When Greta Kline joins the stage with the rest of Frankie Cosmos this Friday at Black Cat, she won’t want to be Greta Kline. Whoa, whoa, that actually sounds harsh, but I promise I’m not writing that in the way you’re reading it so let me clarify:
What I’m saying is, she’s currently in search of a stage persona, an alter-ego. Think of Corey Taylor putting on one of his several Slipknot masks or Beyonce channeling Sasha Fierce, or even Tyler, the Creator throwing on a silver wig during his IGOR tour. She’s in search of a different outlet, a way to avoid giving all of herself on a nightly basis. Frankly (ha, rhymes with Frankie ((as in Frankie Cosmos)), when she’s describing this to me over the phone before the band’s latest album Close It Quietly has even come out, it sounds like an exhausting position to be in, constantly opening yourself up. Throw in the fact that the band is insanely prolific, three albums in four years prolific, and you being to see how touring so much could become cumbersome. Perhaps this is the real reason why superheroes put on masks and capes. Yeah, they say it’s because they want to protect their loved ones, but maybe it’s actually because being yourself, your true self at home and at work and during your side gig is too much to offer. What if Batman’s cowl and cape is actually just a result of this truth: being Bruce Wayne all the time is a lot of freaking work. I don’t know, and neither does Greta, probably, I mean I didn’t ask her this stuff when we spoke. However, she is an indie rock superhero.
While I didn’t ask her about comics or Batman, I did get a chance to speak to the singer, songwriter before her show at the Black Cat this Friday, ranging from her fascination with marbles and that ability to churn out an incredible amount of songs. Oh, and we of course chatted about the latest record, a 21-song indie rock epic which represented a slight departure from their previous works, but still contained the existential mid-20s drama you’d expect from the group. It’s soothing, powerful and fun. So read on and get excited to see whatever alter-ego Kline comes up for the band’s set at Black Cat.
On Tap: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musician with as many alter egos as you on their Wikipedia page, it’s like that scene in Rocky when they’re reading all of Apollo’s nicknames. Do you have a favorite?
Greta Kline: Ah man, it’s my addiction to newness. I need a new band name all the time. It’s easier than being one person forever. Definitely Frankie Cosmos is the one that stuck, it feels like the band and it feels like me. I relate it to what we’re doing, that’s why I haven’t changed it. I’m still constantly coming up with band names, but you can’t just make a new band, because people will get confused. I just like names, the ideas. When I was doing the bandcamp, and I didn’t have a band, it was just a way to pretend that I have a band. It’s easier than being yourself.
Even GRETA feels weird, whenever, whenever someone calls me Greta. More often, people come up to me and call me Frankie, I guess. A lot of it’s Frankie Cosmos, I thought it was funny to have other names. It’s fun. It’s like you’re getting to escape yourself. It’s like having a wrestling name. Something that I want to do this album cycle, is be a different person on stage. One of the things that exhausts me on touring is giving my soul in an earnest way, and being purely me. I don’t know, it can be nice, but I want to have an option to be a performer on stage. I want to take on a performer character. Greta isn’t a performer, Greta is shy and anxious, and for awhile “we’re Frankie Cosmos” was enough of a mask, so I don’t know being different in some way might make it easier. I wore some wigs in our latest music video, I don’t know. I haven’t put enough thought into it.
OT: This is your third album in four years, are you exhausted yet? It feels like you might be?
GK: You know, to me it’s not that much. It’s not that much [to be] making albums. What’s exhausting is touring. Getting time to make an album is the break, that’s the fun part, that’s the creative part. [When] we can really do the work, I don’t even think about it. We’re not exhausted by anything at all, it’s so exciting. I have a little bit of an addiction to newness, I always like my newest song the best, and that’s making an album, it’s a way to enjoy that.
OT: You’re exceptionally prolific, do you find that songwriting come easy to you?
GK: Sometimes, yeah, it definitely something that’s fun for me. I never really force myself to write a song. I think the hard time I have is finishing songs. The idea part of it is something that just happens, and the other part is setting apart time to work on it. When I’m writing songs, it’s when I feel the most in touch with myself and everything.
OT: You compared this record to changes people make when they rearrange your room or get a flashy haircut, it’s still your stuff or your hair, but it’s different. What sort of spurred this sentiment, and how were you able to turn the record around so quickly? Was this reshuffle something you had in mind already?
Greta Kline: I mean, I guess it does feel easy and natural; we just want to make music. We don’t think about how it’s too soon to put out records. We definitely started thinking about making this album before we put out Vessel (2018). I mean we didn’t record it until this winter, so it feels pretty fresh. Yeah, that line about your hair and rearranging your room, I really like that image, I feel like it makes sense. My bandmate Luke [Pyenson] said we sort of give ourselves room to mess around, even it if doesn’t sound the same.
I never think about what [the music is] going to sound compared to the other albums. We had more time and more equipment, but it’s still us arranging the songs and me writing them. There are some different tones on it. I keep thinking about the modular synth on a couple tracks, that feels like a big change. Yeah, it feels like a pretty different album to me.
