Interview: Frankie Cosmos

by Anjali DasSarma

Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana

On what is now their fifth album, we find Frankie Cosmos hitting a new – and more inclusive – stride

The last time I corresponded with Frankie Cosmos was September of 2019, which was, to put it lightly, a very different time. Back then, Close it Quietly – the group’s fourth record – had just come out, and frontperson Greta Kline spoke about awe and chaos, love and learning, and what it means to keep trying even in the face of heartbreak. 

Now, on the eve of the band’s new album, Inner World Peace, the band graciously answer our questions about skateboarding, psychedelic vibes, livestreaming during the pandemic, lying down in the dark, and what inner peace means. 

Talk to me about musical influences for this album? When did you start recording, and what part of the recording process feels the best to start with? What was the energy surrounding the recording process this time? 

Greta Kline: We started recording about three weeks after we finished arranging the songs. We always start by recording the drums and bass, in a room with the full band (guitar, keys, and vocals, which are usually placeholders for different takes later on). The energy was mostly excitement – we hadn’t played together in a long time, and it just felt really thrilling to arrange and play this album. Musical influences for me were isolation and regression (re-listening to music I loved in my teen years).

Alex Bailey (bass, guitar, keyboards): Since we were going to record entirely in a studio setting, I found inspiration from albums recorded in a similar way; live in the studio with an experimental spirit. Bands that played together like the Beatles, Blur, XTC, Broken Social Scene. The emphasis was on intricate arrangements, but also jamming and seeing what sticks in the studio. 

Luke Pyenson (drums, vocals): During the first year or so of the pandemic, I actively listened to music more than usual. Apart from cooking, it was really what got me through. So it’s less about specific influences and more about just the volume of influences swirling around as we went in to arrange this time: the palette was much more broad, and I was just, maybe paradoxically, thinking about and listening to music much more than I was before the pandemic when we were touring. Reading this over it looks/sounds really stupid but it’s true! 

Lauren Martin (keyboards, synthesizers, harmonies): Similarly to Luke, I was listening to a lot more music than usual leading up to making this album – so my influences were all over the place, but I think I was gravitating more towards slower, more meditative and psychedelic

What does inner world peace mean to you? How can those things overlap?

Greta: To me it’s about focusing on your own mind. It’s kind of a joke about being fixated on the self (while feeling guilt about the state of the entire world), but it’s also a reality – it’s useful to be aware of your realm of control.

Alex: To me, it’s a reminder that there is a world beyond our senses where peace is accessible. 

Lauren: I think similarly to Greta, it means to accept what is within your control. I also feel as though it’s a bit about mindfulness and creating a place for yourself, within yourself that is full of love and peace.

How does it feel being in this type of psych space? What inspired the shift?

Greta: It’s very different for me. Meditative music is not my inclination; I really let the band take the songs in that direction.

Luke: Psych, broadly, is the genre that the three of us [myself, Lauren, and Alex] probably gravitate towards the most as music listeners, so it was inevitable that it would start to infiltrate our own music a bit more. Around the time we were arranging this, I was listening to a ton of Melody’s Echo Chamber, for example. Broadcast and Stereolab have always been north stars. Like many drummers, I venerate Jaki Liebezeit and try (poorly) to emulate him. 

Alex: I don’t think we set out in a particular direction. There are a lot of instances where space is deliberately added, acting as a kind of zoom out from the song. I have to give Greta a lot of credit for being open and willing to collaborate.

Lauren: I agree with what Luke and Alex said here – I don’t know if the direction was completely intentional, but I think that our combined natural sensibilities led us there. And yes, Greta was really open to our ideas and suggestions!

What have you been up to lately besides recording? What have you been spinning?

Greta: I’m always collaging, drawing, writing more music. I don’t always listen to much music, but lately I’ve gotten into Joey Nebulous and Good Morning. I normally listen to comedy podcasts.

Alex: I try [to] keep up with my skateboarding. Been bumping the new Rusty Santos’ album, High Reality.

Luke: Lauren and I are obsessed with tennis; both watching pro tennis and playing together. 

Lauren: Yes, tennis is big for me! It really clears my head. Also, I draw all the time – for work and just for fun. And I haven’t been listening to anything in particular – but I listen to NTS all the time so there’s always music on.

What are your favourite tracks on the album?

Greta: We all love One Year Stand and Empty Head – they just feel like real outliers sonically. I personally love Wayne a lot, it feels the best to play and sing for me. 

