Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell talk about their new album and their evolving sound.
Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell are not just musical collaborators as Overcoats, they are also longtime friends, adopting a sisterhood of 12 years. Having just released their third full length album, “Winner,” the dynamic duo is gearing up for their North American tour and settling into their next era. Even with a more stripped-down Americana sound on this record, both Elion and Mitchell are not letting go of their love of electro-pop sound — or any other style for that matter. They are staying true to self, while making fun of themselves in the process.
Elion and Mitchell are perfectly in sync. You can hear it in their music, their harmonizing voices nearly mirroring each other in tone. Off-mic when they disagree on some things, they are still finishing each other’s sentences. With “Winner” — an album unpacking shared experiences departing from their old record label, parting ways with lovers and growing older but not feeling older — it’s obvious the pair just understands each other.
We spoke to Overcoats on the day of their album release, the duo’s excitement palpable. As a part of their big day, we talked with them about their creative process for this record, their evolving sound and their upcoming North American tour.
District Fray: So obviously this is a big day for the two of you. How does it feel to be releasing your album “Winner” today?
Hana Elion: Feels really amazing. Long time coming. It’s so crazy the time it takes between when you finish making a piece of work to when it’s out in the world. Sometimes it feels really long. This doesn’t feel that long to me. This feels shorter than previously, so the music feels fresh and exciting. I’m having a very happy day.
How are you feeling, JJ?
JJ Mitchell: I feel this time, it has been a really long time. We’ve been sitting with these songs, and nobody else has heard them. So I mean, similarly, I’m so happy that it’s out now, [but] I’m already like, when can we record our next album? It feels so good to release stuff that I want the next thing to be ready really soon. Because it’s such an amazing feeling.
It’s good to hear that the creative juices are still flowing. What’s been the biggest difference between this project and the last few projects you’ve worked on in terms of songwriting and your creative process, especially compared to “The Fight”?
Mitchell: There’s been two main differences. One is being really open to collaboration on this project. I think we started to do that with “The Fight.” But this record, we really opened up our process to other brilliant minds. I feel like in a lot of those songs, just working with those people helped us communicate really complicated feelings. The second difference is we didn’t in the process of making this album try to dress anything up in fancy clothes. Nothing feels overproduced, and I think that felt different than the last album process, which was really angsty and wanting to throw loads of walls of guitar on songs. With this album, we wanted a more organic and a more vulnerable sound.
I know that the two of you have displayed a lot of love for electro-pop with your first album, “Young,” and then indie folk and alternative rock. Why are these the styles that you’re drawn to? How did you find your sound — or are you still finding it?
Elion: It’s a constant process, and it’s one that I think we both feel is allowed to evolve. It doesn’t have to be this thing where something stays the same. It does change based on our lives and new things we get inspired by. We’ve always loved electronic music and our live show is still going to definitely have good elements of that. It’s going to still be dance-y. But, the way we started writing, and the way we’ve always written, is pretty much just to a guitar. We wanted to do something where we were stripping a lot of the production away.
Along those lines, you worked with producer Daniel Tashian. I know the both of you love Kacey Musgraves and he produced for her. From working on this album a lot in Nashville and working with Tashian, did that influence this stripped-down style?
Mitchell: Definitely. The way we ended up working with Daniel happened very organically. We just had one writing session booked with him on a trip to Nashville where we were just bopping around, trying to work on songs for our record. The relationship we developed in one session was so magnetic and felt so positive, exciting and challenging in a good way, that we wanted to make the whole project with him. We’re very creatively on the same page and that’s kind of hard to find. We’re mega fans of Kacey Musgraves. So it was an added bonus that he had worked on one of our favorite albums to date. But I think that’s one of his talents — to help artists figure out who they are. I think the fact we were in Nashville, the fact we were working with him, meant a lot of the kind of flourishes that ended up in the sonic palette were more Americana leaning, a little more country-leaning. One of our biggest influences for us growing up was The Chicks. And so returning to that sort of integral group of songs that came out when we were teenagers felt really right for this moment.
Tell me about writing your track “New Suede Shoes.” There seems to be a lot of themes about getting older but not really feeling like you’re ready yet.
Elion: This one is really based on a true story. We had gone to Daniel’s studio for our first session. It was the first time we were meeting him. We were nervous, tired, et cetera. And we had gotten some iced coffees and we sat on his couch. I reached for something and spilled my iced coffee all over his studio, and also all over my new suede shoes I had just gotten. I nearly cried. Because I was like, “This is so embarrassing. These are my new shoes. Like, what the hell, I’m so clumsy, this is just a mess.” We were talking to Daniel about the album and he was like, “You guys are really serious. You just need to have fun with it.” And we responded, “That’s an insane concept. How could we have fun? We’re freaking out all the time.” And he was like, “Let’s write a song about this, you just spilled coffee on your shoes.” That was not really what we wanted to write. We wanted to write like, “Slow Burn” [by Kacey Musgraves]. Daniel just really pushed us to be less precious about it and that ended up instilling the song with this freedom that we had a hard time accessing in our songwriting for a while. There was a lot of pressure to make a great album and it ended up really influencing the general energy of how we approached the record which was trying to just have fun and make decisions in the present moment.
So my next question is what you’re most excited about going on tour, but being that both of you have severe stage fright…
Elion: No, it’s gotten better! It’s gotten a lot better.
Mitchell: I think it’s been so long since we’ve been able to promote and share our music in a live capacity where we obviously perform live, but also meet our fans in person. I feel like that’s how we’ve built really strong relationships with our listeners. I’m just excited for people to hold the vinyl in their hands. We made it for them. I think that kind of interpersonal piece has just been missing for the last few years because of the pandemic.
Elion: I’ll just add that I’m excited to wear our own merch for a month straight. And nobody can say anything to me about it.
Hana, you’re from D.C. I was wondering, even though you already announced your tour without a D.C. stop, is there one on the horizon?
Elion: Yes, we do have a D.C. show on the horizon. It’s just not announced yet. So keep an eye out. We’re going to come at least once this year, if not more times. We also try to play a private benefit for gun violence victims every year [in the D.C. area] that’s run by friends of ours. We usually do a post about that when it happens. So keep an eye out for that as well.
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