Overcoats1Overcoats, the singing and songwriting duo of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell have released their debut album “Young” on the Arts & Crafts label. Nicolas Vernhes (Dirty Projectors, Daughter) and Autre Ne Veut joined the duo in co-production. “Young” follows on their self-titled debut EP released in June 2015, which was instrumental in their meteoric rise. It is impossible to ignore the creative power behind the full, rich and pleasing consonance of their voices leaving the listener with a salient tingling sensation. Their arrangements give cohesion to multiple genres including electronica, pop, folk, soul and even jazz. Overcoats begins their European tour in Dublin on 16 May. They perform in Paris on 23 May.

HVUM: This afternoon we have the opportunity to visit with the female duo Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell – together known as Overcoats. It’s a real pleasure for HorizonVU Music to have the chance to visit today and we look forward to hearing you live. Let’s talk a bit about your background, what’s been going on with Overcoats.

We’ve been to your site and to the many profiles and announcements found online (LA Music Blog. For Folk’s Sake, Drunken Werewolf, All Songs Considered and many more). We know that you are NYC-based and that you are one-time college roommates while attending Wesleyan University. After graduating in 2015, you moved to Dublin for a few months and really got into the Irish music scene. We have a following of promising young female want-to-be professional musicians and they appreciate success stories. So, let’s hang for a moment on the backstory.

Take us through your decision to come together as Overcoats, how you launched your project and came to sign on with Gaby Alvarez and Thomas Winkler at Votiv Management as well as your label Arts & Crafts. We know that’s a lot to talk about, so please hit the bullet points for us.

H: Thanks so much! We’ve had a really wild couple years. We graduated from Wesleyan University in 2015. We had startedOvercoats3 writing music our final year there. All of our friends were looking for jobs after college, making plans…and all we could do was write. It inspired and fulfilled us so much. We recorded our EP at college, put it online, and got good responses. We decided to go for it, and moved to Dublin to write and figure out what we really wanted to sound like.
J: Dublin was really formative for our music. We were going to folk shows and open mics during the evening, and then dancing in clubs at night. The combination of folk storytelling and songwriting and the corporeal, repetitive nature of electronic music was really influential for us.
H: We moved to New York a few months later and kept working at it. At SXSW, we met Tom and Gaby (our managers), who helped us put a team of people together that could help us achieve our goals. We signed to Arts & Crafts (record label) last summer, made our album in the fall of 2016, and now we’re here. It’s all been kind of a whirlwind, with some very slow pockets of time in there.
J: Our advice to people pursuing this would be, just keep working at it. We worked hard whether or not we were getting recognized for it because we believed in what we were doing. And that’s what made other people believe too.

HVUM: What made you gravitate to NYC? Why not (say) California?

H: New York was definitely more comfortable for us. I was born there and had spent time there in college –
J: And I’m from there.
H: We had family and friends there, which sounded very appealing after stranding ourselves in Ireland – haha!

HVUM: It’s been written that your Hozier cover “Cherry Wine” ties to your relationship? Tell us about that connection.

J: Cherry Wine is a song we started covering in Dublin. For us, the song represents friendship and unconditional love. Hana and I have a foundation of love and support for each other.
H: “Way she shows me I’m hers she’s mine / open hand or closed fist would be fine” – for us, means, I will take you any way you are. It’s about being there for that person no matter what.

HVUM: Briefly tell us a bit about your music backgrounds. Do you have formal training or do you consider yourselves to be self-taught?

H: A bit of both. I played a lot of instruments growing up. I started with piano, then moved to guitar, and later dabbled in banjo and harp. Singing has always been a passion, though.
J: I had no musical training growing up. I’m teaching myself piano and bass right now. If you can sing, you can make any instrument with your voice. You don’t need training!

HVUM: Reflecting back on your career development thus far, what do you consider to be your keys to success as well as the most difficult barriers you have encountered?

H: Something that has been difficult is that there’s not much certainty or stability in this industry. It can be really difficult to take care of yourself and staying stable when everything around you is always changing.
J: For example, last summer, we decided to leave to New York and move to Northampton – we complete moved out of our apartments and arrived in Northampton. 3 days later, we found out we were going on tour for 2 months with Matt Corby. We had to move out.
H: Everything happens really fast. But I think one of our keys to success has been being able to roll with the punches. JJ and I both traveled a lot in our childhoods and have talked before about how it made us really adaptable. It helps to be able to go with the flow and trust the process.

HVUM: What advice can you give to a young woman wanting to be in the music business?

