Photo by Nora Onanian
Overcoats, the electronic-pop duo of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell, just put out their EP Used To Be Scared of the Dark in June. Web services coordinator Nora Onanian sat down with Elion and Mitchell shortly before they took the stage at The Sinclair in Cambridge on Wednesday night. They covered everything from friendship, to podcasts, shaved heads, and the thematic connections between their last album and new EP.
HOW ARE YOU GUYS DOING?
JJ: We’re good. Yeah, it’s been a hectic one. Our van is broken. It’s day one. Our van needs new tires. What else happened?
HE: It’s just like the first show in a while.
JJ: It’s rusty.
HE: Yeah, we’re rusty. It’s going to be great, though, tonight.
I WAS WONDERING, I SAW THAT YOU DID A COUPLE OF PERFORMANCES LIKE THE MOON RIVER FESTIVAL IN TENNESSEE, BUT TONIGHT IS LIKE THE FIRST NIGHT OF YOUR OFFICIAL TOUR?
JJ: Yeah, it is. Like where you drive there and you have to bring all your gear. That kind of thing. We’re just doing a short run of North-Eastern shows that are basically rescheduled from our album tour, which was meant to happen in April of 2020.
AND HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK ON STAGE?
JJ: So good. It’s like euphoric up there. Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s a good feeling. It’s like we haven’t really inhabited our real selves in some ways, because for a year and a half it’s like ‘we know that we are musicians, but we’re not really doing anything that is music, music.’ So to be up there, it’s like just remembering like a huge part of yourself that you haven’t been able to access in so long. It’s an incredible feeling.
DID YOU DO LIVE STREAMS AT ALL DURING QUARANTINE?
HE: We did. It’s definitely not the same as feeling a crowd’s energy.
JJ: We did a number of live streams and apart from like technical difficulties, I feel like I can’t really remember them.
HE: Yeah, they were solid.
I READ THAT YOU MET AT WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY IN 2011 AND I’D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR VERSION OF THE STORY OF MEETING.
HE: We were in Anthropology 101, both wearing headbands.
JJ: Yes, that’s important!
HE: Sat next to each other. Freshman. No friends. Walked back from class together, found out we were in the same dorm. Pretty much the rest is history. We started singing together early on in our friendship and it just sort of turned into writing songs and we took it from there.
VERY COOL! COULD YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR STYLE OF WORKING TOGETHER AND KIND OF HOW YOU COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER? AND YOU CAN TAKE THAT MUSICALLY OR LIKE PERSONALITY WISE, TOO.
JJ: Fashion! Just kidding. Yeah, that’s a good question. I think because we act as a duo and co-write everything and share equally in the partnership, I think that we both try to fill in the gaps that the other leaves. And so that can take many forms and look different from project to project, but we like to see what happens when there’s two distinct personalities combining. And if there’s tension, that’s beautiful. If there’s harmony, that’s beautiful. And so in writing and choreographing our dance moves, the important things like that, that all comes through.
HE: Yeah, we really tag team things. In the music as well as the business. It’s a lot of like a dance. Like if I’m I’m bad cop. JJ comes in as good cop, Just like, you know, we try to compliment each other.
I READ A LITTLE QUARANTINE JOURNAL THAT YOU GUYS DID FOR I THINK IT WAS THE GRAMMY’S WEBSITE LAST JANUARY. A LITTLE ANECDOTE STUCK OUT TO ME ABOUT YOUR STYLE OF SONGWRITING. YOU SAID THAT YOU WORK BEST WHEN YOU’RE REALLY BUSY MULTITASKING AND A LITTLE THING FROM COLLEGE ABOUT WRITING YOUR THESES AND WRITING SONGS AFTER. COULD YOU KIND OF EXPAND ON THAT AND SAY IF IT HELD TRUE FOR THE LATEST EP?
HE: I think the latest EP was really hard to write because we weren’t that busy.
JJ: You were like, I have all day to sit and write this song? Like, what am I going to say? Yeah, I do think we work really well under pressure. But I think like, yeah, that was definitely the case when we first started writing together. It was like this escape that we could find in each other after hours of grueling library thesis writing. And then we’d be like, just get us out of here and let’s make music, because that is like way more pleasing to the soul. And I think part of that is still definitely true. But I think we’ve learned a little bit how to-
HE: How to relax.
