You can sit down and just play out what's in your head. That is the most satisfying aspect of Frankie Cosmos. It's a band and a moniker and a portal for singer-songwriter Greta Kline. Very few artists commit to small moments that eventually manifest into lovely, quirky slices of life, but Kline has been making these sometimes gnarly, sometimes ethereal gifts for the public since the early aughts via her Bandcamp pseudonym, Ingrid Superstar. But when Frankie Cosmos — Kline, Luke Pyenson (drums), Alex Bailey (bass) and Lauren Martin (keyboards) — signed to iconic indie label Sub Pop in 2017, the move from DIY sensibilities and thirty-second sparks of instrumentals became fully-formed gems, projected from the perceptions of teenageland, written by someone during a worldwide pandemic, moving back home with their parents (in this case, your dad is Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline and your mom is Phoebe Cates) with time on their hands. That time turned into 2022's Inner World Peace. And because Kline has this "preserving the first way the song went. It’s hard for me to let go of my demos" insight, 2023 saw the release of Clean Weird Prone, which includes the original 15-track Inner World Peace tracklist, along with unreleased tracks, demos, and alternate versions of the album's songs.
As we chatted over Zoom, Kline was thoughtful, bubbly and if one sentence could describe it all... hopeful for the future.
A lot of your early music consists of 40-second or one-minute songs. How would you characterize it? Bedroom pop?
The stuff that I started out making was definitely bedroom pop, and more on the 40-second to one-minute side of things. Now, it's really more like your standard kind of indie pop band. Our songs are now more like three minutes! I'm sort of following the "yeah, they're getting a little longer as I get older." A lot of my ideas are initially very, very short. I'll have an idea. That's one line. And then I'm piecing together more ideas like that as opposed to just calling the one line a finished song.
Even though you had a full album out in 2022, you released the "Abigail" 3-song remix this past September. Do you enjoy going back and revisiting or revamping?
The streaming world is so weird now, the way that people release music is so different. And it's changed even since I've been in this industry just a relatively short period of time. I really like the process of making demos. That's something that I will always do before we make a record. I make a lot of demos and — you know, there's something that we call "demo-itis," where you really like your demo and you can't make a better version in the studio. I definitely get demo-itis with some of my early songs. Then you feel this kind of sadness. That no one's going to get to hear those, because they're only getting the studio version. So yeah, I was kind of excited Sub Pop had the idea of putting out these other releases after "the release."
And I like revisiting songs. I don't really think that there's ever a finished version of a song. There are infinite possibilities for where a song could go. So with "Abigail," the Kero Kero Bonito Remix is a completely different song. I like sort of having this never-ending cycle of the song.
Your generation did mostly grow up with the Internet and streaming accessibilities. How are you feeling now about being with a record label that has such a history with vinyl?
I think it's cool. With Sub Pop, they're not so focused on TikTok and that kind of stuff. There's this part of the music industry that is almost not related to music. Gen Z's attention span for music is like ten seconds long. What I appreciate about Sub Pop is their commitment to putting out physical records. They actually care about the whole record.
I have to ask you about "F.O.O.F." How did that get made?
It's such a weird, random thing. My friend was saying, "This person [Cole Montminy] is such a great artist. You would really like them." And I just followed them on Instagram. I said, "I like your art." Cole said, "I like your music, and let's do something someday." Then the timing worked out and he was able to make that music video. I kind of was, "Just do your thing because I love what you do."
What was your first impression when you saw the completed piece?
I just loved it. I think I saw a couple of process clips when he was first working on it, four or five seconds. Then a couple of pictures of the blanket that he was animating. I was texting my bandmates the pictures. This is such a weird little thing, but we've always wanted a music video with a skit, or just something that's not the song, in the very beginning. There's the phone ringing and the keyboard sounds in the opening scene. It was the perfect scenario for me.
Like those one-of-a-kind kits you made for Great Scraps: An Induced Collage on Bandcamp.
Oh, that's so funny! I made like 40 of those. I really do love visual art. It's just like my hobby.
How has touring been working out for you these days, post-pandemic? Are you feeling or seeing anything different as a performer?
