not really,” she posits, before reasserting: “We’re still practicing two times a week, working on new music and all that kind of stuff. It feels more like vacation because we’re finally staying still for a couple of weeks.”

That Kline and her Frankie Cosmos project are so in demand will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to indie rock wires over the past two years. In a similar vein to the likes of Car Seat Headrest and Alex G, the story began on the Bandcamp platform. Initially operating under the moniker of Ingrid Superstar, Kline uploaded over 40 home recorded albums and EPs from 2009 through 2014. During this period she met her boyfriend Aaron Maine, and toured for the first time playing bass for his synthpop band Porches; a favour he'd repay by helping out on drums and backing vocals in Frankie Cosmos. Kline's first studio album Zentropy arrived to critical acclaim in 2014, via her local Brooklyn label Double Double Whammy. She went on to sign with Beach Fossils' Bayonet Records before repeating the trick with Next Thing: a record whose status as a fixture on Class of 2016 lists is all but guaranteed.

Two weeks before our interview, the band experienced a watershed moment in headlining New York’s 575-capacity Bowery Ballroom. For Kline, whose hands-on approach incorporates everything from managing the band to writing the songs and running the merch stall, the jump in venue size was marked: “[Selling merch is] getting kind of exhausting for me. In some places I can do it fine because nobody knows what I look like, but at the Bowery show every person who came in was trying to talk and it was intense. So it’s getting where maybe me doing merch becomes unhelpful.”  

Given her universality and ability to connect with fans, such a situation could be read as representative of the issues Frankie Cosmos faces going forward. As the shows grow in size, so too does the pressure of fame and expectation: an expectation that – on paper at least – would appear to run incongruous to the bedroom artist, DIY ideals that inspired her in the first place. “I can’t imagine being so big that I can’t be out in the crowd watching a show and talking to people,” Kline assures The Skinny. “I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I’m not out there at all. Maybe if the show is huge, and it’s in a stadium or something? That’s the only time I could picture doing that. Some bands start out liking to be in the green room, but I feel it makes me purposeless when I’m not doing anything.”

Next Thing is an album that makes mammoth declarations from minute details, with tracks written in Kline's teenage years but rebooted in the studio. Themes of existentialism are undercut by tongue-in-cheek references to the eclectic composer and fellow New Yorker Arthur Russell and celebrity magician David Blaine, while any charges of navel gazing are kicked into touch by songs like I’m 20, which paints Kline as the dumb, self-effacing kid in the story of her own midlife crisis: 'I’m 20, washed up already'.

As Kline gets older and the band's circumstances change beyond recognition, the desire to be relatable remains undimmed in her writing. “With the new stuff, the theme isn’t necessarily about being on tour. I think that’s such a stupid thing," Kline explains. "It’s more like the actual feeling of not being home, or not feeling rooted and being in all these different places. That’s more universal. I can feel it when I’m in New York and I can feel it when I’m on tour, and that theme is now showing up in my new stuff. It’s not necessarily about the actual location – I’m not writing a song about being in California or being in the UK, I’m writing about being in my body and how it’s so constantly changing and weird.”

Kline admits that any new material is still a long way off, but some of her more vigilant fans have been carrying out their own detective work: Earlier in the summer, they discovered an Instagram photo of Kline in the studio with Maine and slacker-rock champion Mac DeMarco. “He was producing some songs for our friend Yuki [who's] from Tokyo, but was living in New York for the summer. Mac produced some songs of his. Me and Aaron sing on one of them, so it will probably come out soon actually,” says Kline, before tempering: “But yeah, it’s nothing huge, we’re not doing a record or anything, although that would be amazing! It was so mind blowing for me to watch him work in the studio because he’s so… brilliant.”

At the beginning of September, Frankie Cosmos will fly the nest for yet another tour – this time in Europe. New York will always be New York, but if Greta Kline's band remains on their current trajectory, returning home will feel more and more like vacation.

Next Thing is out now via Bayonet; Frankie Cosmos plays Stereo, Glasgow on 5 Sep & Headrow House, Leeds on 6 Sep