JJ: Kind of relax, yeah, but how to make writing and being a musician more of like a lifestyle and like a routine that feels more healthy and not something that you would cram in at 2:00 a.m. Which has been a luxury, really, that we’ve been able to make it into a career,
YEAH, DEFINITELY. AND LET’S TALK MORE ABOUT THE NEW EP! USED TO BE SCARED OF THE DARK YOU JUST PUT OUT IN JUNE AND THERE’S FOUR TRACKS THAT ALL HAVE ELEMENTS OF COLLABORATION. I WANTED TO ASK IF YOU WENT INTO IT PLANNING ON HAVING ALL OF THEM BE COLLABORATIONS?
HE: We did, yeah. That was like what we really wanted to do. I think The Fight, our last record, came out two days before New York shut down from the pandemic. And the making of this EP, the purpose of it really, was to both expand on the themes that were in our album, The Fight, and also to kind of re-engage with our community. Because we were so isolated from the pandemic. So we knew that we wanted to have friends and musical collaborators involved in it. And so it was a really nice way to find community in a difficult time.
AND YOU JUST TOUCHED ON IT. COULD YOU TALK MORE ABOUT THE THEMATIC CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE FIGHT AND THE NEW EP?
JJ: Yeah, I think the new EP definitely feels like a continuation of the same story. But it does feel like the next chapter and the resolved feelings of the process of change. And I think we feel like a lot of the songs on the EP really touch on being ok with the current circumstances, which feels poignant in the midst of a pandemic to be writing songs about ‘I’m OK where I am, it’s not perfect, but I’m working on it.’ And being you know, I feel like The Fight was really angsty. Like we were definitely in a super angsty teen moment. And then it feels like we’ve mellowed out a little, we’re through the angst, with the new EP.
YEAH, I DEFINITELY PICKED UP ON A LOT OF ACCEPTANCE IN THE LATEST WORK. AND I HAVE TO ASK ABOUT THE FIGHT A LITTLE BIT MORE. YOU GUYS SHAVED YOUR HEADS, RIGHT?
HE: We did!
LD (Nora’s plus one): Look at this growth!
JJ: Yeah we’ve had so much growth!
LD: I was thinking about it and I was like, there’s no way they’ve had this much growth.
HE: Well it’s been a while! It’s been since like 2019 or something.
YEAH, THAT’S FAIR. WE ALSO HAVE HAD VERY, VERY SHORT HAIR AT ONE POINT. RESTARTED IT.
JJ: Yeah, fresh start!
LD: Mine took much longer than that.
JJ: There are some really awkward phases that you have to go through.
LD: Yeah there was one part of it where I was like, ‘it looks like a mullet and not the good kind.’
JUST PAST THE EARS!
HE: (laughs) Yeah that’s a tough one. I looked like Bieber. It was not good.
OH MY GOSH, THAT’S SO FUNNY. WE TALKED ABOUT REBIRTH AND I THINK THE FIGHT ALSO HAD SOME OF THAT THEME. CAN YOU GET INTO THAT A LITTLE BIT?
HE: Yeah. I think we’re very concept-y as people and as artists. And the concept for The Fight was definitely to write like an anthemic album that really kind of us taking on a character persona of us just being like just this warrior to kind of get through life…
Sorry I’m just so distracted because Mikaela [Davis, the opener, rehearsing] just sounds so beautiful!
And so, yeah, there was kind of an element of wanting to unify ourselves and look a bit more like warriors by shaving our heads and just kind of live the themes that we were making art in at the time.
YEAH, THAT’S VERY COOL. LET’S GO BACK TO THE NEW EP – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW SOME OF THE COLLABORATIONS, HOW IT CAME TOGETHER? I KNOW IT WAS DONE REMOTELY. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
JJ: Yeah, that was tough, although not as tough as I thought it was going to be.
HE: I was like, how are we going to make this on Zoom? Yeah, but everybody involved sort of had their own, like, recording home studio set up so everyone was able to, like, record and send files back and forth.
JJ: All of the artists that we collaborated with for the EP were like friends or mentors. One band, Tennis, we toured with them twice a few years ago. And we joke that they’re our parents. Every time we have a query or a problem, we call them and we’re like, ‘what do we do?’
HE: But we’re also friends, I don’t want to make them feel old.
JJ: No, definitely – we’re like the same age as them.
HE: Yeah, but they’re just married.
JJ: Yes, so they’re definitely confidence and we love their music. And so we were like, ‘please do this song,’ and they were amazing. Middle kids, we’ve just always admired them and reached out and for some reason they said, yes.