We did a very small week-long tour in May, and then we just did two weeks, all indoor shows. Playing a show every day for 14 days it felt really different. I toured a third of the year for the first seven years or so. I was on tour enough of the time that that was my job. And then Covid happened, and I haven't toured in almost four years. So it's crazy how much time has passed and it did feel different. I think I appreciated it more being able to perform. At a certain point when I was touring very intensely, I was really exhausted.
Maybe this is too general of a statement to guess about a post-Covid world, but I do think we would play to a lot more people, but people would just go to a show to "go to a show." And this was the first tour that I've done, where no one in the audience was talking. Everyone was singing along, and I met so many young people who were like, "This is my first concert."
The industry feels like this endless cycle of record an album, go on tour, record an album, go on tour. So did you step back and look at your priorities?
Honestly, in 2019, I was saying I'd like to take a break from touring because I had reached sort of a boiling point with it. We didn't have that 'write and make an album.' We just were touring and touring and saying yes to every tour, and I was writing albums while touring, and then we would come home for the winter. It was really scary to me, like it was just never put aside time to write or make a record. I was already wanting a break, and then Covid happened, and we had to cancel a tour in Australia in March 2020, and that was the first time I've ever canceled a tour.
It felt really bad and obviously really sad, and it was a horrible time in the world.
Did that start gears going in your head: "I may have to have a different approach to how I perform music"?
There's been this two-year period, basically until 2022, I wasn't sure if I'd ever tour again. I was writing in a totally different way. And I wasn't able to see my bandmates for the first 8 or 9 months. I didn't know that live music would ever really come back the way that it has. I really love planning. I love knowing the future. When we had to make the decision to cancel the tour in March 2020, we were one of the first bands to decide to do that.
Basically, I just put it off touring as long as humanly possible. But I do think that that affected my writing because I started writing more weird chord progressions, maybe stuff that's a little harder to sing live. And that's how we ended up with this record that I feel is pretty different sounding than previous records.
I think it helped me understand where you are now as I didn't come in with a ton of prejudice, not seeing you live and I thoroughly enjoyed the music. Is that too simple?
No, I think that's perfect. That's the perfect response to it. I was really surprised by how many of our pre-existing fans came on board and liked the new album. Because to me I was 'Oh, is this gonna be challenging?' There are a lot more drone-y, wordless outros and stuff that our fans might not expect from us. But it felt like the album that we wanted to make.
I think the weird thing about the Internet and my generation of music makers, is that you can follow the thread from the first songs I made to now. But I'm not thinking when I'm writing it. I'm not thinking about how it's different or how it's gonna fit into the history of Frankie Cosmos. It's more like, okay, this is what I want to make right now. Every record feels more, as you said, professional or more mature for me, because I'm still learning how to record albums!
You can hear the way that I'm getting closer and closer to making the thing that I want to make, learning how to use the different sounds that are available to me.
It sounds like you're excited about keeping it fresh and new. You made this album and you're gonna go play it live.
Well, so much has happened since we made this record. Half of my band is different. We made the album with Luke Pyanson and Lauren Martin on drums and keys. And in the year since then, they decided they don't really want to tour as much anymore. And Lauren has this full-time illustration lifestyle now. I've found other musicians to tour with and that is the biggest change.
I decided to sort of change the format of the band, and have it be less of a solid unit and more of whoever's playing with me that day, which is really freeing and exciting, and also totally scary! I spent the whole past summer training Katie [Von Schleicher] who engineered the record to fill in on keyboard and vocals and it's definitely sounding really cool.
Honestly, I just wanted to go on tour. Katie was the first choice to join us on keyboards. And Cameron [Wisch], he and I played in a band together ten years ago, joined us on drums. So getting home from this tour, I definitely have felt really inspired and excited to make another record. It's a little daunting because I've never made a record without knowing what my band is gonna be like. It feels like it could go a lot of different ways, and it might be kind of a mess. But we'll see.
So what do you have going on now?
I've got some random non-Frankie Cosmos work coming up, which is fun. Then in December, I like to work at my mom's store [Blue Tree in New York City]. I do a lot of gift wrapping. I sort of become like a little Christmas elf. And then I guess I'll probably also be writing at that same time and starting to think about making another record.
I'm just always trying to make a new project and I'm just in an exciting place right now.
Frankie Cosmos has a gig coming up on December 29 at Baby's All Right in Brooklyn, with support Market and Talulah Paisley. You can purchase general admission tickets here.