Interview with lead singer Frankie Cosmos, guitarist Greta Kline, and keyboardist Lauren Martin at Motorco Music Hall in Durham, NC on 9/24
K: Alright, so just to start out I want to talk about your lyrics, I think they can seem simplistic but are still so powerful. If you could just tell me a little bit about what goes into your songwriting process overall?
G: Yeah I always have a notebook on me, so I’m always writing lyrics on tour. And then when I get home I like to make it into a song by adding melodies and instruments and stuff and then I bring it to the band and everyone writes their parts and it becomes a finished product *laughter*
K: Awesome so do you just write the lyrics and guitar and then the rest of the band comes in and finish it out, or how does the process work?
L: Yeah well it varies from song to song sometimes. Greta will just come and she has like a keyboard part in mind and I’ll just play that or sometimes I have a keyboard part and yeah I guess it just varies.
G: Usually I make a demo version and send it to everyone and then from there they can either write a part or play something similar to something on the demo version or whatever. But ultimately sometimes these songs get like completely rebuilt from there. Even if I have a part that I wrote it could change if Lauren has a better idea or whatever.
K: and then so I know you have a poetry background from NYU can you talk about that? I know you’re probably asked about that all the time- I was just curious if that actually had an influence in it, and like do you write your songs like you’re writing poetry or are those two separate things for you?
G: I feel like they’re really separate. I don’t really- I don’t know how to explain it other than when I’m writing lyrics and stuff it’s more like I know that I’m going to use sound to affect how they’re heard, and it just changes the way that I’m writing it. Whereas I feel like I write poems in a lot more of a visual way where it’s just to be seen
L: Yeah and your poems are really different than your songs- like they’re not songs.
G: Yeah exactly. Very rarely does a poem become a song and even then you can tell that it’s like not. “Tour Good” is a poem and it’s so weird lyrically and we never play it live cause it’s like not really music haha It’s just a weird poem. Yeah, I just feel like it’s really different.
L: Yeah like some of the lyrics are “rest stop egg”
G: Yeah like the lyrics are really funny and you can’t really tell. I feel like song lyrics often have to be written so that the listener can decipher what the words are- and sometimes you have to change the words because the way that it’s said aloud doesn’t translate or something. I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time thinking about that- but I’ve heard that like songwriters do that- you know change the phrasing or change the way that they’re saying a word so that it comes through better.
K: Yeah so that it matches up with the guitar or rhythm or whatever.
G: Yeah exactly.
K: Cool, and then so are you the only person who writes lyrics for Frankie Cosmos or do you guys (the rest of the band) contribute to that?
G: The lyrics are all me yeah.
K: Awesome I thought so but wanted to make sure-wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. *Laughter* Also a lot of your songs are a little shorter than standard songs or more concise- have you ever thought about trying to make anything longer by repeating a chorus or something or do you like your style as it is?
G: I realized kind of recently that a lot of the songs do have some repeated lines like “Sinister’s” chorus, and that’s kind of weird for me. I always feel like repeating stuff is such a waste of time- unless it’s like a really good pop song from the 70’s or whatever. But usually I’m like alright let’s get to the new concept or whatever. But we do have some longer songs coming out soon.
L: Yeah not like super long but like longer than like a minute or two.
G: Yeah I feel like two minutes is the longest I want to listen to a song for.
L: Yeah definitely.
G: Even songs I love- like “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake. It’s like 7 minutes long and all I want to do is hear the chorus that one time- ya know?
L: Yeah just that chorus ten times out of 2 minutes on the radio.
K: That’s true haha. And would you ever think about doing a big musical interlude or anything to lengthen a song or is that just not really your style?
L: Yeah I don’t really know, I don’t think we’re the type of band to do a musical interlude-
G: Yeah like we’re not musicians in that way.
L: That’s for like music school people and a lot of us a more self-taught.
