It’s time to declare 2016 the year of Bandcamp royalty.
In the space of one single halcyon summer, Mitski and Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo went from being Bandcamp mainstays to the declared twin saviors of indie-rock, according to multiple national publications, including The Atlantic and BuzzFeed. (Toledo has tweeted about his hesitations surrounding the title, but that’s neither here nor there.)
And now, as the dog days of summer give way to crisp autumn nights, it’s time to add Frankie Cosmos, the brainchild of 22-year-old New Yorker Greta Kline, to the growing list of Bandcamp-launched niche superstars.
Of her contemporaries, Kline is arguably the most prolific. Since the age of 15, she’s released 47 bedroom-produced projects on Bandcamp under a flurry of monikers, including Ingrid Superstar, The Ingrates, Zebu Fur, GRETA, and Franklin Cosmos. Her first album as the band Frankie Cosmos arrived in 2009 as sickerwinter, a 13-track record filled with the tiny, heartfelt pop songs that Kline released at the age of 15.
And though many artists make every effort to bury their nascent work, Kline’s initial forays into writing and recording — sickerwinter included — are still available for download from her Bandcamp profile page.
“I’ve been tempted to remove them, but it doesn’t really matter,” she says of her early albums. “It’s just an archive of my writing as a teenager, and no one has to listen to it.”
Kline gives off the impression that she writes for herself first. She uses songwriting to conduct intimate guitar-driven explorations of the often awkward minutiae of contemporary life, such as “stealing” free pens, watching David Blaine, and making out against parked cars. Her most recent album, Next Thing, might be the most professional-sounding work in her discography, but it holds true to her signature evocativeness and sparse sonic aesthetic. None of the 14 tracks surpass three minutes, and most finish by two.
“Your name is a triangle / Your heart is a square,” Kline croons on “Fool,” a gentle, swaying guitar-filled track in which the singer admits to feeling foolish for waiting around for a lover. Kline writes in poetic fragments, laying bare her insecurities, memories, and desires over unobtrusive melodies.
But one gets the sense that Kline sees the world in a very particular manner, sliding from one moment to the next with a cautious optimism. This mentality extends to taking her band on the road. She spent the better part of last year touring across America and Europe, and she describes the ordeal as if it were a sacred form of suffering.
“The worst part of being on the road is the times when I feel weak and evil, and like I am tearing my own life down,” she says. Even so, touring has had its shining moments, such as the time she was eating dinner with her bandmates in Oslo, Norway, and encountered an elderly man leading karaoke for the other diners.
“My bandmate really wanted to join them, so I danced with him,” she says. “It was humiliating and fun, and I felt it burn itself into my memory.”
And yes, we’re aware that story sounds pulled straight from a Frankie Cosmos song, and that it might even show up in one sooner than later.
But that’s the thing about Kline: The boundaries between her music and the so-called real world are neither static nor solid. Despite her increasing popularity with critics and newfound status as a Pitchfork favorite, the deeply personal (and insecurity-laden) feelings she has toward her own songs still impact her process.
“It comes from me thinking during my writing process that no one will listen anyway,” she tells me when I ask where she finds the courage to be harrowingly vulnerable in her lyrics.
Bandcamp royalty or not, Kline still operates on the belief that listeners are an unexpected privilege, not a right. Getting her start in the East Coast DIY scene — a climate (no matter the region) where audiences are never guaranteed — is no doubt one reason why she feels this way.
And Kline, who lives in New York City, is still greatly influenced by the scene that raised that her. Many of her inspirations come from her colleagues, and she’s quick to list musicians — like Eskimeaux, Aaron Maine (who performs under the name Porches and is also Kline’s long-term boyfriend), Old Table, and The Moldy Peaches — as the sources of her creativity, along with the quintessential New York poet Frank O’Hara.
But however small and tri-state centric her life may seem from the outside, her music and plans may already be expanding beyond their original borders.
“I only find New York inspiring because it’s my home,” she says. “But as I’ve toured and experienced so many other kinds of places, I’ve also realized maybe I should try living somewhere else for a while, too.”
Expansion, however foreign a concept to someone who writes tiny heart-shaped boxes of songs, seems imminent. After all, Kline has already taken Frankie Cosmos from a bedroom recording project to a four-piece touring act playing shows all over the North America and Europe.
To put it plainly, first Bandcamp, now the world.
Frankie Cosmos plays at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2, at Swedish American Hall. $16-$18, swedishamericanhall.com