DIY Darlings Frankie Cosmos Step Into the Mainstream
Greta Kline (far left) and her band, Frankie Cosmos
Photo by Julia Leiby
Greta Kline is sitting in an Upper East Side diner, Three Guys, picking at a plate of eggs. She doesn't appear to have noticed that the waitress brought her home fries instead of the hash browns she ordered. The twenty-year-old songwriter is too preoccupied discussing her guitar-pop band, Frankie Cosmos, and breaking the room's hushed ambience with wandering monologues about the things whizzing around her brain: touring, chauvinism, New Year's Eve.
Frankie Cosmos' breezy songs tend to cover very specific topics — like dirty water splashing up from the street — and Kline's ruminations come across similarly: pointed and confident, but delivered in a sunny, meandering package.
She knows Three Guys and the corner of Madison and 96th well, having grown up a few blocks away. The boutique her mother opened ten years ago is nearby ("She found her calling late in life. I'm impressed when people do that"), as is Ciao Bella gelato, a favorite of the kids Kline babysat as a teenager. She clearly has an affinity for the area, despite no longer feeling like she belongs there.
"Did you see that Broad City episode where they go to the Upper East Side and everyone's staring at them?" she says. "It's like that."
The neighborhood's quiet, stagnant atmosphere motivated Kline to seek fulfillment elsewhere during her teenage years. At the urging of her older brother, also a musician, she immersed herself in New York's all-ages DIY music scene. She picked up every edition of underground concert weekly Showpaper, and later worked for the publication while she was in high school. Eventually, her own shows started turning up in its pages, at places like Death by Audio, Cake Shop, and Silent Barn.
"The all-ages thing changed my life," she says. "Going to a show [where] you're not treated like you don't belong there by getting X's on your hands — that's important."
Having earned a dedicated following in this tight-knit underground, Frankie Cosmos is stepping into the mainstream spotlight to headline the Bowery Ballroom for the first time. The show, set for February 6, caps off a year that saw the band vault from beloved bedroom project to critical darling after Pitchfork gave its full-length, full-band debut, Zentropy, an 8 rating last March.
"Suddenly everyone was asking us if we wanted to play a show somewhere or needed a manager or a booking agent," Kline says. "We had all these meetings where people told us to get things we had no idea if we even needed."
They did wind up hiring a booking agent, but otherwise, and in spite of the pressure, opted to handle their transition to full-time careers in the band carefully and deliberately. Recognizing the shift weighed more heavily on her bandmates, all of whom are older with day jobs, Kline made her most recent semester at NYU her last before she takes a break to make the same full-time commitment. It's a significant step for any band, but considering Frankie Cosmos was largely a solo effort until Zentropy, solidifying Frankie as a four-person, full-time act fundamentally changes the nature of the project.
Kline spent years releasing a near constant succession of lo-fi albums totaling well over 200 songs. Drawing inspiration from a Martha Graham quotation about keeping oneself an open, ceaseless channel through which expression flows, she recorded and posted to Bandcamp everything she wrote.
"I interpreted [the quote] as 'It's not your place to judge your art,'" she says. "That's how I viewed it all my life: Put out every song, because if I make a thousand songs, at least one will resonate with one person. And I'll never know which one it is unless I put them all out."
To her surprise, the experience of making Zentropy significantly widened her perspective. After the band signed a record deal, she could no longer post everything she wrote. Her creativity wasn't arrested, but Kline discovered joy in holding on to songs to rework and reconsider before release.
"Is it an amazing song? Does it deserve to be heard?" she says. "I never questioned that before."
The process also no longer ends when she's done writing; the band experiments with different arrangements, sometimes spending several days or even a week with a single track. It's a near-eternity compared to immediately recording every song and then moving on.
After the show at the Bowery, the band is returning to a friend's all-analog studio in Binghamton to finish its next album, which will be released on Bayonet Records later this year. Kline says they tried recording some of the new songs digitally, after the studio's tape machine broke, forcing them to abandon the analog process that had worked so well for Zentropy. She found the mandated deliberateness of recording to tape — of not being able to endlessly stop and start and tinker — far superior. Now that the tape machine is fixed, they're scrapping the digital tracks and going back to tape.
"It wasn't the same," she says. "The ability to keep doing more takes was ruining it."
Despite all her transitions in the last year, Kline remains connected and committed to the scene that raised her. She takes pride in playing guitar in Frankie Cosmos, even while knowing she has much room for growth; it's important to her to show the next generation that making music passionately is more important than doing it perfectly. In particular, she wants to see more young women come up through the ranks.
"I'm so happy when teenage girls tell me they're learning guitar," she says. "I ask for their Bandcamps because it's so nice to have anyone at all listen to it. It's hard to be heard as a teenage girl."
Current seekers of all-ages music in New York face a scene less stable than the one that shaped Kline. Death by Audio closed last November, Showpaper shuttered this month, Silent Barn was forced to go above ground, and Cake Shop desperately needs major investment to stay open. Despite the new obstacles, Kline remains optimistic that young fans will find DIY salvation. Still, Cake Shop's potential closure particularly irks her: She's played there multiple times but, being underage herself, hasn't attended a show since the venue went 21-plus.
"Every time I play there, they joke about whether I'm 21 yet," she says. "I just really hope they make it long enough for me to actually see a show as an adult."
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