Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell perform under the moniker Overcoats. It’s an apt name for the band—the duo’s harmonies are finely interwoven and the lyrics feel intimate, as if pressed against your skin. Their music—modern folk that’s vocals-forward, gliding above a minimalist electro-pop backing—wraps around the listener like a familiar garment.
Overcoats released their debut EP, Young (Arts & Crafts), last spring. The spaciousness of the arrangements—vocals that build slowly over pulsing bass and synth loops—provides room to contemplate the weight of lyrics that grapple with identity, love, and loss. Darkly dreamy, atmospheric moments recall Daughter’s Not To Disappear and The War on Drugs’ Lost In the Dream—albums that share a sonic lineage with Young via co-producer Nicholas Vernhes. (Vernhes’s discography also includes Torres’s Sprinter, which is informed by a similarly spare, noir-ish electro-rock approach.)
Overcoats’ music feels urgently relevant as we reckon with the difficult stories unearthed by the #MeToo movement. Take “The Fog,” for instance, and the asymmetry of power that it illustrates: Use me up when he feels weak, take my strength from me like a bad dream / Talks me down ‘til I’m sitting silent, wants me to ask before I speak. The song conveys the sort of suffocating relationship that strips us of agency. But when JJ’s voice rises up to join Hana’s in the chorus, the darkness no longer seems so solitary or impenetrable, and we are reminded that we need not be defined by those who only take: Freedom is when I’m without you.
Before their sold-out hometown show at Brooklyn Steel with Tennis, Hana and JJ took a moment to answer some questions.
P&W: The video for “I Don’t Believe In Us” is gorgeously shot. Have you worked before with Aaron and Sinjun, and can you tell us a bit about how you developed the concept and what you sought to communicate visually?
Overcoats: They were the most incredible collaborators. We hadn’t worked with either of them before—we met Aaron through our drummer and we found Sinjun through her previous work. We also worked with Ani Acopian (drone footage) and Matt Hixon (producer) to develop the visuals. We had this idea for the video and wrote the treatment ourselves. We really wanted a hands-on role in making it happen and got a bunch of amazing, creative friends to make it happen!
P&W: Can you share with us the origin story of your band name?
Overcoats: We wanted something androgynous that acted as a coat of armor to the music—something mysterious that didn’t reveal you were going to hear two women singing very vulnerably. Also, we love coats.
P&W: I’d love to hear about how you started collaborating. Were you in the same dorm or same classes? Was there a particular artist or song you first bonded over?
Overcoats: We met the first day of freshman year and instantly bonded over the fact that we had the same favorite song—“You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse. We sang together for four years before we tried to write anything.
P&W: What was the first instrument each of you played? Do you remember the first album you ever purchased?
Overcoats: Recorder! Haha. Hana played guitar and JJ played accordion as a kid. We both loved Madonna, Coldplay, and Dixie Chicks.
P&W: Take us through a day on the road. Do you take turns driving? Does someone DJ or do you listen to podcasts? Do you have a favorite road snack? What about tour van survival tips or stories?
Overcoats: The road is crazy. Usually we wake up late, get coffees, and get in the car for the day. We DJ and alternate between chill music and really lit music. Things get a little insane—for proof, watch our Instagram stories.
P&W: What books have you been reading lately?
Overcoats: Between The World and Me [by Ta-Nehisi Coates] and Middlesex [by Jeffrey Eugenides].
P&W: What artists/albums are you listening to these days?
Overcoats: We’ve been listening to a lot of Daniel Caesar in the car!
P&W: I remember at the Bowery Ballroom show, you said mid-set that “the future is intersectional feminism.” For those unfamiliar with the concept, what does that mean to you? Related to that, how would you respond to those who say that artists should stay out of politics?
Overcoats: Intersectional feminism means that race, class, and gender do not exist separately from each other. Feminism cannot exist in a vacuum—if you care about women’s rights, you must care about all women’s rights. Feminism must also be fighting racism, classism—it must fight fiercely for all women, especially those less visible in the mainstream movement. Art is political! By making something public, you are making a political statement.
P&W: Thoughts on who you’d like to see on the presidential ticket for 2020?
P&W: Are there artists or producers with whom you’d like to collaborate?
Overcoats: Frank Ocean, The Staves, Coldplay!
Tuesday night at Brooklyn Steel was a show that almost wasn’t, as Alaina was sidelined by a virus. “I’m on steroids,” she informed the capacity crowd before warning, to raucous laughter: “The side effects include increased sexuality and occasional rage.” Between songs, Alaina relayed her recent medical travails. A few days ago, she passed out while shopping at Whole Foods—“the most hipster way to die, second only to dying in the arms of your barista.” When she woke up in the hospital, Patrick implored, “Please just get better. I’ll cancel the tour. I’ll become an accountant. We’ll never make you go through this again.” Quipped Alaina: “This was possibly the greatest declaration of love, ever.”
If she was still feeling the effects of that knockout virus, it didn’t show. Tennis played a radiant set, highlighting songs from their latest album, Yours Conditionally, which the pair wrote in isolation on the high seas (Urban Outfitters blogged about the process).
Article: Vivian Wang