Out of the bedroom
What: Frankie Cosmos, Empress
When: 7 pm Sun., Nov. 11
Where: MAC Gym, Wade King Rec Center, WWU
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
For almost as long as she can remember, music has been part of Greta Kline’s life. She began taking piano lessons at 6 years old, transitioned briefly to the drums before finally settling on the guitar when she was in middle school. She was homeschooled during high school, which gave her the time and flexibility to explore New York’s underground rock scene. She was still a teenager when she started releasing lo-fi recordings via a Bandcamp account and various musical aliases.
From the start, Kline was freakishly prolific. Using her Bandcamp almost like a diary, she amassed song after song, recording after recording, throwing everything against the wall to see what would stick. Her knack for writing lyrics that give an immediate, relatable snapshot of some piece or another of her life, her emotions, her musings both inane and poignant, was evident from the beginning. As was a certain punk rock sensibility that caused her to write songs short in duration and succinct in nature. It was an engaging and intriguing mix of qualities, and it wasn’t long before Kline attracted first interest and then an ever-growing number of fans.
To hear her tell it, Kline never sought the spotlight. Her Bandcamp recordings were done mostly for herself. Her use of aliases, common in the music industry, helped her to preserve her perceived anonymity. As a performer, she lacked confidence at first, and felt her music to be more an art project meant to amuse family and friends rather than a serious undertaking.
That all changed in 2014 when Kline released a proper full-length record—if a 17-minute-long album can be called a proper full-length, that is—with a full band under the name Frankie Cosmos. Dubbed Zentropy, it announced Kline as an artist to be reckoned with, and critics were quick to laud her as a refreshing new voice in an industry always looking for the next big thing. The acclaim took Kline by surprise, and she became unnerved that what had begun as an intimate bedroom project now belonged to an audience growing larger by the second.
That the spotlight would find her is not all that surprising. Kline wasn’t just another precocious kid with a unique musical point of view and a lot of talent. She’s the youngest child of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, and whether she realized or acknowledged it, star power is in her DNA.
Being the child of famous actors comes with its perks, and aside from the obvious bonus of having parents likely to encourage her artistic inclinations, she was also able to lean on them for advice about how to deal with her burgeoning fame and the scrutiny that came with it. They suggested that, instead of retreating from the spotlight, Kline should ignore it instead, stop reading her press coverage and treat her music as she always had: as a means by which to express herself and process her thoughts and emotions creatively.
She took them up on that advice and hasn’t looked back since.
Still an endlessly prolific songwriter, Kline has progressed in her music-making, which means so has Frankie Cosmos. A deal with Sub Pop led to the March 2018 release of Vessel, which is her most fully fleshed effort to date. Being in a full band suits the songwriter, and with Vessel she turns up the volume and gets a little less lo-fi. Two of the album’s whopping 18 songs even come in at longer than three minutes, including the title track. Once again critics were quick to praise Kline, with Pitchfork calling her “no less than a savior of indie pop and the poet laureate of New York City DIY” in their fawning review.
Being the savior of anything is a lot to contend with. It’s probably for the best that Kline no longer reads her own press.
Besides, the songwriter has built her fan base not on glowing reviews, but with her songwriting, which has always been about the small things, about universal experiences that are felt but seldom commented upon, observations both astute and achingly true. Lines like “making a list of people to kiss/The list is a million Yous long” speak to a sentiment many of us can relate to, as does “I want in on the other side/Of your eyelids where you hide.”
The increased attention and the solidifying of Frankie Cosmos into something that looks a whole lot like a music career have brought a lot of changes to Kline’s life, but the way she approaches her music remains the same. She still writes constantly, and her focus remains firmly on creating work that is true rather perfect. The stages may be bigger and the rooms might sell out, but at heart, she’s still the fiercely independent artist who released 50-some Bandcamp recordings from her room before she ever made a proper album. Turns out, you can take the girl out of the bedroom, but you can’t take the bedroom out of the girl.
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