G: yeah I feel like I’m always using the guitar part to support the lyrics and I never want to take some meandering guitar solo-unless it’s as a joke or unless I really want to for some reason. It’s like the songs are constructed around lyrics a lot of the times so there’s no need for a big musical break unless you’re trying to have a dramatic pause.
L: Yeah and I guess it’s just not really the style of music we’re trying to make.
G: Yeah, like the longest musical interlude that I can think of is in “Is It Possible / Sleep Song” between the first song and the second song. It’s two songs melded together and in the middle there’s like two bars, or two measures it’s really nothing. But sometimes well play a funny solo over it.
K: Yeah it’s cool I was just curious. I actually had my radio show today and I played you guys and my dad was co hosting with me and he loved it but was like do they do longer stuff? He’s very into theory and I was like I’m not sure I’ll ask them haha.
G: Oh cool! Haha yeah I feel like we don’t follow like a lot of normal formulas of music.
L: Yeah I don’t really know anything about music theory.
G: Yeah and there’s never even like a bridge- you know like the parts of a song.
L: I mean I’ve heard of the parts of a song haha-
K: Yeah it’s not like you sit down and write a song and are like alright here’s the chorus here’s the bridge-
G: Yeah like now we need a bridge! It’s not like that at all.
L: Haha yeah if there even is a bridge.
G: If there is a bridge it’s a mistake-
L: Haha it just accidentally happens
G: Yeah it’s like ‘oh shoot I wrote too many parts!’ There’s a song on the new album that I feel like caramelizes four different music parts on it.
L: It’s kind of like a couple of songs smashed together.
G: Yeah- but usually its just verse chorus verse chorus.
L: It’s actually really hard when we’re arranging a song because no one knows what to refer to any part we’re working on as. We can’t be like oh play the second verse it’s like ‘the little part where you’re like diddle liddle liddle’ (*imitating guitar sound*)
G: Everyone will think one part is the chorus and the other person thinks this is the verse.
L: Yeah I’m always kind of lost at the beginning- like which one is the chorus I don’t know haha.
G: Yeah it’s true and I don’t even know, for me the chorus usually has changing lyrics every time it happens, like in most of my songs it does. So it’s like the chorus is just two different verses that are kind of similar it’s weird.
K: So we talked about how you (Greta) write, and then you all come together to finalize a song, does that normally happen in person, do you send stuff ahead of time and work on, or how does that process work?
G: Mostly in person.
L: We definitely mostly work on it in person, but sometimes like before practice Greta will email us a demo of just her singing and guitar for us to think about.
G: She’ll come in and be like “I have this part” and we work on it all together.
L: Yeah and we all work a little bit differently, like I have a very hard time figuring out a part as we’re playing it, I like to figure it out on my own to come into play it cause I don’t always know what I’m doing haha and I have to think about it a little more- whereas Luke can just do it.
G: A really good example of that is a song that we thought was finished on our new album and it was just me playing guitar and singing. And then when we went into the studio to do extra key boards Lauren was like ‘I wrote this harmony’ she had been inspired and wrote it and now it’s in the song and it’s crazy to imagine that was never going to be a part of the arrangement. So sometimes it just takes time to sit with something and then you’re like ‘oh wow we have to put this idea in here.’ But definitely a lot of it happens in person because you have to play the song over and over again in person and try every idea in the context of the whole song- we’ll play a song like 50 times and change like one thing each time. ‘Do we like it this way or this way?’ And then fight about it-
L: Well you know discuss.
G: More try and convince each other why it deserves to be in the song.
K: That totally makes sense. I was just wondering because I sometimes read that bands will all record or write separately-like someone’s in New York, someone’s in LA and
G: I don’t know how people do that-it’s crazy. It seems like they don’t even practice then.
L: They’re geniuses I don’t know haha
K: Okay so moving on to something a little different can you guys talk about the transition from just releasing stuff on Bandcamp to having a more conventional output schedule with like touring, album release dates and promotional material?
