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Interview with Overcoats


Images & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers

“When we saw how the music affected people, it became very addictive.”

— Hana Elion

New York electro-pop duo Overcoats is comprised of singer-songwriters Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell. Drawing influences from other genres including folk and bluegrass, Overcoats recorded their debut album YOUNG in 2017 which has been hailed by mainstream and indie critics as one of 2017’s best albums.

Electronic-pop duo Overcoats busted out onto the music scene with last year’s debut album YOUNG, hailed by critics such as Billboard and NPR as one of 2017’s best albums. Comprised of Wesleyan University friends Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, Overcoats is the product of two singer-songwriters who would still have made music “on our computers” had their paths not crossed. The pair collaborated on YOUNG with producers such as Nicolas Vernhes (The War On Drugs, Dirty Projectors), and in the words of NPR, the album was “Driven by ambition and passion, not craft. That’s not to say [they] aren’t terrifically talented.” Indeed, Overcoats created an ambitious album dealing with shared realities—from sexism in the music industry to relatable feelings of anxiety and depression. The pair discusses their favorite artists growing up and “the dialectical nature” of life.

Where are you from?

JJ Mitchell: New York City.

When did you start making music?

JM: We started writing music together in the spring of 2015, which was our senior year of college. Independently, we’ve both been writing—

Hana Elion: Since the womb?

JM: I think we needed to find each other to be able to finish songs. At least, that was my experience. I could bring a lot of nuggets to the table, but I had never really finished a song and produced it to the point where I was like, “This is the finished product that I want to share with the world.”

Who did you listen to growing up?

HE: Definitely a lot of pop music. Britney.

S Club 7
S Club 7 was an English pop group consisting of Tina Barrett, Paul Cattermole, Rachel Stevens, Jo O’Meara, Hana Spearritt, Bradley McIntosh and Jon Lee. The group formed in 1998 with the help of former Spice Girls manager, Simon Fuller, and rose to fame through their own BBC series, Miami 7. Together, the group recorded four studio albums and four UK number one singles.

JM: S Club 7. Madonna.

HE: Madonna. Coldplay.

JM: We also had some more refined taste.

HE: Like the Dixie Chicks.

JM: And we both loved Amy Winehouse. Billy Joel.

HE: Simon and Garfunkel.

Indigo Girls
Grammy-winning folk rock duo Indigo Girls is comprised of musicians Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. Friends since elementary school, the pair began performing while high school students in Decatur, Georgia and then as students at Emory University under the name The Indigo Girls. Since their first self-produced album in 1987, The Indigo Girls released a total of nine studio albums made with major record labels as well as their own IG Recordings company, founded in 2007. Both Saliers and Ray identify as lesbian and are involved in political and environmental activism.

JM: The Indigo Girls. We’re into folk duos.

“We weren’t discovered on the internet. It was little tiny breaks that inspired us to keep working hard.”
— JJ Mitchell

So how did you get started?

HE: We decided to record the songs we were writing because I was working in a recording studio at our college. Then as we kept writing and heard the recordings, something compelled us to put them on the Internet. There was a craving to share it. When we saw how the music affected people, it became very addictive.

When did you feel you had your first big break?

JM: It was and is really incremental. We weren’t discovered on the internet. It was little tiny breaks that inspired us to keep working hard. Then suddenly a management company believed in us and wanted to help us achieve our goal, and suddenly one of our songs had 500,000 plays on Spotify. We were like, “What happened?”

What life events have impacted you and your music the most?

HE: Well, meeting each other. But if we hadn’t met, we’d both be making music.

JM: I’d be making music on the side.

HE: Like on our computers. We’d both still be musical people. But I never really believed in anything that I was making until JJ.

What are some issues you want to address with your music?

JM: There are some things we consciously hope to address and others that subconsciously come across in our music because it’s so personal and has to do with everything that we’re dealing with as women in today’s society and coming of age in this political climate. Other than sexism in the music industry—which is just a daily part of our lives and has made its way into our music and everything we do—we talked a lot about depression and anxiety and trying to reduce the stigmas around like mental health issues. “Nighttime Hunger” is about this feeling of existential worry and anxiety.

HE: And having to hide that.

JM: I think having a song where we expose that truth in our lives and have other people be able to relate to it and sing their hearts out and release from that, hopefully destigmatizes it a bit. You don’t have to be ashamed of being scared or anxious or depressed.

HE: This is probably something that’s partially conscious but also just personal: it’s important to us that we write about the complexity of life and the complexity of emotions. We’re not really interested in writing 100% love songs or 100% angry songs. We want a song that shows—what’s that word?

JM: The dialectical nature [of life]. That two different opposing things can be true at the same time.

HE: It’s important to us in every song to have two lines next to each other that don’t usually go together. Or where you think you know what the song’s trying to say, but then it throws something different at you. We like to keep things complex and consequently more real.

Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?

Both: One, two, three: Coldplay. Is. The. Best. Band. In. The. World!

“Having a song where we expose that truth in our lives and have other people be able to relate to it and sing their hearts out and release from that, hopefully destigmatizes [anxiety and depression] a bit.”
— JJ Mitchell

What are your interests and passions outside of music?

JM: We’re both creative people in other realms of the arts. We both like visual art. Hana is an oil painter, and I dabble in printmaking and other things. We need at least 6 outlets to get our feelings out. We’ve been into fashion recently, getting more into fashion.

That being said, Hana majored in Philosophy of Religion, and I studied Middle East History and Politics. So we have more intellectual interests as well.

HE: Recently, we’ve taken up bowling.

What about your matching outfits? Are you sourcing them or making them?

HE: We are sourcing them, currently. We have a number of wonderful designers that we have the honor of wearing. Mostly small, independent designers.

JM: We’ve always worn some sort of yin and yang outfits or the exact same outfit. It stemmed from a desire to let the music speak with a blank slate. We wear a lot of monochrome.

What are your favorite books, film and music right now?

JM: I’m reading a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called Americanah, which is an amazing book. I am the world’s slowest reader though. Had you asked me three months ago, I would have said the same thing. And films, Ladybird.

HE: Ladybird was great. I just read Steinbeck’s East of Eden, classic book. We love La La Land.

JM: I’ve seen it like ten times, and I cry every time. Everybody had a lot to say on Facebook, and there were articles about how it’s a bunch of white bull crap. And that’s all valid, but I think we connect to it as artists. I was thinking about that film when we wrote “I Don’t Believe In Us” because the end of the movie is like, “Are you supposed to follow your dreams or not?” We’ve had a few moments like that. There are days when it’s hard and you have to make sacrifices in your personal life.

I read Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson. It’s about getting people off death row in the South.

HE: I’m reading a lot of Tracy K Smith, the poet. She has a book called Life on Mars, and it’s poems that are about life, existential questions, space and the death of her father. As far as music, we listen to a very particular genre.

JM: Almost exclusively to Kings of Leon, Arcade Fire, The Kooks.

HE: Angel Olsen.

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