So it was really nice because it was all people that we know, or at least know of and love. And the fact that they wanted to dedicate time and energy towards the collaboration was really special. And it felt like a nice moment in the pandemic to have, as Hana said, community and friendship in music. Because none of us could tour and we were never in any spaces with other musicians like we normally are on a daily basis.
AND THEN YOU DID A REALLY COOL THING, THE SPOTLIGHT SESSIONS, WHERE YOU TALKED ABOUT EACH OF THE COLLABORATIONS WITH THE ARTISTS. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO DO THAT?
HE: Yeah, I mean, I think we just wanted to give people a little bit of insight into our songwriting process. And just kind of another way to engage with people when touring still wasn’t around. We also have another podcast called Between Two Bald Girls, which is more like comedy. And we love that very much. But we were just like, OK, we should, like, talk a little bit about music also.
JJ: We really need to record season two.
HE: Yeah, I’m ready.
JJ: It’s like a wintery thing, like where we’re cooped up and really, you know, have a big sweater on. You’re like, I’m recording my podcast.
I NEED TO CHECK THAT OUT!
HE: Oh you must! It’s funny – I mean, not to brag (laughs).
I FEEL LIKE LISTENING THROUGH THE EP, SOMETHING THAT MAYBE HAPPENED BECAUSE OF THE COLLABORATIONS, IS THAT EACH SONG HAS LIKE A LITTLE BIT OF UNIQUE PERSONALITY. BUT THEY ALSO WORK REALLY NICE TOGETHER AS A WHOLE. DO YOU THINK YOU’VE DEVELOPED A PERSONAL STYLE AND DID YOU, LIKE, THINK ABOUT COHESION AND ALL THAT?
HE: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s always a tough question for us because we do really value the way that you can reinvent yourself with each new concept and each new album. I do think we are developing like a sound of our own. And we’ve been talking a lot about that as we head into writing our next album.
But I think the thing that really makes our music is our voices and our voices in harmony, and so we wanted that to be present in all of the songs. But we also really wanted all of the songs to have the flavor of the collaborators. Like we weren’t like ‘make it an Overcoats song.’ We were like, we want this to sound like Overcoats, but we also wanted to sound like Middle Kids. So there was definitely a feeling of let’s have it sound like us but it doesn’t need to sound exactly like all of our other music.
YEAH, DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE, EACH OF YOU, A FAVORITE SONG OFF OF THE EP?
HE: Oh, that’s hard.
I KNOW, IT’S HARD TO PICK!
JJ: OK, I have a dark horse surprise favorite. Because I thought my favorite was “Used To Be Scared of the Dark,” the title track of the EP. Because singing it is just unreal, it just gets me every time. But, lately, my dark horse favorite has been “Wait For Me, Darling.” Yeah, because it’s like a secret bop when you don’t think it’s a bop. And then you listen and you’re like ‘woah.’
HE: Yeah, I like that one. I like them all.
ANYTHING YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELVES THROUGH MAKING THE NEW EP?
HE: I think I would say that, like I think a lot of this profession is like getting into a routine. Like when you tour, there’s a routine to it and there’s a certain way that, you know, that you like to record and do all these things. This EP really forced us out of that. And to really do things in a very different way. I think that seeing how well it came together was actually very freeing because it just made it clear that there are a lot of ways to make music. And that’s nice to not put that pressure on yourself to, like, do it a specific way. To have a little more freedom.
JJ: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if it was the EP or the pandemic or both, that really instilled like a sense of needing to be patient. But I think that that was definitely a lesson learned over the past 18 months. Just like sometimes you just have to wait.
YEAH THAT MAKES SENSE! IS THERE A SONG YOU’RE MOST EXCITED TO PERFORM LIVE TONIGHT?
JJ: Probably “Drift” for me, because Mikaela is going to sing with us.
OOH, THAT’S SO EXCITING!
We did it in sound check and it was so beautiful.
HE: I’m excited to play “The Fight,” because like I said, I feel like it’s like the battle cry of the last two years, and we’re going to like sing our hearts out.
AWESOME! ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS YOU’D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT OR ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT THAT WE DIDN’T COVER?
JJ: We are going to be putting out some live videos of the new EP songs that we filmed in Brooklyn, and they’re really pretty. So those will be up on YouTube in the coming weeks.
HE: Follow us on TikTok – that’s really important (laughs).
Overcoats new EP Used To Be Scared of the Dark is available now!