Frankie Cosmos – Greta Kline on “Inner World Peace” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, June 19th, 2024  

Frankie Cosmos – Greta Kline on “Inner World Peace”

Collaboration and Expansion

Oct 26, 2022 Web Exclusive Photography by Pooneh Ghana Bookmark and Share

After almost a decade of writing and recording songs under the moniker Frankie Cosmos, frontwoman Greta Kline has distilled her music-making process into a somewhat systematic cycle. Stitching together bits of diary entries and pieces of her own poetry, she builds chord progressions and song structures around her patchwork of lyrics, working with her band to flesh out home-demos that she cuts herself. The results are succinct bites of indie pop rendered in varying shades of frank tenderness and wry humor, sonic vignettes tinged with a perpetual (and often ironic) wistfulness. This affinity for twee pop sensibilities—both spare and snappy—and stream-of-consciousness songwriting is what propelled Frankie Cosmos through a prolific output of four studio albums in five years and secured their status as household names in the indie sphere. Naturally, the pandemic changed things.

When COVID-19 came calling six months after the release of their fourth record, 2019’s Close It Quietly, Kline and her bandmates—drummer Luke Pyenson, guitarist Alex Bailey, and synth-player Lauren Martin—spent over a year apart for the first time since joining forces, detached physically and musically from one another. But however bleak and bizarre this period was, the time and distance separating the group turned out to be the alchemizing forces behind the stylistic expansion of their fifth studio album and third Sub Pop release, Inner World Peace (a name that Kline confesses is as silly as it is serious).

No longer confined to the musical echo chamber that is touring—rehearsing the same set lists, listening to the same on-the-road playlists, and playing the same pre-show mixes at every venue—the band members had the breathing room to consume different types of music, each bringing a refreshed sonic palette to the recording room once they regrouped. “They [Kline’s bandmates] were listening to like, ’70s Brazilian music and meditation music and all these influences that they were really excited to incorporate,” Kline explains, calling in from New York days before the release of the record. “I was just really excited to collaborate because I had been making stuff alone for a year. I was like, ‘Yeah let’s just go for it, I’m gonna let you guys have your way with these songs.’”

Equipped with diverse musical perspectives and revitalized by the chance to play together again, the band’s approach to music-making flourished with an open-mindedness that catalyzed what Kline describes as “88% a pandemic album” and their “most collaborative” effort yet. “I finally was like, ‘We can actually change the structure of the song….’ And I had to let go of the ego of, ‘This is mine, and it has to be true to the demo,’ and just say, ‘Yes, we can make this a five-minute meditation track or whatever,” she laughs. “It definitely comes back to COVID.”

With a psych and ’70s-folk slant, Inner World Peace takes Frankie Cosmos’ quirky, clear-eyed jangle and widens it into more expansive territory, pairing concise compositions with ambient fuzz. Mid-song variations and tempo changes zig-zag throughout the album, but the group’s peppy vitality is tempered by fresh moments of dusky stillness and trailing outros that show how their idiosyncratic sound has ripened with age.

And the record does see recurring themes of what Kline calls “aging against my will”: on “Abigail,” she marvels at the distance between her past and present self (“Can’t believe who I used to be”); on “Spare the Guitar,” she grapples with a more immediate sense of mortality (“Though it doesn’t scare me/I just think it would be a waste to die so fast”); and on “Prolonging Babyhood,” well, the title says it all. Despite the new sounds and structures of Kline’s latest record, the poetry of her freewheeling lyrics remains as crisp and evocative as it always has been.

Michelle Dalarossa (Under the Radar): It’s been three years since you released your last album. Could you tell me a little bit about the process of making Inner World Peace?

Greta Kline: In June 2021, we met back up and started to work on new stuff. I had sent them a bunch of new demos, so we wrote down a bunch of song names on a big piece of paper, and everybody circled the ones that they wanted to work on the most. We arranged really intensely as a band for 10 days and then we booked 10 days in the studio. We work fast.

Did the pandemic influence the kinds of things that you put into the album?

