Photo by Sam Clarke
Greta Kline is Frankie Cosmos—or maybe it's vice versa at this point. The 20-year-old NYU student has created her own universe, and she's proud of that without being smug. In her early teens Greta adopted the moniker Ingrid Superstar and began uploading countless songs and albums to Bandcamp, leaving a digital imprint that's now over 45 records deep. As she moved more deeply into music, the persona of Frankie Cosmos emerged. In March, under that name, she released her first ever studio album, Zentropy, via Double Double Whammy Records.
This didn't deter her from quickly returning to her GarageBand, self-releasing ways, and another album, Affirms Glinting, came out on her Bandcamp earlier in May. Along with a conversation that explores the metamorphosis of Greta/Frankie, we're happy to premiere the video for "Embody," a song off her new album. The video was recorded and edited entirely by Greta, and it features footage from the April tour that featured Frankie Cosmos and her boyfriend Aaron Maine's band Porches. The couple play in each other's bands, with Maine on drums for Frankie Cosmos. After several smiley face-laden emails, Greta and I met up to sip on iced coffee and talk about her prolific, personal musical universe, and how it came to be.
What is the inspiration behind Frankie Cosmos, when did you start going by that?
My boyfriend Aaron of Porches made it up. He was writing these songs about the cosmos when I first met him, and we did a lot of writing together. I showed him the poet Frank O'Hara, and he started calling me Frank. And then it just became my name. I played a couple solo Porches shows with him when his band was in transition, and he would introduce me as Frankie Cosmos.
It really feels like it could your real name on some level. As far as your studio album Zentropy, how did you land upon that title?
Yeah, I kind of grew into it. It just sort of happened. But I love it because I was having trouble coming up with an alias. For Zentropy, I just made up that word while we were recording. Hunter, who made the album with us, has a very zen attitude toward the recording process. I was having trouble adjusting to it, obviously, because I had all my stuff from GarageBand! So going into the studio was a little harder and really different. I had to become more zen to deal with the chaotic atmosphere, and my chaotic attitude had to become more zen. So I made up that word to encompass that.
Given your success with the medium of Bandcamp, what was it that led you to do a more traditional release? Did Double Double Whammy approach you?
I actually approached them. I worked on the Porches record with Aaron, and then I watched that whole process of making Slow Dance in the Cosmos. Putting it out on the vinyl was really fun, and they made it look really easy. It was fun to do, and on the Porches tour promoting it, I was just kind of jealous. I wanted to do that with my band: have nice recordings and put them out as a beautiful art piece.
You're already back to making new music, though, with Affirms Glinting. Let's talk about the video for "Embody."
This is all footage from when we were on tour in April. I filmed and edited it all myself. I just went through all my footage and chose the images that I think best represented our time on tour. I wanted to show some of the people and animals we interacted with and the pretty drives and houses where we got to make food. I just really like keeping a diary of tour, and I made a video similar to this one from our February tour too, for "Birthday Song."
This latest release puts you well past 40 albums. You began making your own music independently at a fairly young age. What's the story there?
I definitely wasn't part of the scene that I consider myself part of. I just have an older brother who was involved, so I would go to shows. I didn't play music when I was that age. It was mainly just my brother's friends, who are these really cool musicians mainly from like Park Slope. This band Fiasco was amazing. My friend and I would tag along with my brother every weekend to go see them. Then I got really into this band called No One and the Somebodies from Westchester. So we started to kind of dig into the Westchester scene, which I felt was really special. I definitely felt more involved in that because they became my friends. Just as an observer I was part of those scenes, mainly just young people that were making music here.
I feel like I say this a lot, but Gabby who plays in my band, she's been making music for probably like ten years, or a lot of years, under the name Eskimeaux, and she's really good. So I heard her stuff on like MySpace when I was like 15, and I thought it was really amazing. I definitely was really obsessed with her music, and I kind of stalked her a little bit. We weren't friends until maybe a year ago, and now she's in my band. But I think it was just hearing other young, maybe high-school and college-aged female musicians making stuff at home and realizing that was possible.
