Folk-electronica duo Overcoats were supposed to be headlining a tour right now in support of their third release, The Fight, which just came out in March. Instead, members Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell find themselves self-isolating in different states, with Mitchell in New York (where they are both normally based), and Elion in Massachusetts.
Still, they are glad that The Fight is out in the world because, in a strange way, the timing couldn’t be better for it, as Elion explains: “So many of the songs’ lyrics are really poignant, given how they relate to feelings of isolation and apocalypse. There’s obviously no way we could have predicted what we’re going through right now, but a lot of the songs do talk about fighting for a world we want to see and getting through times of struggle.”
Many of the songs on The Fight address issues like politics, climate change, and gender representation, although their latest single “The Fight (Reprise)” is more of a general rallying call – a role it played for Elion and Mitchell themselves as soon as they wrote it: “It wasn’t the first song that we wrote for the record; it was somewhere in the middle,” Mitchell says. “So we had this ‘eureka’ moment because it pointed out to us the thread that tied together a lot of what we had already written, and also what we wanted to keep writing about. Hearing the word ‘fight’ and having a song really focused on that made us realize more generally that that was the concept [for the album].”
Also, Mitchell notes, “Something strange had happened where most of the songs from the album contain the word ‘fight’ in the lyrics,” including songs that had been written months before. “It was maybe in a different context, like a fight with a significant other – not necessarily exactly the same definition of the word – but that clued us in to the fact that everything that we were writing was focused around this theme.”
“The Fight” was so important, in fact, that they ended up creating two versions of the song – an anthemic rock version that’s the album’s title track, and the ballad version, “The Fight (Reprise),” that’s being released as a single on April 10. Both renditions display the distinctive vocal harmonies and folk-electronica blend that have set Overcoats apart from their very beginning.
The band began after Mitchell and Elion met on their very first day in college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, when they discovered they had the same favorite song (“You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse). They sang it together – in the dorm bathroom, as Mitchell recalls (“Great acoustics in there,” she notes) – and immediately realized that their voices blended perfectly.
“From the first moment we did it, that was all we wanted to do,” Elion recalls. Mitchell agrees: “That’s definitely been the core of what we do since day one. I feel like the whole project is because of, and for, the harmonies, and what it sounds like when we sing together. We were so floored by the way that our voices go together. It does feel like magic. When we sing through a new line, we just smile because that is still so incredible.”
They also bonded over their shared love for electronica bands such as LCD Soundsystem, but they also admired classic artists like Simon & Garfunkel and country groups like Dixie Chicks. This confluence of diverse influences eventually led them to create their own unique folk-electronica sound.
As their college graduation approached, they found themselves straying from the path that their peers were taking. Instead of lining up jobs, Michell says, “The only thing that we wanted to do was make music. So that was a microcosm of what it is to be a musician, to do the thing that helps you heal and helps other people heal and find your path. And so I think we just had to follow that feeling. There was something very magnetic about making music together.”
Following their hearts, they moved to Dublin, Ireland for six months, where they soaked up the city’s varied musical influences, from folk singers at open mic nights to dance clubs playing hypnotizing beats. Both genres found their way into the songs on their 2015 self-titled debut EP, as well as their 2017 full-length release, YOUNG.
It has been a remarkable and unexpected career for Mitchell and Elion, and they both firmly believe that they’ve succeeded because of their strong friendship. “We’ve always had each other, and I think that has allowed us each to take risks in our own personal lives as well as in our career together,” Elion says. “Even in tough times, both of us having such belief in the other has helped us each keep going. I think both of us really encouraging each other is what gives us the strength to do everything we’ve done.”
Because their bond is so close, Mitchell and Elion agree that it’s unlikely that Overcoats will ever expand its membership beyond its current duo form. “Overcoats has always been just an extension of our friendship and our art-making together,” Elion says, “and so I think it’s really important to us that it’s always the two of us and that we know that we can do all of this ourselves. I think it’s been something that feels important to us to be able to really have ownership over what we do.”
“I also think that there’s a certain vulnerability that happens when we write music together,” Mitchell says, adding that in the past, when they’ve attempted to let others into their songwriting process, “there’s a distance and some walls up that I think mean that we can’t write as openly when there are other collaborators involved for that part of the process, and so we quickly realized that we [only] like to write with each other and talk about what we’re going through and be really honest and open and then the lyrics flow from that. Because it’s ultimately about empathizing with each other’s experiences and then taking those things and writing something beautiful from that.”
Mitchell and Elion’s closeness is easy to see when they do their weekly “Friday Night Fights” Instagram series, which they’ve begun since their tour dates to support The Fight had to be cancelled. “It definitely was a challenge to figure out ways that we could perform the music for people anyway, and connect with people and see how they’re enjoying the record,” Mitchell says. “It’s kind of like a game show. There’s a section where we do ridiculous things like play Hot Seat with each other or read each other’s tarot cards. Then we do an acoustic rendition of a different song from the record each week.”
It may not be as good as a headlining tour, but until that can happen, Elion and Mitchell are clearly thrilled to share their new material with the world, via any means necessary. As Elion says, “With this album, since we worked on it for such a long time, there was always a feeling of, ‘I just want to get it out.’ And now, hopefully the album is providing some solace for people as they’re hearing it during this time.”