It’s more organic. We had room to play, so we did. We felt about that on the last album too. We had a marimba on a track, crazy keyboard sounds and it’s in the moment. We’re not thinking about what it’s going to mean in the concept of the album until it’s done. All I think about is what it feels like when I’m singing it or playing it. I know it’s a good take if it feels good, but sometimes it doesn’t sound good even if it does feel good. You have to sort of do it.
The hard part for me is thinking about the album as a whole and talking about it. I always think about this quote, “If I could explain it all, I wouldn’t need the song.” Writing the bio doesn’t come as naturally to me as sitting and making it with my friends.
OT: How did you all come up with the title Close It Quietly?
GK: It sounds so stupid to say it. It’s kind of meaningless. Every time we make an album, I know the name the whole time. This was different — the album was done and we didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t want it to have a title track and it was a weirdly hard album to name. One day I was like F-it, I was going to name it like I would on my bandcamp demo. It was just going to be something that I say today, then I told someone about my gate, to close it quietly, and that’s the album title. Since thinking about it, it could be a lot of things. It could be a chapter, a relationship and the album sort of closes quietly, we all just fade out.
OT: So it was kind of profound and universal after the fact?
GK: Never A day goes back that I don’t say something profound [laughs]. I really wanted to call the album I have to do the dishes.
I kind of like that, it’s funny to give a pedestal to stupidity.
OT: The short songs, how do you know when to cap off an idea? I feel like most artists hover around the 2-4 minute range, but you have a ton of songs that are like 45 seconds.
GK: I mean, I guess you just know. If I force it to be longer than it needs to be, it’ll get scrapped. The fun part is coming up with a melody and doing something new, I don’t want to repeat the same lyrics and melodies longer than I have to. Once in awhile, I’ll write a song where it takes more time to say what I want to say, or to explain the feeling. I like short songs, and I think it’s about having a short attention span and liking something that’s new. I like that we play dirty songs instead of thirteen longer songs. I don’t know, sometimes it gets boring. The songs that make it longer have to feel right.
OT: Lately it feels like a ton of artists are doing this thing with less than 10 tracks, whether that’s because of the listener’s attention span or whatever. Close It Quietly has 21 tracks, and I kind of love that you zigged while a lot of musicians are zagging. Was there any consideration to condense the album? Is it hard to put a track list in order when it’s 20+ songs?
GK: On all the records we cut songs, so this is the condensed version. It is hard to order it, it’s always hard to put in order. I never think about it as an album. I always think of every song as a single. I think the last two albums, Luke has decided what the first track is going to be, that’s the easy part. We think about it like Side A and Side B, which doesn’t translate to Spotify, obviously. It’s a weird process, we all just sat and listened to a first draft of the order, and we made notes. If I put it in whatever order I want, it would be meaningless, so my bandmates are definitely helpful. I have a hard time thinking of an album as a whole, I can’t think of how they relate to one another when I’m in them.
OT: Let’s talk about marbles since their heavily featured in the album artwork. How many did you own as a kid, are these pictures in the album art just your marbles? What is the significance of them?
GK: I think it’s sort of like, well we almost called the album marbles. It’s just the idea that these are my marbles, and you could lose your marbles. The song “Marbles” is sort of a love song, and I just have a feeling about how marbles have a personal meaning to me. I had this image come to me in the album art, I wanted to take a photo, and I described it to Lauren [Martin], and she drew it as I imagined it, and that became the art.
A marble is this tiny thing and it holds this depth and you could look at it forever. I definitely played with marbles as a kid. It was fun to just get a bunch of marbles, take the photos. It was trippy because I was looking at them with a magnifying glass. They just kind of take you out of the real world for a second.
OT: Last question, you asked what the stupidest Frankie Cosmos lyric was on Twitter a few months ago, so I’m wondering what your opinion is on that question, and also what’s the stupidest lyric you’ve ever heard? I know, I know, this is on the spot.
stupidest frankie cosmos lyrics, go!:
— frankie cosmos (@frankiecosmos) March 10, 2019
GK: I think I tweeted that to be self deprecating, but I got some really funny responses. There are so many stupid ones. Sometimes you hear a lyric and it’s so dumb, but I kind of like that, it’s funny to give a pedestal to stupidity. I really like when songwritiers use cliches in a way that’s moving, and you’re turning it on it’s head by using it, that’s my favorite kind of stupid lyric. In Frankie Cosmos some of them are just stupid and funny.
I think that there is a lot of emotion in the silly off the cuff sort of thought. One person wrote “I drank bad coffee, I hope that you call me.” First of all that takes me right back to the moment when I wrote it and I know what coffee I was drinking and who I was hoping to call me. There’s a pureness that takes you straight to your stupid emotions. It’s deep, but you don’t have to put it in some poetic way. I think sometimes the best lyrics that i get really excited about come from letting myself spew out. Letting loose and not worrying about being stupid; it represents how you feel. It can mean something bigger than the stupid thing that it says.
See Great Kline and the rest of Frankie Cosmos at Black Cat DC on Friday, September 27. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. For information on the show, click here.
Black Cat DC: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com