H: I think women who are headed for the music industry should do it. There needs to be more of us! My advice would be persevere!! It takes hard work but if you keep going you can find success.
J: I agree. In the industry women often have to create space for themselves and for each other. The industry is inherently male dominated, so it can be hard to achieve your goals, sonically, aesthetically etc. So my advice is to believe in your vision and fight for it.

Overcoats2HVUM: Some of your music has been compared to the sounds of Chet Faker and Simon and Garfunkel (for example). Do you have specific influences in your minds? Do you share influences or do you have to reconcile differences in co-creation?

J: Those two are a couple of our favorites! I think we also feel that we were influenced by Amy Winehouse, Bob Dylan, the Dixie Chicks, Coldplay…who else?
H: More contemporary artists would include Sylvan Esso, Ibeyi, Jamie XX, Lapsley, Joseph, Hinds, Margaret Glaspy.
J: Yes, we share most of the same influences and very rarely disagree about the way we want something in our music to sound. We share one vision and occasionally take different sonic paths but for the most part we’re on the same page. And if we’re not, we embrace the tension created by two differing choices.

HVUM: In addition to your incredible and widely recognized harmonies there is a lot going on in your music from folk to electronica – folktronica. How do you describe your music and the cohesion of genres we identify with your songs? Or do you?

H: I think we described ourselves as folktronica pretty early on when we were releasing our debut EP. We felt like we were bringing storytelling into electronic music and bringing 808s and moog bass lines into folk music.
J: So it felt like we were straddling the two genres. We actually feel like a song is finished and ready for release when you can no longer define its genre. It feels like we focus more on the songwriting than what genre it’s fitting into.

HVUM: Let’s take time out for “Little Memory” recorded on the April release, “Young”.

HVUM: Has your perspective on music and working together changed between the release of your EP in 2015 and “Young”?

J: We never really had any idea what it would be like. We had nothing to go off. So it’s been a steep learning curve. Figuring out the music business and touring. Parts of it have been harder than I imagined. Recording our album and touring so often we’re really taxing. But simultaneously, parts of this career have exceeded my wildest dreams — connections with fans, incredible performances, holding your own vinyl in your hands.
H: Yeah, that was pretty nuts. We’ve definitely learned so much about the industry that we couldn’t have possibly known before diving head first into it.. In terms of working together, I think we’ve only gotten better at it. Better at reading one another, communicating, sharing ideas. We’ve been working together almost every day for 2 years now. And we’ve known each other for 6 years.

HVUM: On the production side you’ve worked with Nicolas Vernhes and Autre Ne Veut. Tell us a little about your relationship with your producers. As far as Overcoats is concerned, what makes for a good producer or producers?

J: They were both incredible to work with. As was Myles Avery who we worked with on the debut EP. A good producer, in our opinion, walks a fine line and needs to let us remain at the helm while offering us the resources to create the sound we are striving for. Offering creative ideas, pushing us to expand arrangements, be more adventurous with percussion, or with sounds.
H: Also crucial to this album was our producers pushing us and creating an environment in which we could give the best vocal performances possible.
J: Arthur and Nicolas are both incredibly talented, insightful, and think outside the box. They respected our vision, helped us achieve it and made sure we all pushed ourselves to the limit.

Overcoats4HVUM: Are there any particular interests along social or political lines that particularly important to you?

H: I was a religion major in college so discrimination along religious lines, religious freedom, and islamophobia are of interest to me, especially given the current political climate.
J: I studied Middle East history and politics in college and that still remains important to me. I follow what’s happening in Palestine and when we’re not touring I volunteer at the Arab American Family Support Center in Brooklyn which has a free immigration clinic to help folks with their legal questions. Both of us try to remain politically and socially engaged or at least conscious.
H: When we’re touring, it’s hard to do anything except survive- eat, sleep, drive, play a show… then repeat. The interesting thing about touring post Trump election is that we are heading to a lot of cities where many folks voted for him. And we wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to travel to so many of these cities . It feels especially important to play in these places for anyone who wants to be there with us. And it feels important and good to yell “the future is female” at the beginning of The Fog, given that women’s futures are being controlled by the current administration. There is a lot at stake.

HVUM: Finally, what outside of music do you consider fun? What do you do for “kicks”?

H: We’re both visual artists as well as musicians so we often paint or draw for fun. For real fun, we love bowling.
J: Yeah sorry, we’re losers. Our hobbies include painting, bowling and going to concerts and I think that’s about it!

HVUM: Losers? No way! Painting and bowling are very cool! Hana Elion, JJ, l thank you very much for taking time twith us. We know that you’ll continue to perform and release exciting new work in the near future, so let’s stay in contact. We’ll see you in Paris very soon!

Visit Overcoats at http://www.overcoatsmusic.com/