Chatting with Overcoats about latest album, Winner, and touring for the first time in years

Overcoats is looking to create as joyous a space on tour as they’ve created in their third and most pop forward album, Winner. Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, friends and collaborators of 8 years, have always had a vision for their performances. From the harmonies to the choreography, they craft a show that accentuates themes of unity and collective joy.

The “Sick of this Party” tour, which kicked off last Monday in Boston, is Overcoats’ first time back on tour since opening for Cold War Kids back in 2020. I was lucky enough to catch the show at Bowery Ballroom in New York over the weekend. The natural synchronicity this duo has when harmonizing is a rarity and is best showcased live. Their love for performance art is evident in the radiance of their choreography and glances between each other as they find the natural harmonies in an impromptu cover of Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own”. The duo is synchronized in a way that feels instinctual. The show incorporates songs off their new album, Winner, as well as fan favorites throughout their six years of writing together. 

Before embarking on the 16-city North American tour, we got a chance to catch up with Overcoats via Zoom about writing Winner, thrifting around the country, and collaborating with musical inspirations.

Staged Haze: What were your rose, bud, and thorn of making Winner?

JJ: The rose, for me, of making the album was the jokes in the recording studio. The most joyful part of a recording experience is when you just have an amazing rapport in the studio, like beyond the music. Obviously that’s gotta be going well but if that’s going well and you really have a little family unit with the people you’re working on it with, laughing and the banter that comes out when you’re in the studio for 12 hours a day for 2 weeks is the best part.

Hana: The bud was working with our producer, Daniel Tashian. He’s just so incredible and he’s worked on records that have been really important to us professionally, as well as personally, like Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour. To have him feel really excited about the music and validating all the hopes we had for it, and what it would sound like, was really special and made us feel really excited for the future of people hearing the music.

JJ: The Thorn, the thorn, the thorn…

Hana: JJ had got covid in our first week of recording and it was incredibly stressful. 

JJ: That was a big thorn.

Staged Haze: Did you write it all before the recording process?

Hana: Yes, but it was kinda more intertwined than that. Most of it was written before but there was also stuff that was being written right there and arraignments were changing while we were in the studio, so it was a mixture.

Staged Haze: This is the most collaborative you’ve allowed this process to be, I’m curious if it was difficult, or a learning process, to let other people into the process you two have created together, after working together for eight years now?

JJ: Yeah! It was both amazing and the jury is still out on if we’ll allow it to happen again. It’s a double edge sword, it’s amazing to have other people’s talents and perspectives in the studio but it’s tough because it makes it inherently less your own and that’s a thing that we’re constantly dealing with. You know we are obviously a collaboration ourselves, so there’s already a level of like, we’ve got two people in it, so we’ll see what happens but it was a really cool experience to let go of control and see where that took us. 

Staged Haze: Given that you were working with people whose work you’re influenced by but wanted to maintain autonomy in your own work, how were those production decisions made between the two of you?

JJ: I think part of why we wanted to work with Daniel [Tashian] was because we had a sort of preliminary session with him where we wrote a song, “New Suede Shoes,” together and we just appreciated and felt connected to a lot of the sonic choices he was making in the studio so we were thinking this is a person we think is on a really similar wavelength to the kind of project we want to make. That’s the kind of kinship Hana and I feel together when we are the only collaborators.

We just gravitate toward all of the same sounds, if it’s a kick drum sample, we’re going to probably choose the same one, which is cool and why it works. I think with Daniel, he did a nice mixture of having those same preferences but also pushing us a little bit out of our comfort zone, which was nice. I think it’s always difficult to let other people into your artistic project so as long as you feel like you trust the other people to choose things that are similar to what you would choose I think that’s a good starting point. 

Staged Haze: Winner is such a special culmination of sounding like an ode to New York and also sounding like it belongs in vast, natural spaces. How did the writing process inform all of these choices?