G: We were just talking about it today. In the past my system was just to make songs and put out albums all the time. Where now it’s like the albums are really more of a way to support our tour cycle. So we use them to like, this isn’t obviously why we make an album, but we can use them to promote out tour. It’s like ‘oh we can’t go on tour until we have a new album out.’ It’s such a weird system to be a part of.
L: Yeah it’s also more strategic, like we don’t just go on tour whenever or put out an album whenever you have to think a little bit more about the timing.
G: Yeah like our album is done but we can’t put it out right now cause we’re touring, and then we’re going to tour again when we actually put it out.
L: Yeah and we also have to get people excited about it which takes months.
G: Yeah there’s all the stuff you have to do before you put out an album now, like putting out a single. The whole process is relatively new to me in the past couple of years, well really the last two releases.
K: And do you have a release date or time you’re thinking about or are you allowed to talk about it?
G: We do but we can’t say it yet but it’ll announce soon I think?
K: Awesome and then going off that, the more conventional output schedule, are you still writing a high volume of stuff or has having deadlines and working for a label slowed it down a bit?
G: We haven’t had a lot of time at home so we haven’t really been arranging new songs, but I honestly have the next album written and that probably won’t come out until like 2020 haha.
L: Yeah and we play it a lot at sound check so I already know what the next album is going to be and I’m already thinking of it.
G: Yeah I write songs all the time, it’s like too many too count, and there is just no time to arrange them all.
L: Don’t you pretty much have like the next four albums written?
G: Honestly yeah haha it’s so silly.
K: And when putting those songs together are you like ‘oh I love this song but it just doesn’t fit with this album so we’ll wait for the next one.’ Or what is your process for choosing what makes it onto an album and what doesn’t?
G: It’s mostly chronological, I guess every album is?
L: It’s not always though because you also go back to old songs and you’re like ‘you know what this actually deserves like a full band arrangement let’s go back to that.’ So I guess it’s not always chronological it’s more what’s like striking you? Am I saying that right?
G: Yeah, well usually. Nothing is ever taken off an album to be put on a future album, it just gets thrown away. There was only one song that didn’t make it on and we were just like ‘eh it’s kind of weak and not as fun to play,’ it’s not so good that we wanted to keep it on, so that’s not going to show up anywhere else.
L: Yeah it’s just kind of going into the void.
G: Yeah and let’s say I have like 40 demos written right now that haven’t been worked on yet. I’m going to go through them and be like ‘eh this one’s just fine’ and then we don’t turn it into a full band song and the ones that I’m like ‘wow we’ve got to play this one!’ We’ll arrange.
But I can also be convinced. Like “Sinister” from Next Thing was not going to be a song-I was going to throw it out and then Oliver Kalb from Bellows was like ‘heard the demo’ and he was like ‘why aren’t you guys arranging this song it’s so good.’ And I was like ‘really? Okay.’ So I cut a verse from it because there was one line that was bad and then it became the single form the album and we still play it years later.
L: It’s true; sometimes you need that outside person to be like ‘that’s the one.’
G: Yeah sometimes I just don’t know when a song is good and I’m ready to throw it out. It’s really just about everyone deciding that it’s worth it.
K: Yeah well “Sinister” is a great song! And I think if you were to ask the audience I feel like that’d be one that people always know like ‘Sinister that’s the one with Arthur’ haha it’s definitely memorable.
G: Aw thank you. It’s so weird to think that I literally had just cut it from everyone’s mind and then months later it came up again and we were like yeah let’s do it.
K: That’s so cool. Okay so totally transitioning again. So you have a new band Lexie- and I’ve heard a little bit about it and listened to it- and I love the pixelated picture of grass for the album cover-
G: Thanks! Spotify thought it was too low quality and didn’t want to put the picture up- because it looks fake with the pixilation.
K: Haha that like adds to the fun part!
G: I know I was like ‘it’s on purpose!’
