WORDS PENINA KESSLER '15
IMAGES BY ANI ACOPIAN '16
Until recently, Hana Elion (’15) didn’t own a winter coat. JJ Mitchell (also ’15), a New York native, has a plethora of standout options, most notably a navy fur collared satin-y bomber jacket that’s equal parts World War Two pilot and oil-money-heiress-slumming it in a hookah lounge on 1st Avenue. The duo’s Yin-Yang friend dynamic is the basis for their new cloud-soul project Overcoats, where they channel their feelings into an earthy blend of tightly woven electro-folk harmonies. It’s music for when you’re sad, or happy-sad, or just lying in bed with your best friend trying not to put how you feel into words. On a sunny, falsely warm April afternoon, we sat down on Foss to discuss love, loss, and, of course, coats.
PK: So tell me a little bit about how this project originated. I know you guys, and I know you guys have been friends forever, but what about this year made you guys be like “We’re gonna do a duo. And we’re gonna call it Overcoats.”
Hana & JJ: (unison) I don’t know how that happened.
JJ: I was just thinking, ‘I hope Hana can answer this one.’ I think I have memory loss.
Hana: Little Memory loss.
JJ: I think that’s what it is. It wasn’t a decision that we made, it just sort of happened.
Hana: But how did we even write our first song? Oh. I know what it is. There was one song that I had written that was written for two people to sing. And it was like two different perspectives. I wrote it during my breakup. But it wasn’t something we could actually sing together, because it was me being like ‘I have no soul’ and him being like ‘why don’t you?’ and that’s basically the words of the song. But I think JJ and I wanted to jam and we taught her that.
Hana: In our bed. But then we wrote Little Memory.
JJ: I don’t remember anything about writing that. I've completely blocked that out. it’s just a blank space in my head. The one I can remember most vividly writing is one that will possibly be on the EP called “Kai’s Song.” I remember that process really well. It was also in a bed.
Hana: We exclusively write in bed.
JJ: I think Little Memory was a similar process of writing, where Hana came up with a guitar part, and we slowly added the vocals. And just sort of bounced ideas off each other. And there’s this mutual respect between us, so when one person thinks that something that they’ve done is really good, or doesn’t. We don’t let anything bad in the song.
Hana: There’s also this creepy thing going on where we have the same vision, but neither of us can express it in words. So when we hit the right melody, or the right guitar part we both just fall back, because we know.
PK: Literally? In your bed?
JJ: Yeah exactly. That’s why we have to write to write in bed. Otherwise it’d be a really dangerous process for us.
PK: You need the cushioning.
JJ: The next single that’s going to drop, I feel like that one was really collaborative. Like at first we didn’t want a chorus on it at all, because the sound was so pure. But then we eventually came to the decision of the type of chorus that we wanted on it, and then it was just us sitting in the bed being like ‘I think we’ve got it’.
Hana: The songs have definitely evolved. Just cause we’re still figuring out what we want our signature sound to be. But we’ll sit with a song and be like “do we want to add a beat here?” or “do we want an electronic part here?” Smaller than My Mother, another song that might be on the EP has been through like five iterations, where at first it was sort of bluegrass-y and now it’s over a dance beat, so you know, it’s all constantly evolving.
PK: So lets talk about the aesthetic, this androgynous sort of Overcoats-simple-grungy aesthetic. And the ways in which that interplays with the femininity of the songs, because so many of your songs are about relationships and sort of, as Hana put it once ‘sad girl emotions’ and the ways in which the aesthetic is part of that, but also a reaction against that.
JJ: You just wrote it for us. Just put that in.
Hana: There’s like a darkness, a dirtiness, to what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to actively subvert a nice pretty folk song but-
JJ: Light, pretty music, that folk can be, doesn’t always seem like relevant to me, because I can’t always connect with that kind of music. And I think it’s the same for Hana.
Hana: She knows it. Penina – you should put in the article how you always get really mad at me cause I try to put on really sad songs while we’re pregaming, cause I just love sad music.
PK: That’s probably going to be the first line. Something like “Sophomore year, my friendship with Hana Elion suffered tremendously because she kept trying to play Of Monsters and Men right before we went out.”
Hana: Exactly. But what I think about is that I have really happy songs that I love, but they’re a lot more fleeting in terms of loving them, but I have sad songs that I just, will always love. Like the song Vienna by Billy Joel is just this really sad song that I will always care for. I feel like darkness, I don’t know what it is. It’s hard to explain.
PK: No it makes sense. I think it’s something about music and the way it helps us connect to the parts of us that are sad. Like sadness is something that’s so hard to put into words, and I think music, as something that does put that feeling into words, and by combining it with sound, accesses that part of us, and helps us cathartically work through it.
HE: I think we’re going for songs that can feel like they’re privately yours. Like we don’t want the lyrics to be too specific. It’s really hard to explain the aesthetic. Like JJ and I can’t even put it into words when we’re together. I think it’s just a product of who we are as people and how we jive as people.
JJ: Going back to the way we write the music, usually we’ll start by explaining to one another an idea, or a feeling that we want. Not even concrete lyrics or something like that, but just a sentiment, and if the other person can understand, that’s where I think the aesthetic comes from, is that moment, and our mutual understanding of that moment. And I can sing about Hana’s relationship.
Hana: and I can sing about JJ’s.
JJ: I can sing about Hana’s break up because parts of it were true for me, and just like a compassion for the other person’s pain. Plus we’re androgynous.
PK: I just have one more question.
Hana: Ask us a silly question.
PK: Design your ideal overcoat. Together.
Hana: it’s a dark color
JJ: like a navy
Hana: or a dark green.
JJ: yeah, I like dark green.
Hana: but it’s like dark green, and it has a brown corduroy collar.
Hana: and it’s for a man.
Penina: but a woman wears it.
Hana & JJ: (unison) but a woman wears it.
Check out their new single "Walk On" here come see Hana and JJ in action at Battle of the Bands at Eclectic tomorrow (4/24) or at Art House on Saturday (4/25) with Nick Hakim.