Absolutely. It definitely had a lot of themes of isolation and questioning the future and who am I, and I was back living with my parents so that was a big part of it for me. Having gone from this business boss who’s working all the time, on tour nine months out of the year and all this stuff, and suddenly touring doesn’t exist, and I’m just 16 years old again…that shows up in the album. I was talking to someone else about when I was preparing for a show, I noticed that a lot of the vocal parts were low register for me, and I realized that it must be because I wrote them in a house with my whole family where I was like, whisper singing. It actually affected the literal sound of the songs.

There’s definitely these themes of aging and growing up on the record. Was this something that you set out to talk about in the album?

I think it was just what was on my mind. When I’m writing I’ll usually go back through tons of demos and pick out songs, but I’m not really thinking about a theme. But there tends to be themes, and it does feel like that is a theme…time passing and I’m mad about it, and I think I had to come to terms with like, “Okay, this is happening to everyone.” [Laughs] My way of dealing with it was doing a lot of collaging and writing songs and trying to understand what I was feeling.

I did a lot of collaging too during the pandemic.

Oh, did you? I feel like that’s my actual passion. [Laughs]

Your songwriting juxtaposes direct, blunt statements with more opaque metaphors. It’s like a diary but redacted, and the redactions are these metaphors that are not very transparent. Is this method something that you are conscious of, trying to keep personal things to yourself to maintain privacy, or is it something spontaneous?

It’s hard not to have any consciousness of how people are gonna hear it. There’s definitely stuff that’s way personal on it that I was hesitant to share. That feels scary to share. But I think even really personal stuff is vague. I can hear a song that someone else writes that’s really personal to them and I can interpret it in my own way. I don’t think too much about what’s gonna be vulnerable, for the most part I just kind of go for it.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a person and as a musician since you started making music?

I think a lot of it is in ways that are hard to pin down. Every time you make a record, you develop better language for communicating in the studio, and asking for certain sounds, and you can train your ears just a little bit more each time. I think that I only get more confident with making decisions about sounds. When I made my first album, I was 18 and I didn’t know the difference between keyboard sounds, I was just like, yeah whatever it’s a keyboard sound, it’s a piano sound. [Laughs] I’ve learned about all the different elements of making an album since then. But I also—and this is a result of the pandemic—I feel like the songs got a lot more complicated musically because I wasn’t thinking about playing live. I was like, “I don’t know if I’ll ever play these live, so let’s make some chord structures that are gonna be really hard to memorize, let’s make a vocal part that’s kind of hard to sing live….” I was more experimental because I felt more free…I think [I have] a healthier relationship to music than when I was younger because I’ve tried to become less compulsive with making music. That is evolution for me.

Has your songwriting changed?

It’s kind of the same. If anything, the change is that I get more self-aware. As you get older, you get more anxious about other people reacting to it. But at the same time, I think I’ve done a pretty good job internally of not letting that change too much. It is literally still just me going through my diary. You get older and you gather different types of techniques, but there’s always that core sensibility that is there. I try to stay true to her and cut her some slack.

Youve been in the media for a long time. Is the way that you react to and live with that something that has also changed as youve gotten older?

The main change I can think of that I’m really proud of is that I’ve gone a year without searching the words Frankie Cosmos on Twitter. But otherwise, it’s pretty much the same. I’m just walking around and once every four months someone’s like, “Hey, aren’t you? Frankie?”

Whats next for you? What do you see for yourself in the future?

Music’s always gonna be part of everything. It’s always part of my life. Even if I’m not doing it as my job, it’s just like having a diary, I have to make music. This industry is so fragile, so I don’t have any expectations. What’s next for me personally is, I just started working with a friend of mind that asked me to produce his album. I’m really excited because it’s my first time producing something that’s not my music

How do you feel about the release of the album?

I’m really excited, but it can be anticlimactic. My general feeling is—and this is some real inner world peace stuff—I don’t care if no one likes it. I feel like making this was an important process for me, so if it’s just for me and my friends to enjoy, and not a single other soul on this earth likes it, so be it. I’m still gonna keep going. That’s what music is for me.

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