I'm 26, but when I was that age it didn't even occur to me that I could do that! I was reading some other stuff where it seems like you are loathe to latch onto the title of musician?
People were asking me like 'when did you decided to become a professional musician?' And like drop out of college. And first of all, I haven't dropped out of college! And I'm not a professional musician, so that's the question I'm wary of. I definitely consider myself a musician as a person. I play music every day, and I love it. But I think the other thing that set it off was I listened to a lot of Beat Happening, and their whole message is that everyone can make music, you just have to try and do it. So I had training in music but not really on guitar, specifically.
I think the reason people think you dropped out of college is that your Spotify biography says you dropped out of college.
I didn't go to college this year, but I'm going in the fall. I am enrolled! I'm not like a dropout. I don't like being associated as a drop out. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I don't want people to say I'm dropping out to be a musician because I am also trying really hard to make it work and stay in school like a normal person. I've only done a year, two semesters, so I don't have to choose until the end of my second semester this year.
Do you think you're going to do a music-related major? Have you chosen one yet?
I'm going to do something totally different from music definitely. I would love for music to be my career, but I would love to have another career lined up just in case it doesn't work! I'm leaning toward education, maybe childhood education, something like that.
Your songs feel super personal and autobiographical, but do people just assume that and it frustrates you?
Totally! I write a lot of stuff that's totally fictional or at least partially fictional. Most stuff is partially fictional, or at least, like, not current. So it's really funny when people assume that something is about Aaron. They'll be like 'oh that song about Aaron you should play that one,' and I'm like 'who said it's about Aaron? I didn't say that.' I think people are going to mostly assume what they want to assume about what my songs mean, but I try not to let that effect the writing process.
What is your process when you're writing a song? Do you do it alone or with your band?
The full band stuff is all very much everyone works on it, but the songs and the recordings that I make—the lyrics and the tunes are all pretty much mine. I actually just started doing this thing with a couple other friends, which is where we all, alone, write a song a day and put it on a shared Tumblr. So we all made a song today, and I quickly uploaded it before I came here. It's public. It's called May 5to12.tumblr.com. It's really fun! Because my songwriting process is—it's kind of hard under that pressure to do it today, and then tomorrow and the next day!
Where do you see yourself with music in the next few years, like in the next ten years?
We started working with a booking agent, which means playing shows and going on tour as a job, which is really cool. I would love to have that be my job! I am hoping to put out another studio album at some point. My goal is to keep doing this and find a way to make it lucrative, but I also love school, and I'm excited to be a student and maybe get another kind of job. But my ideal is to do music as a job.
So if someone offered you a major label contract and international tours, would you leave NYU? Do you feel like you have to hurry?
I feel like the one problem I have about school is they have this attitude like 'you have to do school now, you can be a musician any time!'—which is the opposite of the truth! You can do school any time. You can always go back to school. It's always there. But a career that is on the rise and that is coming at you with opportunities is not something that you could go back to after four years of college. I'd rather jump on that and go back to college whenever I'm able to.
You parents are famous, which is something most people mention when covering you. Do you ever feel like people take your social scene for granted or judge you off that?
People are really fascinated with fame, and my parents are famous, so that's a fun fact, a cool fact! But they really aren't giving me any connections in this business; they're not musicians. I don't want fans who are judging me for the way that I was raised. I would rather just have people who like music because it moves them.
That whole line of thinking never made sense to me. Why should you not be able to create art because your parents are artists? It seems so much more likely that you'd want to!
People make assumptions about my life, and I am super privileged. My parents are able to support me as an artist—the fact that they both were working artists is reason enough that they want me to pursue that. But they also want me to go to college, they're like normal parents! I don't really have that crazy of a life. I go on tour—that's my job—and I go to school. Any time I get down about people thinking shit about me, any time I'm feeling worried about that, I just look at an email from someone whose dog died or who is going through a breakup and has written to say 'you help me so much, your music is so important to me!' Then I think, 'this is my job, this is why I'm a musician.' I feel very validated when I get messages like that. If one person is moved by a song then it's worth it.
Caitlin White is a cosmos of her own. She's on Twitter — @harmonicait