We caught up with Greta Kline, the leader of New York’s fiercely DIY Frankie Cosmos, after the band’s first ever UK show at Brighton’s Paganini Ballroom.
“I feel like my jokes don’t fly at all here,” admits Greta Kline – the brains behind Frankie Cosmos – as her band touches down on UK soil to play Brighton’s buzz fest The Great Escape. Despite this being the band’s first ever tour of the UK, Kline is already starting to gain an understanding of the sense of humour here and just how much it contrasts across the pond.
“I always feel even funnier when my jokes are really bad and nobody laughs,” she enthuses. “I feel like part of the thing that’s funny about British comedy is awkwardness, so maybe it’s even better if no one’s laughing?”
Exploring different parts of the world for the first time is one of the many rewards that Frankie Cosmos can expect as a result of the band’s rising success. Having started off as a modest pop project in Kline’s bedroom, the band blossomed into a full-fledged four-piece completed by Lauren Martin on keyboard, David Maine on bass and Luke Pyenson on drums. Despite this, Kline claims a lot of people “think there’s no band”, naturally assuming that Frankie Cosmos is still a solo project (and her name) – she says it “sucks” that a lot of people don’t mention the band.
It’s not that Kline is necessarily against the idea of working alone, it’s just that she believes that the fun of making music lies in sharing the experience (and success) with her friends. “I love doing the band thing, it’s definitely what makes being a musician fun,” she claims, despite the growing interest in her as a solo performer. “I’ve been offered solo tours, but they’ve just never worked out – I think I could do a solo tour as Frankie Cosmos, but I would prefer not to.”
Despite this, Kline admits that the formation of her band “just kind of happened.” After having studied classical music when she was younger, Kline started making music “just for fun” when she was “13 or so”, and while she’s now worried about messing up her voice from singing all the time (“I started to learn to sing correctly so that I don’t like push too hard and like break my voice on tour,”) when she was just messing around when she was younger, this wasn’t much of a problem.
“When I started writing at home alone as a teenager, I was listening to Moldy Peaches, Jeffery Lewis, Michael Hurly – a lot of folk-y stuff, I mean Bob Dylan – a lot of Bob Dylan and stuff like that – people who are bad singers,” she laughs, “cos I feel like that compelled me to be like ‘I can try and sing!“
“There was a lot of bands I was listening to that were, like, super untrained writers and doing stuff that was not pop and I think that was really inspiring to me.”
Initially, Kline was just making music as hobby (“It was mostly just something I wanted to try and do – I was never even gunna try and show it to anyone or play shows,”) but she released all of her bedroom music on Bandcamp, and over time her releases naturally started to tally up, and the interest around her started to grow as a result.
It’s like she just accidentally stumbled into everybody’s dream lifestyle, and, naturally, she only has the internet to thank. “People can hear your music more easily, or you can book shows,” she says. “You can find scenes, like you could feel part of a scene even though you’ve never even been to a show – you can feel like you’re a part of it through the internet.”
But what will she do if it doesn’t work out? “I don’t really have a back-up plan,” she admits. “I definitely would go back to college if this doesn’t work out – I love college.” But her unique breakthrough has also helped her in other ways. “I feel like I definitely have a very intricate knowledge of the music industry, probably more than I would have learned if I’d studied that, so maybe that’s my back-up.”
However, had Kline not have posted all her bedroom demos online and received attention that way, things could have turned out very differently for her. “I would maybe wanna have a band still,” she claims. “I’m not the kind of person that would have planned to like do music as a business, like I don’t think that way,” she says. “Like when I think about our next album I’m not considering what’s marketable or cool – I just don’t care” she adds.
It’s not all fun and games, though. Kline says that the band are on tour for the rest of the year, with very little break, calling it “really intense”, “super exhausting” and a “scary lifestyle choice”. But, touring is a way of giving back something to the fans who have been supportive of the band since the start – this current tour provides the UK with its first chance to hear the Frankie Cosmos discography live.
While Kline has over 40 bedroom albums on Bandcamp, Frankie Cosmos only have three ‘proper’ releases to their name. What’s it like trying to find the right balance between old and new material to play in an unfamiliar venue? And does it get boring playing all the old songs when you’re constantly writing new ones?
“I’m sure someday I’ll be really bored of them. Actually, maybe not because it’s been like five years we’ve been playing some of the songs,” Kline explains. “I think it’s fun, I think especially when we’re playing somewhere we’ve never played before. In New York, we don’t play [the old songs] because everyone’s already seen us, but when you come here, there might be some kid here who has been a fan for like three years and knows those songs and wants to hear them.”
In addition to the extensive tour currently promoting Next Thing, the band have already started working on the next album. “I feel like we’re probably gunna make another full-band album, and we’ll probably record it with the same person we recorded Next Thing with, but I have a feeling it’s gunna sound really different – the harmonies are different; the drum parts are really different and I think I’ve changed as a writer.”
As Frankie Cosmos continue to develop and experiment with their sound, the band’s main attraction will stay the same – it’s Kline’s poetry that really makes the band’s bitesized pop songs stand out. Her lyrics are intellectual, yet lighthearted and always efficient – most of Frankie Cosmos’ songs barely touch the two-minute mark, demonstrating Kline’s rare ability to have more of a verbal impact on an album in under half an hour than most people do in twice that time.
Kline takes her inspiration from the poet Frank O’Hara, who loosely inspired the band’s name. “He was like super influential to my lyrics I think just, like, being in New York and writing about everything,” she explains, “taking inspiration from all around and not, like, trying to be too grand.” But living in New York itself has had a massive influence on her. “I love the New York scene – I grew up going to shows in New York so I feel like it’s all I really know, but I feel super lucky to have grown up with the music scene there.”
However, it’s definitely O’Hara’s influence of “not being too grand” that is the clearest to see in Kline’s lyrics, with songs from Next Thing containing a host of tongue-in-cheek references. But, perhaps the biggest example of Kline’s wit is on ‘I’m 20’, a song which features the lyric “I’d sell my soul for a free pen/On it, the name of your corporation”.
“When I like was 19 I did an interview with MySpace,” she laughs, “they gave me like a MySpace pen and I thought it was funny.” Of course, any kind of success as a musician comes with a need to earn money in order to survive, and nice way of supporting your income is through corporate endorsement. “We definitely have done some corporate gigs,” Kline admits. “It’s not our whole life, but you gotta make money somehow. We wouldn’t work with like a super crooked corporation” Still, the song acts as a reminder to take corporate culture with a pinch of salt, and Kline’s witty mix of innocence and intelligence is what makes the line work so well.
“I’m surprised that people don’t laugh more when we play cos I think it’s such a funny lyric, like I’d sell my soul for a free pen. Not even for money, just a like free pen – like the littlest, most stupid thing,” she laughs, “just wanting to be loved or something.” The lyric’s awkward yet playful approach – and the fact that no-one at her shows seems to laugh at it – demonstrates that Frankie Cosmos have actually got quite a firm grip on British comedy after all.