New Noise: Overcoats

Meet Overcoats, your new fave harmonising storytellers.

Since their start Overcoats have been on a whirlwind. Last year the duo from NYC released their self-titled EP, spent 3 months in the UK touring, and will be touring more in the coming months. It’s clear they have no intent of slowing down and rightfully so, because their entrancing blend of folk and soul is hauntingly seducing. Not to mention they dropped a stunning single before 2015 was done. “Nighttime Hunger” is darker than their other songs, and is the perfect track to listen to when you are in need of a downtime hour. Hana and JJ of the Overcoats effortlessly harmonise yet again and their soft yet commanding vocals paired with minimal, dark electronics gives a sweet sound of something otherworldly. Their songwriting is simple storytelling that is honest and openly vulnerable. No wonder the girls are the best of friends and can gather strength from one another through their music.

With their hype and inevitable success we had to talk with them about harmonising, their writing process, music tastes, and what makes them unique from other duos.

Why did you decide to begin working together?

JJ: We’ve been friends for about 5 years, but we only tried writing together for the first time about a year ago. We wrote Little memory in one sitting…literally sitting in Hana’s room at college. And then the decision sort of made itself. We were really blown away by the sound and energy we were able to create together. So we felt we had to keep going.

Hana: Yeah, everything sort of fell into place. Writing together felt different, and more fulfilling than anything we’d ever done musically before. The songs forced our hand.

JJ: Our hands?

Hana: Our hand.

Did harmonizing together come naturally?

JJ: It did. Our voices blend together in a strange way…to the point where sometimes listening back to recordings we have trouble telling the two apart.

Hana: Sometimes I’ll listen to a demo, and I’ll be like, I sound pretty good!

JJ: And then I’m like, that’s me.

Hana: We love singing together–there’s this moment when you feel like you’ve created a harmony that’s more than the sum of its parts. When the two melodies can’t exist without the other.

What’s your creative process like? Do you write together or not?

JJ: We do a bit of both. Some songs we write together, line by line, melody, instrumentals — everything. Other songs we sort of piece together from snippets we each work on separately. Usually we try to pick an idea or an experience to write about and then each try to channel that in what we work on. We tend to discover that a lot of our separate snippets fit perfectly together.

Hana: Some of my favorite songs we’ve done together have come from two very disparate places – “Smaller Than My Mother,” for example, JJ had these beautiful folk melodies that she originally envisioned over plucked guitar. She sent me the tracks to play around with in Garageband and write a guitar part to. Then one night, I wrote this really over the top, intense drum part and despite it being kind of inappropriate, it brought out an aggression in the song that really made you feel the deep lament of these folky lyrics. A lot of our songs are built from moments like this – when two different feelings, or rhythms, or melodies come together into something unexpected.

What are you music tastes like? Do they differ from each other?

JJ: I’d say our music tastes are similar but also different. I feel like I stick to only a couple of genres whereas Hana is far more open and adventurous. I love Amy Winehouse and other R&B artists as well as nu-folk like Laura Marling, Marika Hackman, THe Staves.

Hana: JJ and I basically listen to the same stuff but I go through intense phases. For example, I’m in a surf rock phase right now. But some of my go-tos are Lake Street Dive, Bahamas, Feist, Hiatus Kaiyote.

JJ: No matter what genre, we usually will like the same aspects of a certain song or lyric…so I think that’s part of why the Overcoats sound is cohesive and feels sort of preordained. We sometimes get scared that we are actually just one brain in two bodies.

Do you ever clash over your ideas?

JJ: I’m trying to think… we usually agree on just about everything. Any time that we have different ideas for a given song we usually keep both somehow and it’s that tension between two different sounds or melodies or lyrics that make the songs feel powerful.

Hana: Yeah, when something is right, we usually just know. And so if we’re really disagreeing on a line or a melody – we know we haven’t found the right one yet.

What brings on your writing music mood? Is it the environment, a bad memory? Or what emotions are you usually feeling right before you start to write a song?

JJ: I write a lot of little snippets when I’m angry. I just find that the right words seem to come out and the melodies are really honest in moments of rage.

Hana: I usually just have to be feeling pensive, maybe a bit melancholy. Songs for us are like a time-capsule of a moment, of a person, of a relationship. So it takes a while for me to process any given experience and be able to write something really honest and often uncomfortably blunt about it.

After SXSW, what else will you be up to? Another EP coming soon?

JJ: Time will tell! We’ve been working on a lot of new songs and we’re definitely looking forward to sharing them with you all soon! We’re going to be in New York for the rest of March but doing a bit of touring in April & May.

We love Nighttime Hunger. It takes on a different direction lyrically from your other songs. What inspired you to make it?

JJ: Nighttime Hunger has been in the works since last spring…it’s really funny how many iterations that song went through. But I guess we were just waiting for it to sort itself into something we truly wanted to say.

Hana: Yeah, Nighttime Hunger is a lot darker than our other material, we think – it’s the first song where we’ve really tried to tackle internal struggle, rather than a relationship with someone else. When you’re a touring musician, as well as living in New York City, you are constantly surrounded by people. It makes the moments when you are alone really jarring.

How does it feel seeing the track featured on a number of music sites?

Hana: It’s been breathtaking. To see this song being featured on some of our favorite music sites alongside artists we love and respect, it’s the most amazing feeling. Even more so, though, it means that people are hearing the single and wanting to share it – we’re thrilled that people are connecting with it.

Duos have been emerging a lot within the couple years. How do you guys stand out amongst the crowd?

Hana: I’d say our friendship is what makes our duo really unique. There are a lot of twosomes that are sisters, and while we wish we could say we are, we are simply two friends who love to write music together. We start and end every show we play with a bear hug on stage. This band and its music is made possible by the love and empathy we have for each other, and how it shines through in our songwriting – we write about being able to live the pain of the other. Nighttime Hunger, for example, is a deeply introverted, personal song about being vulnerable and alone – but as a duo singing it together, it’s like an anthem of support and friendship.

JJ: Everything Hana said. Wow. In terms of our sound, I’d like to think that we’re placing ourselves at the intersection of a few different genres, trying to pull from each. Maybe our songs try to pull electronic music back towards a more storytelling and lyrically diverse kind of songwriting.. We love duos, we love harmonies, it’s a good crew of artists to be a part of.

What’s been the best experience for you so far?

Hana: We absolutely love touring. We feel very present and alive on tour. Some of our favorite performances have been playing with Matt Corby, NPR Mountain Stage in West Virginia.

JJ: Touring is definitely amazing. As Hana said, we just feel so free and able to just meet new people along the way.

Hana: And we meet people that inspire songs!

We’d love to know what tracks you love from other artists at the moment.

Hana: I love Mizan K’s “Looking For,” I’ve been listening to that whole EP a lot. Also have Margaret Glaspy’s “Somebody to Anybody” on repeat. And Chet Faker is always in rotation.

JJ: I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Rozi Plain, Hinds, Alice Phoebe Lou…who else? We’re really loving Låpsley right now too.

Chenae Rodrigues