Shouting With… Frankie Cosmos

by Kyle McCormick
Kyle McCormick
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on 13 November 2016 in Features

Firstly, let me apologise for the lateness of this piece. I spoke with Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos on September 5th 2016, ahead of the band’s show at Stereo in Glasgow, and it is now November 14th 2016. That’s 70 days, and whilst a large part of the delay is due to considerable technical issues (apologies for that also), my laziness is certainly not exempt from blame. Here we are now though, and just let me say that speaking with Ms Kline was a pleasure. (Please also note that this piece has been slightly edited following the outcome of last Tuesday’s US election, but I’ll reserve explicit political comments for elsewhere, and just dance around the subject here. But yes, without further delay, here’s a feature piece on the wonderful Frankie Cosmos…)

*****

Describing America as a “hub of bullshit”, Greta Kline’s assessment of her home is swift and damning. Although polling day is two months in the future, and New York is thousands of miles away from this venue in the heart of Glasgow, the thought of what the future holds is clearly an uncertain one. Discussing the dangers of “junk entertainment news” and of being “spoiled by the scene you surround yourself with”, the guitarist and vocalist of Frankie Cosmos alludes to an internal conflict with regards to the position of heightened social regard in which she finds herself. Despite stating that her writing style is simply not conducive to composing a politically-charged anthem, the feeling of responsibility to speak out for what is right lingers nonetheless. Creative hurdles aside, the risk of overt political statements being misconstrued as a publicity stunt or simply polarising the fan base is something Kline does not take lightly. Paired with the undeniable sense that a vessel of explicit political expression is “just not what this band is” – although the music is likely to deal with personal political discontent in a more abstract way – there’s unlikely to be an anti-Trump single from the quartet anytime soon.

But if now is the time for unrest and revolt, but Frankie Cosmos is not a revolutionary, then what is this band? A “low-key indie pop project” is the description given in Pitchfork’s review of the band’s latest record Next Thing, one of the few critiques Kline has taken the time to read. Content in seeking only the opinions of friends and family, Kline takes a true gauge of any release’s success from the reaction of the crowds the band perform to, particularly in their willingness to sing along, and this is how she expects to understand just how well known and appreciated the band are in the UK on this tour. So far, Next Thing appears to be well received despite its differences from predecessor Zentropy and the EP Fit Me In which came between. To the listener this latest record is certainly the band’s most confident and assertive material yet, an assessment Kline agrees with, attributing this to the fact she’s “older and a bit more confident”, a different kind of performer now, and less afraid to convey her anger through music. Additionally, the approach to this album was entirely different, because unlike what came before Next Thing was getting a “proper” release through Bayonet Records, with a vinyl version and a supporting world tour. The bar of expectation was therefore set in an entirely different league, and inspired the quartet to produce arguably their best tracks.

These resulting tracks strive for quantity and quality simultaneously, averaging at around two minutes in length, with 15 in total, they all manage to be immersive throughout their short duration. The condensed emotion and relatable nature of the music is what makes Frankie Cosmos’ art so appealing, and Next Thing is no exception – 78% on Metacritic cannot be wrong. But beauty is not easy to craft, and the record has been in the making for years, with some of the first tracks appearing on the setlist for their debut album launch show. But this pace, drawn out from 2014 to release in April 2016, was the “perfect” one as it allowed the tracks and record time to grow and evolve, and any unwarranted rushing would have resulted in the truncation of some of the tracks which were not created until the closing months. In contrast to Kline’s vast Bandcamp discography, the goal here was always a “finished product”, and taking the necessary time was what was required to achieve this, and to meet those high yet self-imposed expectations. With the release now in the past, the reception looking positive, and the band on the road, the cycle will begin again after the required amount of relaxation time, with the new tracks in their arsenal currently being road tested now being expanded on to create album number three.

Regardless of the tedious process of creating, releasing and promoting music, live performance is where Kline realises her true love, whether it be as performer or spectator. As the latter, she has attended some “really good concerts” in life, from the intimacy of Joanna Newsom to the superstar spectacle of Taylor Swift, with the sense of energy and community being what drives the enjoyment on each occasion. Similarly, there have been different shades of experience as a performer, from the first self-booked tours, to the latest and biggest hometown headline show at New York’s legendary Bowery Ballroom. However, she is quick to point out that all shows are memorable in some way, even if just for the privilege to perform, and that “even the bad ones are good.”

With performance, and taking your music to masses, however comes the need to travel, and the stresses which this incurs. To survive being in close quarters for every second for a whole tour, “you have to love each other” is Kline’s advice. She does love her bandmates David Maine, Lauren Martin and Luke Pyenson, and for this reason it is vitally important to her that people consider Frankie Cosmos as an equally collaborative entity and not simply Greta Kline & Three Other People, even in the face of previous personnel changes, although she assures that this is the quartet we can expect to expect for a long time to come. More generally, considering others with love and equality is perhaps what is needed in the face of the political challenges faced in 2016 and beyond. Far from shouting opinions in the faces of those who disagree, a little understanding and appreciation could go a long way to making a positive change. For that reason, perhaps Kline’s jovial self-description on which we’ll finish is an ethos we can all take moving forward: “I’m personal in the streets and political in the sheets.”

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