A Chat With: Overcoats
Last week, Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell (AKA Overcoats) chatted with me from a cafe in New York City. “It’s lit in here,” the girls joked before we started our conversation that covered topics like their debut album and upcoming tours, as well as their influences and their fateful meeting in college. For fans of Lucius, Sylvan Esso, and Empress Of, the duo seamlessly fuses elements of electronic and folk music to create a heavenly listening experience. Find out all about the debut album Young and what else we can expect from Hana and JJ in 2017 by reading our chat with Overcoats:
ANCHR Magazine: Can you tell me a little bit about how you met and started making music together?
Overcoats: We met about 6 years ago, during our first couple months at college. I think we met...well we lived in the same dorm, and we had a class together. Pretty soon after that we started singing together, but only in a very informal, kind of like in the bathroom of our dorm, like singing Amy Winehouse or like The Dixie Chicks. Then by the end of freshman year we were in a cappella together, but it wasn’t until our senior year that we tried writing together, like original songs. The first song that we wrote was “Little Memory,” which is the first song that we ever put out on our debut EP, and it’s on our album now. We were like “OK, this is fun, let’s do more” and then it just kind of spun off from there.
AM: Very cool, so speaking of the debut album, you just announced it in the last month. So how are you feeling about finally getting it out into the world and sharing it?
Overcoats: We’re feeling really good. We’ve been working on these songs for a couple years now, and we were deep in the studio recording them from like August to November. We put a lot of work and feelings and time...blood sweat and tears...into the album. It’s our first album as well so it was very important to us that we have like no regrets with the final product, and that’s what happened. We’re super excited for it to come out and for people to hear what we’ve been working on. I feel like we’ve been MIA for a while, cause our last release was basically a year ago. We’re just really happy that we finally get to share this project. For so long it was just like the two of us working away like busy bees and now finally everyone is gonna be like “Oh, that’s where they were.” It’s funny too cause a lot of the songs were written a while ago, like within the past two years, but a lot of them are feeling really relevant again. Like a lot of the songs...[there's] a lot of transitions, a lot about gender and power roles.
AM: Oh wow, it’s like you predicted the future!
Overcoats: Yeah, well we couldn’t have predicted this...but I think it’s nice that the songs still resonate and they can take on meaning with time...maybe create an uplifting message for people. Especially for women growing up.
AM: Yeah, I was going to ask if you could identify an overall theme or concept for the album, but it sounds like it’s transitioning encouraging female strength.
Overcoats: Yeah, the album is about...it’s called Young, and it’s about growing up. More specifically how you grow up with parents and you kind of end up sort of either reacting really strongly against the way you were raised, or you kind of replicate the things you observed when you were younger. It’s just kind of about observing our fathers go through the world, and our mothers go through the world and learning how to be a woman in this world and kind of seeing the world through the eyes of your parents. Then finally seeing it through your own eyes.
AM: Nice, I can definitely relate to that. So speaking a little bit more about growing up, when did you first really get into singing? I know you said you first started singing together for fun, but growing up, what was your first musical memory?
Overcoats (JJ Speaking): I always used to say to people that I didn’t start singing til college. Which is true in the sense that I didn’t perform or sing with other people until college, but growing up I was like nobody could shut me up. I was literally always singing, like on these 6 hour car rides. My parents would be like “this is lovely, but could you please be quiet.” Now looking back, I can’t really live without singing, this is my life. It kind of seemed like off the beaten path for me, like I had no notion of wanting to be a musician until Overcoats started as a project. I was like “oh this is probably the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done” Hana’s been like very musical her whole life. She’s a talented guitar player and plays piano and always sung. I think that that is a really nice thing about us. I have no training and Hana comes from slightly different musical background.
AM: So who would you consider to be some of your influences?
Overcoats: We love some kind of classic folk and harmonies, like Simon and Garfunkel, The Staves... we love Joseph. We also really love a lot of electronic music, like Sylvan Esso, Chet Faker, Empress Of, Tei Shi, Jamie XX. We also really love really just center field electronic, like Disclosure or Skrillex. We both like really diverse genres. We try to bring everything together.
AM: Yeah, I can definitely hear some of that, like the really beautiful harmonies is really centric to folk, but some of your melodies or beats are more electronic, so I love that contrast. Who produced your album, then?
Overcoats: Going off of our desire to meld different genres together, we had two different, well three essentially work on this album with us. Preliminarily we worked with a friend, Myles Avery who had produced our EP. He does a lot of experimental stuff, and he’s really great to work with in terms of finding unique sounds and basically deciding the pallet that we wanted to work with. Then for actually recording the album, we worked with Nicolas Vernhes and Arthur Ashin [Autre Ne Veut] . Nicolas is very kind of indie rock, so he is super well versed at organic instrumentation and amazing at recording vocals so we wanted to work with him on that aspect. Then Autre Ne Veut is like experimental electronic, so we kind of like went back and forth between their studios, which in retrospect, was very chaotic. And not normal. But I think that we had to do that to get the exact sound that we wanted, because we did want to mix these two realms. Each of them had a particular skillset that we wanted to tap into. Yeah, it was definitely a challenge figuring out how to collaborate with 2+ producers.
AM: I’m sure it will be really cool though, hearing the finished product. I also really loved the “Cherry Wine” cover, so what made you choose to cover that song? Anything in particular that drew you to that song, or Hozier specifically?
Overcoats: Yeah, I think Hozier’s been like a big inspiration for us for a while. Especially because we actually lived in Dublin for 3 months right at the beginning of our music careers, right after graduating college, we just up and left and went to Ireland. I think the live music scene there is super special. It’s super respected and just honest and vulnerable, and I think Hozier really embodies that. The world caught onto that, a vulnerable man singing, amazing harmonies and just beautiful guitar parts. We ended up playing a festival in Ireland that Hozier was headlining. It was really cool to at least pretend we were in part of the same scene as him. I think that that song...I mean, we like all of his music, but that one was a really pretty song for us to sing together. The lyrics, especially, I think he had something different in mind when he wrote the song, but we found the lyrics to be kind of an ode to friendship. Like the chorus is like “the way she shows me I’m hers and she’s mine, open hand or closed first would be fine,” so it’s kind of like I’ll take you in whatever way. So that was meaningful to us in that sense as well. We were traveling through Ireland and starting a band, and we had each other as our homes. So it’s a song that’s been really important to us.
AM: Yeah, that’s a cool interpretation of the lyrics. Talking a little bit more about your tour. You’re touring with Tennis and have some headline dates. Are there any cities you’re especially excited about?
Overcoats[We’re] excited for the whole tour. We’re really excited to go to new cities that we haven’t played yet, and we’re really excited to see old fans that we haven’t seen for a year. We’re excited to say hi and for them to see where we’re at now. That’s really special. The west coast will be cool, we’ve never played the west coast. The days aren’t announced yet.
AM: Cool, and then last question, are there any other new bands you’re listening to? Anything new this year?
Overcoats: Yeah, who are we into right now…? In New York we’ve been seeing a lot of really good music just in local bars around here. Hideout... they’re a small band but I think they’re going places. This is like the hardest question! I feel like I gave them all away already, our influences. Oh, oh, Margaret Glaspy we love. Caroline Smith! Obviously, we played with her [in Chicago].