Overcoats is the only thing Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell want to do. All day, every day, they tell me. Sitting in Hana’s sunny bedroom, I’m chatting with her and JJ about Overcoats, their electro soul-folk project. Hana’s bed—“our bed,” as the two of them describe it—is where it all happens. It’s where Hana and JJ (both class of 2015) write their songs, merging artistic visions that come from different places but always seem to end up in the same place, the right place. They joke that they’re literally merging as people, sometimes unable to distinguish one voice from the other in their songs. What comes of this, they tell me, is a musical project with a coherence and sound that neither of them have attained before, and they’re really excited about it. Their excitement certainly isn’t misplaced.
Overcoats’ debut single “Little Memory” is smooth, dark, and spacious. It’s a bouquet of two voices blooming soulfully together, wrapped in dusky reverb and subtle instrumentation. A sense of intimacy sets in with the first line “I saw you in my dream,” and it’s hard not to be drawn in, to immediately feel like you’re a part of Overcoats’ world. Hana and JJ have been making music together since their Freshman year at Wes, and it's easy to hear how much this time has done for them as a band. Their harmonies resonate not only with confidence and musicianship, but with friendship too. You can feel the trust and mutual understanding between Hana and JJ as they weave together their delicate, intricately sung phrases.
Overcoats have been recording at Wesleyan's Red Feather Studios with Zach Carlson and Michael Vaughan, and headed down to New York to produce their tracks with Wes alum Myles Potters. Hana and JJ plan to travel between NYC and Wes throughout the rest of the Spring to complete their debut EP with him. He also produced Wes alum poet and rapper Evan Okun’s new Well Lit EP which features JJ on "Light Stained." Potters' production style is lush but minimalist, subtly framing Overcoats’ powerful songwriting and musicality. Sparse, ringing guitar and sonorous plucks of bass shape the background of “Little Memory" but also maintain their distance, staying well beneath the shimmering vocal atmosphere. This space adds to the intimacy of "Little Memory," leaving nothing between you and the delicate strokes Hana and JJ paint with their voices.
“Pick me up don’t run too fast / I promise I’ll hold on till I’m the last one standin,” Hana and JJ sing; “Down and down I’ll go with you / till all that’s left is one little memory.” Memory and its reduction, its residual glow, rises as one of “Little Memory’s” meditations. Many of Overcoats’ songs are rooted in a feeling, the “stamp” of a particular moment, Hana and JJ explain to me. In fact, ideas of time and memory arise so often in our conversation that JJ suggests that their genre could be “time-soul,” before conceding that it’s too early to pin themselves down to a specific genre.
I’m told that the four other songs on Overcoats’ debut EP will vary quite a bit from the spaciously-rendered introspection of “Little Memory.” Drums and synthesizers will play more central roles in other songs on the album, but Hana and JJ agree that they will maintain a minimalism in everything they do. They’ve been experimenting with dance beats and anthems, songs they admit to dancing to themselves, and one of these may be on the EP. But maybe not, they say, for the sake of the album's coherency. A fine justification, but an intriguing idea nonetheless. The apparent range of Overcoats’ songwriting is compelling, and foreshadows stylistic progression in future releases.
When I ask about the origin of the name Overcoats, JJ explains that "an overcoat is kind of like a piece of armor. The name is about not only giving yourself strength, but also the vulnerability that hides underneath the overcoat. The cover of our album, there's an ambiguity to it, we don't necessarily want people to know what they're about to hear. Our music is vulnerable, we're singing about our feelings, but we have this protective layer over us that we can choose to shed or not. Before this year I was never really able to express a sentiment in this kind of encapsulated way. When we wrote Little Memory, those were dark times." "It was hard to sing it," Hana agrees, "but the sense of Overcoats as a band relates to how writing music gives us strength. When we put our feelings on paper, we don't feel them anymore, so writing and playing these songs is a way to get rid of these harder feelings, make sense of them, and create a shell of strength, like an overcoat."
Overcoats will release a new single from their debut EP every 3 weeks, and plan to drop the entire album in May. They'll play their first show at Wes opening for Nick Hakim on April 25th.