K: So can you just tell me a little bit more about how it’s evolved and where you are now?
G: Haha actually the guitarist of Lexie is now the bassist of Frankie Cosmos. But we met him when we were on tour with Warehouse about a year ago because he’s their guitarist, and he would come up and play second guitar on some of the Frankie Cosmos songs for fun during the set and we were like ‘wow we should work on music together in the future in some way’ and then we started writing songs remotely and yeah it just happened. I actually remember being on tour with Frankie Cosmos in Europe and I had an old song that I worked on that night and I just voice-memo texted it to Alex and then he turned it into a Lexie song- it’s just a weird side fun thing to do.
K: That’s so cool. So do you do the writing for Lexie, because I know there are male vocals on it as well?
G: Yeah, it’s co-writing.
K: So how does that writing process differ from Frankie Cosmos? Do you have any overlap, are you ever like ‘oh I love that but I think it’s more of a Lexie song?’ I know it’s still a new thing but was wondering if you’ve encountered this.
G: Yeah a little bit. I feel like it’s sort of weird to say but sometimes the Lexie songs are more of a song that maybe I would throw away from Frankie Cosmos not in a bad way but Alex could make it better by making it into a Lexie song. It’s a different style than Frankie Cosmos, so maybe it doesn’t fit the vibe or something. And a lot of the Lexie songs Alex will write a guitar part and I’ll write lyrics over that and a bass part. And with Frankie Cosmos usually the lyrics come first and I’m writing all of the melodies from scratch so that’s the biggest difference with Lexie. And also some of the Lexie songs Alex just wrote and I maybe did a bass part or something.
K: So totally shifting again, I’ve seen you in St. Louis last August, and I studied abroad in Berlin last fall as well so I saw you guys there
G: That’s so cool- wait what show in Berlin?
L: Was it the one in the cave or the Keller?
K: Yes! You guys came on around midnight the show was in late August.
G: Wait this summer?
K: No it was last August.
L: Yeah it was the show in that like underground cellar.
G: Oh yes like around that pop culture festival! Okay yeah oh my gosh I left my guitar at the show.
L: Yeah and the tour manager had to climb a fence to go back and get it haha.
G: Yeah it was crazy! Like really packed, really hot. So grungy!
K: Yeah it was like Berlin underground grunge, but like your music so it was a really cool vibe. But yes back to my question I saw you in St. Louis and then Berlin, two totally different vibes, in a good way. Do you premeditate your set list based on your location? Or do you ever change things live?
G: Sometimes based on the vibe, like the second we get on stage we’re like oh we can’t play “Too Dark.”
L: I feel like everyone kind of understands at once ‘okay we’re not going to play certain quieter songs.’
G: Yeah or like ‘we should play these louder songs’ Like at the show in Berlin it was rocking and we don’t normally play quieter songs like “Too Dark.”
K: It was a good balance-like a little rowdy but very fun.
G: Yeah and on the other side we recently played a record store that could only fit about 50 people in it, and it was early in the evening so we were like ‘okay we’re not going to play these five songs that are too loud,’ so it became more of a quiet set. If anything it’s more of a decision that happens there.
L: Yeah it’s like what’s going to feel awkward or inappropriate to play and then not do that.
K: Do you guys have any favorite venues or shows you played that are particularly memorable?
L: Every tour there’s always one that really stands out. For me there it was one we played recently, Thalia Hall in Chicago. We played on a round stage so there were people all around us.
G: Yeah and we were all facing each other.
L: It was a really great vibe and it was fun to interact with each other more.
G: Yeah It might be the best show ever.
L: Yeah, that really sticks out in my mind as a really fun one
K: that sounds very cool. Okay and wrapping up is there anything else you’d like to say to the listeners of WSOE or anything you think I’m leaving out?
G: Nah I got nothing
L: yeah I’m satisfied
G: Yeah thanks for interviewing us!
Listen to Frankie Cosmos on Spotify!