Interview: Overcoats on fighting back and finding hope

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Brooklyn duo Overcoats aren't holding back with their sophomore album The Fight. The album channels a rough period of time for Hana and JJ, during which they've had to navigate the struggles that arise in everyday life (whether it's loss, grief or heartbreak) as well as societal pressures. Their daring new album also sees them embrace a new sound — one that's much more grittier then what you would have heard on their debut release a few years ago. In the lead up to tomorrow's release, we spoke with both Hana and JJ about the new album, embracing a new sound as well as what inspired them when creating it.

Your new album The Fight is being released very soon, how are you currently feeling about it all?

JJ: I feel really excited. I think that, especially with this record, it took us such a long time to write it and record it with the right people and it feels like it's been such a long time coming. Some of the songs on the record we wrote almost three years ago. It's definitely been a journey. I think we're just really excited for it to be out in the world.

Did you spend the entire three years working on the record or were there breaks in between?

Hana: There was definitely breaks, we kind of wrote an album and then scratched it and then wrote another and then scratched it and then wrote other. We're always writing so we had a lot of material, but we were kind of waiting until the shoe fit.

JJ: We were touring for basically a year and a half during those three years. We were touring our first record at the time.

Hana: It's funny because when you're touring constantly, all of your songs are about touring, which is really boring. So then we had to take some time to just live a little and have new experiences so we had some material to write about.

Since The Fight is your second album, what did you learn about the process from the first time around?

JJ: I think we learned a lot from the first album. We were like, okay, now when we record the second one we need to be in a studio with windows, no dungeon recording studios. I think every album, from what I'm learning, is going to be different and is going to be a different process. I think that this one took us a long time as Hana mentioned, for a lot of the earlier songs we didn't quite feel like they represented the message that we wanted to say or the statement we wanted to make on our sophomore. I think each one is going to be a learning process and is actually going to look quite different from the previous one.

I think that it's important to make changes in terms of being more sustainable with your health. We definitely felt like the first album really sucked all the energy out of us and so we wanted to have plants and sunlight when we recorded the second one, but I do think that they're always going to be different processes.

The album is an incredibly powerful listen from start to finish. From a listener's point of view, it made me want to riot, but it also made me want to sit back and reflect. What emotions did you set out to capture on The Fight?

JJ: We just set out to capture exactly what we were feeling at the time. We were feeling really disillusioned and ingrained with the political climate. We were feeling immense grief from some intense losses that we both went through. We were feeling frustrated in relationships. We set out to find a way to connect all of these feelings and hopefully bring some hope.

How would you say the album represents where you're both at in life right now?

JJ: That's a good question. There have definitely been some really tough times in the past couple of years. I think that figuring out how to grapple with that and keep fighting for the things that are important to you have been a really big part of what we wanted to write about. I think if the first album was sort of a reflection on coming of age or adolescence, this album feels like we've grown up a little bit. We're no longer in the college bubble and we're out in society as women living under Trump's America. I think the themes of the album reflect that.

You both mentioned going through tough times. How did music become an outlet to help get through that?

Hana: I think it's always been an outlet for both of us. It's a way to take something really ugly and painful and bring some beauty to it. I think that's always been an important part of why we keep coming back to music because that is something that helps to heal ourselves.

Along with being emotionally charged on a lyrical level, you infused rock and roll on there as well. What inspired you to do this sonically?

JJ: I think there were two main reasons why we felt like the sonic palette of this record needed more grit and rock and roll. The first reason was that we had been touring for a year and a half, and our first album is much more subdued and electronic. We found ourselves, when we were playing live, just really wanting to slam on guitars and have a much more intense live performance and so that definitely made its way into the instrumentation that we were gravitating towards for the second record.

The second reason is that our songwriting and the lyrical content of the songs always dictates what instruments we're using and what the stories we're trying to tell require in terms of instrumentation. This album is much angrier. It's much more unapologetic and it felt like we needed sort of screaming guitars and crazy synth lines in a way that the stories on our first album didn't really present themselves as needing those gritty sounds. We tried to just listen to what the songs themselves were asking for as well as allowing ourselves to create an angrier sound and one that's much more exciting to play live.

Like you said, the first album sounds very different — it also experienced high acclaim when it was released.  Did you encounter any moments of doubt or even nerves about what you were trying to do with the new music because it's different to what you've done previously?

JJ: Absolutely. I can't speak for every musician, but I feel like there is always a lot of pressure with the sophomore album to evolve in the way that you want to and in a way that your listeners will appreciate and understand and also respect. I think that's what we tried to do here. Keep the songwriting and the vocal song in harmony at the core of what we do, but expand the sonic palette. We like it (laughs) and hopefully, everyone else likes it too. There's always doubt and stress and confusion, but I think that Hana and I are really proud of it. We really hope that our fans like it too.

How would you say that you've both evolved as artists across the two records?

Hana: I think we've evolved so much. We've learned a lot about music and we've gotten new influences and gotten into different types of music and have expanded our minds. But just as much as that, I think both of us have a lot more confidence in trusting our intuition and our creativity. I think that's a big part of it too, just really allowing ourselves to create without second-guessing. That has been a big part of why this album sounds like it does.

I read that 'The Fool' was inspired by a tarot card and I noticed that pre-orders for the album come with tarot cards. What influence did tarot cards have on the album?

JJ: Tarot played a role in helping us with what Hana was just talking about, which is just knowing that you have everything inside you to be able to make the art that you want to make and to be able to make the decisions that you need to make any given day or in a given month. Tarot cards are really helpful in understanding things that you already know, but maybe don't feel like you can say with confidence. When we were making this record, we had a tarot deck with us and we would pull a card every morning for some guidance. We were working with many different producers and other songwriters and it was a very confusing time.

One morning, we pulled 'the fool' and decided that that card was very special because it's about taking a leap of faith and about accepting the uncertainty of life. We wanted to write a song about that. We wanted it to capture exactly that. A song about accepting where you are in life and accepting that you might not know all the answers.

So yeah, tarot played a big role and we wanted to honor that and map our album onto a mini deck. We had a friend of ours to design it with us. We were really excited for that to be part of the album package.

To finish up, what do you hope listeners get out of their listening experience of The Fight?

Hana: I think that folks can find hope in whatever they're going through and see a light at the end of the tunnel and know that it's going to take time or a fight to get through it, but they're not alone. We're really lucky to have each other in this fight and we hope that it can show people that this is a universal thing that people are going through and that we've all got to fight together to get through some of the things that are plaguing us right now as individuals and as a society.

The Fight will be released tomorrow, Friday March 6th. Click here for information. 

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

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