Frankie Cosmos Examines Fear, Fame And Womanhood

Mar 31, 2018
Originally published on April 4, 2018 7:58 am

When Greta Kline began uploading her dreamy, unvarnished indie-pop songs to the corners of the internet as a teenager, she never anticipated playing them live. Now, the 24-year-old is gearing up for a relentless summer tour across the U.S. and Europe with her band Frankie Cosmos, touring behind the heavy but humorous new album Vessel.

Kline writes all of Frankie Cosmos' lyrics and most of its music, though the name belongs to the group: She tours with and records with bassist Alex Bailey, keyboardist Lauren Martin and drummer Luke Pyenson. Kline says she originally envisioned Frankie as a character, born of her own early reluctance to be onstage.

"I liked the idea of having a distance between my name, and myself and the art that I was making," she says. "I liked the idea of having a fake name that maybe sounds more [like a] diva."

Fame runs in Kline's family: Her parents, the actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, raised her and her older brother in New York, sometimes taking them to red carpets. She says her family's advice and support has informed her path as a young musician. "Having parents who both succeeded with careers in the arts led me to understand [that a career in music] was possible."

Kline was 16 when she left a rigorous high school in favor of home schooling — but she learned even more when she fell into the New York DIY scene that year, attending shows scattered throughout its boroughs and playing a handful of instruments across different indie bands, including Porches. Kline attended New York University for two years before dropping out to maximize her music efforts in 2016. By then, she'd released so many songs on her Bandcamp that the page had begun to feel like an infinitely scrolling diary.

Over Vessel's 18 upbeat pop songs, Kline asserts a simultaneously enchanted and world-weary outlook. Yearning, heartbreak, millennial ennui and especially womanhood are pored over with quiet trepidation and subdued humor. "My body is a burden / I'm always yearning to be less accommodating," she muses on "Accommodate," a gliding song that explores the small losses women are expected to make regularly in catering to the people around them.

"Being stuck in a female body is restrictive in a lot of ways," Kline says. "It sort of defines the way that everybody's going to see what I'm making, and what I'm doing and how they can treat me."

Elsewhere, ambivalence surfaces: "Looking around at 22 and so tired of myself around you / Maybe I don't fit your ideals anymore / Or maybe I just grew up into a bore," she sings on "Apathy." The line is a little sarcastic, Kline says, but it came from a real place: "Sometimes when you care about something so much, like I feel I do about a lot of things, I sometimes wish that I had apathy just because it would be more relaxing."

A little apathy could come in handy onstage: For as much as she's done it in just a few years, she says she still gets anxious performing live. "I feel very exposed on stage," she says. "It's made harder by the fact that it's very close to me, and that I care about it a lot."

Still, she says she's grateful that these songs about the beauty that accompanies melancholy has resonated with so many fans. "I'm never going to make [this project] for anyone else," Kline says. "It's always going to originate from being for me, and I think I have to hold onto that."

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FRANKIE COSMOS: (Singing) Seven, eight, nine - rest. Being alive - I see you in everything...


Don't be fooled by the upbeat energy in the music of Frankie Cosmos. Those drums and guitars are paired with confusion, yearning and heartbreak.


FRANKIE COSMOS: ...(Singing) I'm collapsing inwardly. Your name strikes a match in me...

SIMON: Greta Kline is behind that name, Frankie Cosmos. She's just released her third full-length album, "Vessel." She joins us now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

GRETA KLINE: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So who - what - how so is Frankie Cosmos? - a character, a stage name, nickname, persona?

KLINE: At this point, it's more, like, the band name actually. I could play as Frankie Cosmos, but I prefer to play with my three bandmates. And all together, we are Frankie Cosmos.

SIMON: I've read that Frankie Cosmos kind of came out of a reluctance to be on stage.

KLINE: Yeah. I mean, I just liked the idea of having, like, a distance between my name and myself and the art. So I liked the idea of having a fake name that sounds maybe, like, more diva. And I also started it without really planning to perform live. I was just, like, making music for fun sort of on my computer.


FRANKIE COSMOS: (Singing) I wonder if you're up. I'm America.

KLINE: I've always kept a diary and stuff. But I think writing songs provided a secret code almost of talking about my feelings, like, with myself.

SIMON: It's not secret when...


KLINE: Well, it still feels kind of secret in a weird way because it's like, nobody ever will fully understand I guess what I mean just because they're - everyone hears it through their own experience.

SIMON: Let's listen to some more of your music. This is a clip from "Apathy."


FRANKIE COSMOS: (Singing) Looking around at 22, I'm so tired of myself around you.

KLINE: Sometimes when you care about something so much like I feel like I do about a lot of things - and I sometimes, like, wish that I had apathy just because it's like - it would be more relaxing or something.

SIMON: Is it that strenuous to be a music star for you?

KLINE: I feel very, like, exposed onstage. I feel like that part of it is very strenuous. It's made harder by the fact that I - it's very close to me and I care about it a lot.

SIMON: To state the obvious and get it out of the way, you had an example close by of what it's like to be well-known and performing, right?

KLINE: Yes. Both my parents are famous or have been famous at one point.

SIMON: Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates.

KLINE: Yeah. So it's very nice for me to have that resource of, like, having parents that understand what I'm going through from two very different perspectives because my dad is still working and in the business. And my mom is - runs a store now. So it's good to have a little bit of both.

SIMON: Let's listen to another one of your songs. This one is "Accommodate."


FRANKIE COSMOS: (Singing) My body is a burden. I'm always yearning to be less accommodating, to say loud how I'm feeling.

SIMON: So where's this song come from?

KLINE: I mean, it comes from just my personal experience of being a woman and what that means to the rest of the world and questioning sort of, how would it be different if I were in a different body?

SIMON: And you wrote these lyrics, too - my body is a burden.

KLINE: It's true (laughter). I don't know how to explain it. I think probably a lot of people can relate to that sentiment but that often being stuck in a female body is restrictive in a lot of ways. It sort of defines the way that everybody's going to see what I'm making and what I'm doing and how they can treat me. I don't know. It's very hard with Frankie Cosmos. I've sort of - you know, it started off as just me alone in my room. And it's slowly grown into something much bigger than that and many people, like, helping make it happen. And so it's been very hard to maintain the feeling that it's mine and that I, like, deserve to claim it as mine. And I often think if I were a man, that it would be easier to say, oh, yeah. This is my project, and I own that.

SIMON: Greta Kline, who makes music as Frankie Cosmos and with Frankie Cosmos - her album "Vessel" released this week - thanks so much for being with us.

KLINE: Yeah. Thanks for having me.


FRANKIE COSMOS: (Singing) Trying to keep it pure like it was before. So maybe I won't be yours in fully the same way. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.