Meet Overcoats, an electronic-pop duo that’s bringing a soulful feminine touch to a male-dominated category. From soft cooing covers to dreamy beats, Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell are breathing new life into electronic music.
Making their single debut in 2016 with an airy harmonized cover of Hozier’s Cherry Wine, the pair made waves with their synergistic dynamic and the way each of their voices fit into the other like pieces of a puzzle, JJ’s low to Hana’s high. Their first record, YOUNG, released in 2017, acted as the band’s thesis statement, presenting the array of sounds and feelings the duo could assemble, covering the grounds of love, strength, and pain.
Now, having taken a year and a half since their last release to tour with the likes of Mitski and work on their second album, Overcoats is starting the new year off strong with a reimagined cover of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’. Staying true to their dreamlike sound, the band used electronic elements to reconstruct the song’s original organ, guitar, and piano track.
Outside of their music, Hana and JJ’s friendship sustains this same sense of cohesiveness, the pair complementing each others personalities while each maintaining their own individuality and sense of self. Bursting into impromptu yet coordinated song, finishing each others sentences, and even offering insight into the way they believe the other would answer a question, the two move as parts of a collective.
I chatted with Hana and JJ to ask them all about their latest release, upcoming album, and their love of their debut project. Keep reading to learn more about Overcoats and the hearts behind the band.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
Going back to the beginning, how did you two get into music?
Hana: “We met in college, and we became friends pretty immediately on our first day, and throughout our time in college, we sang together, but not in any sort of band capacity. In our senior year, we were both going through tough times and started entertaining the idea of writing together, and we both sort of had spiritual experiences doing that and it really was different than any sort of musical experience that we’ve ever had, and so we started writing songs in one of our bedrooms, mostly for ourselves, and then we started putting it online and played our first show right around the time that we graduated.”
JJ: “Yeah, that was about 3 and a half years ago. We had no idea what we were doing. Still don’t.”
WHEN DID YOU MOVE FROM PLAYING IN COLLEGE TO GETTING SIGNED AND PLAYING MORE SHOWS?
JJ: “It took a while for that to happen, not in the scheme of life and the length of life, but it felt like it was a grueling couple of years of playing around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and getting our music to people who felt passionate about it and wanted to jump on the bandwagon (no pun intended). It took 10 hours of emailing every day for a couple years, but when we found our team of management and agent, and a label that was passionate about us, things felt into place and we were able to put out our debut record in 2017.”
Tell me more about your first album young and how it all came together.
Hana: “YOUNG was a great experience. It was the first large body of work that we got to make as musicians, so it was really scary for that reason, being our first statement. It really was about our lives thus far, and with your first album, there’s a lot of material to cover because you’re working from your entire life if you’ve never written about it. The process of making it was a process of growing up, the record is about growing up, it’s about being young and becoming an adult and seeing the world for what it really is and choosing to remain idealistic or not, and all of these choices that you make, you start to understand more. So it was our first chance to really make a statement and we’re one of those bands that still loves our first record. It was a wild experience and we’ve basically been touring it for a year and a half, which we’re really luck to be able to do.”
HOW HAS YOUR SOUND CHANGED SINCE YOUR FIRST ALBUM?
Hana: “Well I think what happened is that we made this dreamy, soft electronic record, and then we went out and toured it, and the process of playing it live completely changed our idea of what it sounded like and what we want it to sound like and what we want our music to sound like in the future. I think we were originally pretty averse to any kind of live-sounding instruments, and playing live has been a process of embracing the collective energy that comes from creating a piece on stage together in live time, versus playing off a track. I think that re-ignited in us wanting to go back to the roots of what we do, which is sing together and create that live energy in music as well, so the second record feels a lot more live; it’s still got a lot of electronic elements, though.”
WHAT DOES YOUR SONGWRITING PROCESS LOOK LIKE?
JJ: “Our song writing process changes from song to song, depending on how the song is coming together, if one of us has sent the other a voice memo for an idea or a lyric. Other times, we’ll write a song from start to finish sitting together in the same room at the piano or Hana on guitar, that kind of thing. But usually when we write, we start with an idea or an experience, shared or individual, that we can empathize with one another about and we get on the same page about what we’re trying to say about that experience or feeling, and then we go from there. I think the reason why it works for us to write together is because we have a lot of the same taste in music, which is very crucial, and so we like all of the same things, and we know when something is finished and when something sounds right, which leads us to believe we’re in some way related…but more on that later.”
Tell me about your latest release, your cover of fix you by coldplay.
JJ: “We’ve been singing a lot of covers throughout our musical lives together, we started by releasing a cover of Cherry Wine by Hozier in 2016, and reimagining what the lyrics can be for us and singing it together as once voice was really special. So we wanted to do the same again with another song that is very important to us, Fix You, by Coldplay. It’s gotten us through a lot of hard times when we were younger and even to this day, I feel like it’s a song that musically and lyrically heals in all the right ways, and so we wanted to sing it and put it out into the world for other people to heal too. It’s always an ode to the artist who wrote the song, when you sing a cover of their work, and we had a lot of great experiences surrounding Coldplay, we think they’re geniuses and they make really simple and honest songs that really speak to the heart. They’ve been a huge inspiration for us, so that’s why we chose that particular song.”
WHO ARE SOME OTHER ARTISTS WHO REALLY INSPIRE YOU?
Hana and JJ: “I think there have been different inspirations for each respective record. For our first one, we were listening to a lot of Chet Faker, Sylvan Esso, and Simon & Garfunkel. For the second record, we’ve been listening to a lot of arena rock, so definitely some Coldplay bangers, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, as well as more classic artists from the 60s, the Beatles, things like that.”
DO YOU HAVE A current FAVORITE SONG OFF YOUR FIRST RECORD?
JJ: “I think currently my favorite is Nighttime Hunger.”
Hana: “Honestly, I love Smaller Than My Mother. It’s one of the first songs we ever wrote together, and I never think about it because it’s so obvious, it’s an old love, but it’s a forever love. I also love Kai Song… and 23.”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE LYRIC THAT YOU’VE WRITTEN?
Hana: “J does!”
JJ: “Wait, what’s my favorite lyric?”
Hana: “The one in Siren.”
JJ: “Oh yeah, the line that you sing - what is that?”
Hana: singing “Lay your dreams and fragile things down on me”
JJ: “Yeah, that’s my favorite line in the whole album, because it’s the lowest note that Hana ever hits on the record.”
Hana: “J loves when I sing low.”
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME OVERCOATS?
Hana: “It kind of just came to us. We’ve always been big fans of big coats. [laughs] And as we were writing music in college, we were wearing a lot of big coats and having this experience where outside of our bedrooms were these harsh realities and cold, and then we would come into one of our rooms and write music, and that’s where everything felt good and real. There was this feeling from the get-go, this idea and contrast between armor and vulnerability when you take that armor off. So the name acts as a coat of armor to the music as is something that sounds androgynous and mysterious. When you listen to “Overcoats”, you don’t necessarily think that it’s gonna be two women singing very vulnerable music, so we like that contrast.”