Frankie Cosmos on Prince, Catfish, and free music for all

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Frankie Cosmos (Greta Kline) is a prolific young songwriter with an already extensive repertoire of short, immediate pop suites that speak directly to the eager, damaged soul.

Imagine '90s-era Guided by Voices shot through the prism of JD Salinger’s Glass family or a Wes Anderson daydream.

It’s brilliant music that’s smart enough to defy its nascent cuteness, simple syrup that sticks to your ears and heart. On Monday, the NYC-based musician will be performing at the 7th St. Entry in support of her latest record, The Next Thing. Eskimeaux open.

City Pages spoke to Cosmos last Thursday about Prince, image, death, and other famous Frankies. Read our conversation below if you want to have your mind blown. 

Where are you right now?

I’m driving from Seattle to Boise, Idaho. So somewhere along that route.

I hate to start off an interview like this, but I just found out that Prince died while I was preparing my questions, and I’m devastated.

I just heard that. I’m not sure it’s been confirmed yet though.

Hate to make it real, but yeah, it’s been confirmed. Fucking TMZ.

Damn. That sucks.

Do you have a favorite Prince song?

Oh man, I don’t know if I can pick a favorite. It’s too soon. I can’t do it right now.

The catalog is deep. I’m not sure I could pick one either. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

I had two Montreal-style bagels.

Cream cheese? Peanut butter?

Cream cheese, yeah. Scallion cream cheese.

If you were on fire, who would you want to put you out? Living or dead.

Oh wow. Probably my mommy.

I never get to watch TV anymore, but I was in a hotel recently and was granted three glorious hours of MTV. I noticed a song of yours was featured in an episode of Catfish. Was this a thrill for you or were you all, “Ugh, whatever. Licensing.”

Hell yeah. I thought it was awesome, because I love that show. I also don’t watch a lot of current TV, but I was really excited. I love Catfish. I actually haven’t seen the episode yet but I think it was cool.

The episode is all right. I was disappointed that the girl ended up staying with the guy. He’s just so obviously playing her.

I heard there’s a happy ending. But was it a traditional catfish or no?

No, it was legit. Not a catfish.

I saw one episode where they make it seem like a catfish, but then it wasn’t and it’s kind of a bummer. I can imagine this one.

So, the song used on Catfish is "Young," which is probably your most successful single. As I perceive it, that song is sending up the lazy labels that you have gotten saddled with in the press. [Sample lyric: “At least it's cute that I try. I wrote some songs that I sung. And have you heard I am so young?”] There’s been an intense focus on your age and your famous parents that gets inserted into every story about you. And it’s still happening. For instance, right now. Why do you think the media can’t separate these predictable narratives from the real story, which is you and your music?

I think every artist has things like that. Things that get attached to them and there’s no way to control the narrative. It’s just the easiest headline. It sucks, because every artist is a person. We’re normal people on tour. Every artist is really a normal, three-dimensional person. Like, we’re having a conversation right now. You and me. It’s a totally normal conversation. Two people on the phone.

But ultimately you have to sell your piece to a magazine that wants something to hook readers. I understand why I get the labels. How are you going to grab people’s attention? But once that becomes the story it’s hard for me to shake. That’s what sucks. It’s the same thing over and over. You could do a million interviews and people are still going to bring to the table the thing that’s easiest to cover. Even if it’s something we didn’t talk about. It sucks but it’s also just the reality of a public life.

We have a music station here where you did an interview recently. A little bird told me you were more than a little miffed that even though you mostly talked about music, the headline online was, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Daughter of movie star parents makes neat music all by herself!”

Oh yeah, I remember that one. It’s just lazy. Don’t write about something we didn’t talk about. Play the song.

Have you considered doing anything controversial to shake up the narrative? I think we can workshop some ways to make the press stop writing about you as this young, naive child musician. Just off the top of my head: You could write an album that encourages listeners to worship the dark lord Satan. Not so cute anymore, is it press? Or you could stage a physical fight with one of your band members onstage. “Mercurial Badass Frankie Cosmos Beats Up Own Bass Player” would be the headline.

[Laughs] Um, that would be interesting. I never have thought about doing something like that, but those are good ideas. I’ll say that I’ll consider one or both.

The idea of confronting your critics about the image they’ve built for you, or confronting how you are viewed by the press in a song — it’s a very hip-hop move. This has been the eternally flowing fountain of inspiration for Kanye since Graduation. And with him you could probably go all the way back to the beginning. Drake is always having conversations with his haters and the media in his songs. When you decided to go to war with the media were you influenced by hip-hop?

I didn’t think about that but it’s totally true. I don’t know though. I listen to Drake, but I don’t think I had even heard Drake yet when I wrote that song. I wasn’t really inspired by hip-hop, but maybe it’s got that DNA. Maybe, subconsciously.

Would you rather be buried or cremated or not die?

Oh! I’m gonna go with cremated. Has anyone ever said they’d rather not die?

This is actually the first time I’ve asked this question in an interview. Usually, I ask people questions about the internet. I know you can’t tell this because I’m hiding behind my charisma, but I’m actually a terrible journalist.

It’s a new question, okay. I didn’t think about it very long, but not dying sounds scarier than dying.

You’re getting more attention, deservedly, for your lyrics. With the new album in particular there’s some really inventive storytelling. You address the audience in new ways. Sometimes the songs are funny in way that’s tongue in cheek. Above all, your songs are very self-aware.

Thank you.

Do you write the lyrics before the music? Do you write poetry?

It depends. Usually the lyrics exist in some way, whether or not they’ve been written into a song yet. I always have way more lyrics backlogged in my notebook when I come up with a melody than the one’s that make it into a song.

Then I’ll go back and find the lyrics that I want. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and a melody, then I’ll start writing the lyrics after that. I write poems, too. Typically a lot less of my time goes into poems. I treat them a lot differently. I do try to write a poem a month.

I just noticed that your new album is available to stream for free on your Bandcamp. Does the record label have a problem with this? What’s your stance on streaming music?

When I first started talking to the label I made it clear that I really like having my Bandcamp and keeping all my music there and having it free to discover. They were down. You can purchase the record on Bandcamp.

They make money from it, too. I buy CDs still, and upload them to my computer, but I understand why people are moving to streaming. I’m down with streaming, too. I feel that art should be free. Other countries support artists, it just doesn’t happen that way in America.

Even without that support, it’s better that people have access to the art. If they like it they’ll support you in some way. They’ll buy a T-shirt at the show. I guess I haven’t been around long enough. I haven’t been a touring musician long enough to care about people listening to my music for free.

Final question. The category is “Famous Frankies.” Pick the greatest Frankie out of the following: Frankie Valli, Frankie Ocean, Frankie Delano Roosevelt, Frankenweenie.

What was the last one?

Frankenweenie. Spuds McKenzie reanimated. A quasi-Frankie, but an official Frankie nonetheless.

Ahh, what about Frankie Muniz.

Touché. Do you want to add him to the category?

I want to add him in. Can we add him to the list? Then, oh man, I have to pick one?

That’s right. Gotcha journalism. This answer will follow you your entire career.

I’m going to go with the write-in candidate. Frankie Muniz.  

Frankie Cosmos

With: Eskimeaux, Yowler. 

When: Monday, April 25. 

Where: 7th St. Entry. 

Tickets: $10-$12; more info here.


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