Hana: Midway into the pandemic, JJ moved to upstate New York and I moved to LA, so we were doing writing sessions in LA and we were meeting halfway in Nashville. We were really inspired by a lot of travel narratives around needing to get out. I think a lot of people felt that way during the pandemic, especially people that were quarantining in New York City. But [we were inspired by] Thelma and Louise and we’ve always been really in love with the southwest and Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’keeffe’s pen-pal relationship.

There were a lot of things like that that were inspiring us at the time that we wanted to have reflected in the music so there’s a lot about New York, which is our hometown and where the majority of our memories as a band exist, but there are also songs that mention being in LA and away from home, generally. It was definitely intentional. We wanted to create something that felt grounded in the hometown of NY but also talked about that feeling of being away from home, whether that’s the literal location or figuratively being in a space that feels really different. 

Staged Haze: What do you want to gain from being able to finally put on a full length tour, after years away?

JJ: A couple of things. Obviously, we want the music to reach more people. I feel like going on the road is the best way to do that, and just be there for people to come and see and experience the world that we’ve created, musically. Also, I feel like for us singing is a very joyful thing. When we lock into harmonies and dances and just have fun, it’s like that world exists on the road. That world exists night after night when you’re on tour and then the rest of the year, we probably sing together like 3 times.

We don’t get to do what we like to do as much in our everyday lives as much when we’re on tour. It’s really intense but it’s also this hour and a half of flow state that we get. Hopefully, we get a bit of that, our fans get a bit of music, new people can hear our work, and hopefully become supporters and listeners. I hope to also gain some new cool clothes. Every time we go on tour we hit really cool vintage stores in other cities and some of my best pieces are from these cities. Which is such a personal gain!

Staged Haze: But a necessary and fun gain! The thrift stores out in the midwest are otherworldly. 

Hana: Because they haven’t been combed over by Brooklyn hipsters yet!

Staged Haze: The album could have taken such a different approach, and instead it’s so light and aerated. Was there any version where you were thinking it needs to go darker? 

Hana: Yeah, definitely. We wrote a very dark album and scrapped it and then wrote the one that you listened to now. We tend to go dark because that is a lot of what we are using the music writing process for, to process these difficult feelings but we were like “okay what are we trying to do here, do we want to just write for ourselves or is there some sort of responsibility to create more joy in the world right now when we’re just going through a horrible time, collectively.” We eventually sided with that. And I love the album that we scrapped. I hope it comes out one day; it’s dark as hell. I love it. We just felt like we should keep this album as something that can uplift people because there’s just not enough of that being made right now.

Staged Haze: Are there any live acts that you feel are going to inform the way you guys perform at all?

Hana: One artist that I think has been influential is Mitski. We toured with her a few years ago and we just really love how much she commits to the bit and it’s a full body performance. We’ve been a fan of choreo for as long as we’ve been a band. There are infamous stories about how, for our first show, we took up the only rehearsal space at our college and we were just practicing dance in there and people were complaining because they wanted to use the speakers but we booked it for our dance rehearsal for the concert. So yeah, there will be a lot of choreo. I have seen this band, Frost Children, a couple of times recently and I’m just obsessed with how fun their show is. It’s just so fun and that’s also something that I want to bring to my performances on this tour. I want to be up there as a celebration.

Staged Haze: What is a question you want to ask yourselves after having experienced the tour?

JJ: Asking the question of “what was that like to play live?” has informed what our next album is going to look and sound and feel like in the past. After our first record, which was very electronic and a little bit more reserved, playing it live, our favorite moments were when things became unhinged, so we were like “let’s make an album that’s totally unhinged and has walls of guitar.” That’s what The Fight was.

Unfortunately, we didn’t really get to tour it but we played a bunch of shows with Cold War Kids right before the pandemic. What we gathered from that was the really nice moments of the set where we showed people our harmonies and did an acoustic song and people found that really special. And then we were like “okay let’s make an album that showcases our voices and doesn’t try to hide the harmonies and the lyrics with walls of guitar so now you have Winner.” So I feel like the question is going to be what was that like and what was our favorite part of playing songs because that should dictate where we want to go next.

Overcoats’ latest album, Winner, is available now and you can catch them on tour now through mid-May.

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