Greta Kline is almost too prolific. Her Bandcamp page is a seemingly-endless sea of charming DIY pop, and as she leveled up to Spotify and got signed by legendary indie label Sub Pop(!), her music as Frankie Cosmos only got more refined, without losing its bedroom flair. Her new album, Vessel, is out now, and she chatted with Criss Cross about its process, lyrics, and departure from her other work.
Rene Itah: Vessel is your 52nd release, but only your third with your band. How would you say the creative process is different? Is it limiting? Freeing?
Frankie Cosmos: The writing process is the same for me, but there’s this whole other added element of arranging and recording with other people. It’s really fun. It just adds new dimensions to the songs, and makes me hear them and understand them in different ways than if I were just writing and recording something alone in my house.
RI: You recently shaved your head! I tend to avoid talking about artists’ appearances, but I think shaving your head is one of the coolest, most cathartic things you can do. What brought that on, and how do you feel about the buzz?
FC: It was super cathartic for me. It was a step toward not catering to what other people wanted or expected from me. I had been wanting to do it for a while, and then one day on tour with Big Thief, we were having breakfast and I was talking to Adrienne about her experience buzzing her head. I felt super inspired to do it, and I was like “is this gonna be weird for the rest of the tour if we have the same haircut?” And she told me to go for it. After breakfast I went to my friends’ house and got my first buzzcut.
RI: Vessel is a very personal album. Is it difficult to release something so vulnerable?
FC: It can be difficult, but I’m also working at trying to hold onto my own relationship with the songs, and not let anyone else’s interpretations or thoughts about them get to me. Sometimes I question if I’m too sensitive a person to release music into the world, and if I should just keep it to myself. But as a huge fan of other artists’ personal/vulnerable music, I believe it’s worth it even if it has a positive effect on one person out there! So, for now, I keep doing it!
RI: A big theme on Vessel is meaning. Giving meaning to others, questioning meaning, searching for it. How does a search for meaning affect your life and the way you think and feel?
FC: Sometimes I let the search for meaning in the world around me take over too much, or I try to understand the world in too logical a way. Writing songs about experiences both gives them meaning and takes their power away, allowing me to break them down and change the way I understand them over time. It’s been really interesting watching the meaning of my own songs change for me since I first wrote them, and I’m excited to see how they will continue to change for me as we start to tour with them. I think the feelings I wrote about in this album are particularly filled with a tension that has been exciting for me to unfold!
“Sometimes I let the search for meaning in the world around me take over too much, or I try to understand the world in too logical a way. Writing songs about experiences both gives them meaning and takes their power away”
RI: Sonically, Vessel’s instrumentation is much more maximal and complex than earlier Ingrid Superstar and Frankie Cosmos records. How does it feel to hear your ideas in such a polished format? How does a band allow you to express yourself to a greater degree than before?
FC: It feels great to hear the songs with the full band. Every full-band album so far has had different line-ups of players, and it’s amazing to hear how everyone’s ideas work together and how each person brings their own sensibilities to the songs. Arranging is also a real trust exercise for me, and I’ve learned how to step back and let the songs become what they are going to become with everyone. It’s not always what I expect going in, and it gives me a new relationship with the material.
RI: Being Alive existed before this record, as a DIY track on your Bandcamp page. Why did you rework it to release again? How do you feel the new version improves on the old one?
FC: Someone requested the song at a show a while back, and I played it solo because the band didn’t know it. After the set, my bandmates were like “that’s a cool song, we should learn it” and we ended up arranging a super fast and loud version of it. We ended up playing it all the time after that…it’s really fun to play. I always enjoy revisiting old material and getting to see it from a new perspective— both because I have changed since I wrote it, and because I am getting to see it as it is interpreted by my bandmates!
RI: Vessel feels like a diary of sorts – made up of personal vignettes that stand together just as well as they do on their own. Was their any intention on your part to make sure the album was cohesive, or did the songs just happen to end up that way?
FC: I don’t think I ever really thought about how the songs would go together. I just wrote them during intense periods of my life and so they all ended up having that in common I guess.
RI: Your music as Frankie Cosmos has garnered a loyal following of adults and teenagers alike. How do you feel about the reception? Why do you think your music resonates with people the way it does?
FC: I think my music resonates with people for the same reason that I enjoy making it— it helps me get closer to understanding stuff that is hard to put words to. I feel really connected to the audience at our shows. Music is weird— you put this thing out there and sometimes you can’t even fully explain it, and then I think people hear it and they can’t explain it either but they can understand it and feel it. It’s like having a deep conversation but without having to be good at talking. So, I think a lot of the people that like Frankie Cosmos are people that have something in common with me emotionally— it could be something small, but we are connecting on something!
RI: If you had to sum up being a teenager with a five-item list, what would it be?
1. Switching acne products every couple weeks
2. Building up crushes in your head to the point where you think you are dating someone but you are basically strangers
3. Being weirdly energetic all the time
4. Being undiscerning about who you spend time with
5. Having little to no empathy (or was that just me? I was kind of a late bloomer with emotional intelligence…)
RI: 11 of the 18 tracks on Vessel are under 2 minutes. Why is that? Were you actively aiming for short songs, or were you not aiming for long ones?
FC: I just write them as long as I think they need to be! Often I feel like longer songs needlessly stretch ideas too thin. Do you really need to repeat the same chorus over and over? Does the repetition do something interesting, or change meaning each time it is repeated? If not, I’m not really into it.
RI: How do you feel right now?