Upstream: Frankie Cosmos stays true to her DIY ethos


Frankie Cosmos
Frankie Cosmos (Matthew James Wilson/Courtesy of the artist)

Upstream is a new monthly series where The Current's digital producer Leah Garaas interviews and explores up-and-coming acts to fine-tune your music discovery radar.

At 21 years old Greta Kline, aka Frankie Cosmos, already has more than 50 (informal) releases to her name on Bandcamp including woodchip arthur and his sweaty palms and Jared Leto Can't Read. The titles may read like an iPhone note of random musings, but they have underlying significance. The latter refers to an episode of My So-Called Life where it's revealed that Jared Leto's character, well, can't read. "It's kind of a joke but at the same time it's really serious," says Cosmos. "It's about getting to know a person you had built up in your head."

Or, titles can be taken at face value. Cosmos' forthcoming album is called Next Thing because that's just what it is: the next thing.

Set to release her first full-length on the new Bayonet Records April 1, Frankie Cosmos and I caught up over the phone to talk about Next Thing. I'm on speakerphone, and I can hear her sipping coffee that she bought outside her Manhattan apartment after maintenance finished fixing her front door.

When she was 14, Cosmos stumbled upon an audio recording of a poem. As a native of the Big Apple, its opening line instantly resonated with Cosmos: "It is 12:10 in New York." More than a year went by before she could identify its author. After a perceptive peer keen to Cosmos' taste in poetry recommended Frank O'Hara, the mystery was solved. "It was this special thing when I could tell it was him just from his voice being so distinct," says Cosmos. "I like O'Hara's attitude toward everything. He sees the beauty in everything."

Like the O'Hara's poetry, Frankie's lyrics are observational. But she admits that the sadness sticks out in her music. In "Sinister," the first single off Next Thing, Cosmos croons, "My soul is not like a waterpark / It's big but surprisingly dark." Simple melodies juxtaposed with lyrics describing moments of melancholy are brightened by shimmering keys and, yep, a flute solo. "[Lyrics] are where I put the emotional stuff and I try to have fun everywhere else in my life," says Frankie.

Cosmos grew up in an artistic household; her parents are actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. As she takes a break from studying poetry at New York University, Cosmos continues to feel their support. "A lot of parents are not excited about their kids pursuing art but I think because my parents were both successful in the arts, they know it's a possible path," says Cosmos. Further, she feels confident in working in a different field. "We can relate in being artists but the lifestyle is so different," says Cosmos. "It's nice to know that I'm branching out and doing a different thing and not relying on them for connections."

It was Cosmos' older brother Owen that originally fostered her interest in music. While Cosmos studied classical piano, Owen introduced her to Jeffrey Lewis' discography and brought her along to DIY venues in Brooklyn including Shea Stadium (not that Shea Stadium) and the now-defunct Death By Audio (Cosmos hopes to see Goodnight Brooklyn, a documentary about the space, between her handful of SXSW sets this March). At just 15 years old, Cosmos was already booking bands at Showpaper, a print-only publication that promotes all-ages shows in the New York ti-state area.

Cosmos has stuck with the DIY ethos. Included with the pre-order for Next Thing is a zine that features photos shot by Cosmos, and the album art is a painting by her friend Meredith Wilson. "I think handmade merch is cool because it's coming from a really special place," says Cosmos. "It's an opportunity to share my friends' really amazing art with the world."

Next Thing album art by Meredith Wilson

And Frankie is excited (and ready) to share her art with the world, too. "This is definitely the first album that I've had an audience awareness while making it," says Frankie, who recorded Next Thing in an analog studio with her boyfriend Aaron Maine, David Maine, Gabby Smith and Hunter Davidson. Before, Cosmos would record songs in her bedroom thinking maybe someone would hear them. It's a for-sure now. "I also have the awareness that it's going to be compared to the other things I've made," says Frankie. "I think for me, the most exciting thing is -- I mean, it's amazing to have people listening to my music. That's amazing. But for me, what's really exciting is challenging myself to stay true and make what I want to make."

"It's definitely weird but also really nice to have people be listening because maybe [my music] can have a good effect on them, and that feels good."

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