Luke: I love A Work Call. The arrangement is the most blatant Stereolab rip-off, but what can you do?

Alex: Prolonging Babyhood – I love all the twists and turns packed into such a short song. It’s like a roller coaster that’s so fast and scary you can’t believe it’s meant for children. Also Fragments, particularly the intro with the dueling (heavily xtc inspired) guitars feels like a pretty big departure for a Frankie Cosmos song. Another stunning chord progression from Greta and the collaged lyrics make for a very unique track.

Lauren: I love A Work Call and Empty Head so much. I really feel like they tap into a feeling that I crave in music – they give me goosebumps.

Abigail is such a strong intro track. Can you talk about the influence (or who was the influence) for the song?

Greta: Thank you! Abigail is a dog I saw on Petfinder years ago, and wished I could take in. It felt like I could never have a dog because of the lifestyle of a touring musician, and it led to this song about the big decisions that shape our life (what do you want to die surrounded by? books? dogs? songs? family? romantic love?).

Alex: It has a pretty conventional chord progression so during the verse I wanted to add like a ringing pulse in the background instead of following the chords. There’s a pretty clear influence here which is I’m playing something I think Lockette Pundt might play. I made a demo anticipating that some or all of it might not make the cut but shockingly pretty much everything went in, even the bluesy bits at the end. 

What is the ideal moment to listen to the album? What’s the perfect vibe?

Greta: On a drive is always nice, that’s where I mostly listen to music. I also think it would be nice to just chill on like, a beanbag chair, and close your eyes and relax, if you’re capable of that. Or just cook dinner and have it on in the background, if you’re the kind of person who can have music on in the background.

Alex: Lying down flat in total darkness. 

Luke: Dark room, eyes closed, nice headphones, really loud. 

Lauren: I recently listened to it really loud in headphones in my parked car in midtown while it was pouring rain and that was pretty perfect.

This is an obvious question, but how do you feel that the band/project has grown since Close it Quietly?

Greta: I think the biggest change between the last record and this one is that we weren’t touring while working on this. So we didn’t even really consider how we were going to translate the songs to a live show, which meant we could build out more complex arrangements. Even writing them, I didn’t worry about memorising the chords and lyrics, which gave me space to write some more complicated vocal and guitar parts.

Luke: In addition to what Greta said, Lauren and Alex were a lot more active in the arranging process this time around and I think their influence is more widely felt across this album than Close It Quietly. It’s awesome. 

Alex: In a lot of ways Close It Quietly served as a trial run for what we attempted with this record. I know personally while making Close it Quietly I felt more like a bystander playing on “their” record, trying to fill the role of the previous bassist. Whereas for this album we really just said yolo and adopted a throw everything at the wall policy. 

Lauren: I agree that I felt more comfortable sharing my opinion on this album. I think it took a few tries for me to really feel like I knew what I was doing in the studio so I went into this process feeling surer of myself and my opinions about what the songs could be. At times I almost felt a little bossy when it came to certain things I felt strongly about.

Last time I interviewed you, you said you were learning how to ‘feel good’ while performing. Talk to me about performance. What feels good? Where does it feel like home to perform?

Greta: Well, I had the experience of performing from my literal home during spring of 2020, I was livestreaming every Friday night. It felt weird, of course, because it was in tandem with facing the new normal. But it was cool to find a new version of performing, a more comfortable one. I missed being in a room with people, but I also really appreciated the ability to open my eyes and watch friends commenting — which, though silent and optional (to engage with), felt strangely more intimate and more communicative than vague cheers in a dark club.

Alex: hearing or playing non-recorded music is a novel experience these days and it’s something I’ve grown to really cherish and enjoy. Even if it’s just one other person, for that moment you are connected. It’s easy to be cynical or feel silly about playing for others. Sometimes we need a reminder of how special those moments are. 

What do you as a band do together? Can you give us some insight into your friendship/relationships to one another?

Greta: We like to go to eat delicious meals together, we watch TV. During the arranging time, we watched I Think You Should Leave every night and cackled together.

Alex: When I joined the band I had to learn these made up words they use when talking amongst themselves or occasionally others. Get within earshot of us and you’re bound to hear one of them. I think a lot of bands have their own version of this, little in jokes or whatever. So I guess what I wanna say is that we basically occupy ourselves by jawing nonstop in this completely made up gibberish language. 

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