The Overcoats on music and friendship

On tour with their debut album “YOUNG,” The Overcoats embrace vulnerability through minimalist melody and honest songwriting. On Nov. 16 they’ll be performing in Gardner lounge. The S&B’s Ania Chamberlin and Naomi Worob interviewed members Hana Eilon and JJ Mitchell to discuss friendship, inspiration and the creative process.

Ania Chamberlin: What kind of music did you both grow up listening to?

Hana Elion: I liked the classics like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Dixie Chicks, stuff like that. Coldplay. I liked a lot of pop music and I liked a lot of folk music too. Yeah, my parents mostly listened to …  Prince, and they really like lots of, like, really energetic funk and R&B. So I had a little bit of that around as well. But I mostly liked pop and folk music.

JJ Mitchell: I think I definitely got into Amy Winehouse. Before high school, I don’t know what I listened to. I think Madonna. … We both listened to Madonna growing up.

Naomi Worob: We noticed that one of the strong things about your music is that you have a very tight and beautiful relationship, and that contributes a lot to your sound and what you’re able to do together. We were wondering how that relationship has informed your music?

JM: I think that’s spot on. We were definitely friends first and foremost, before we had even thought about starting a musical project together. … We were friends since our first week of freshman year.

HE: [We] bonded over mutual love of anthropology and cheese puffs.

JM: We would always just goof around and hang out and we were always there for each other all four years of college — and we’re both very creative people so that was always part of our friendship. … I would visit Hana in the painting studios in the art center of our college and see what she was working on. And she would come see me in the print shop and we were always involved in each others’ artistic lives. We sang a cappella together, but we weren’t “Overcoats” until sort of the last couple months.

NW: It seems like you started writing music at a very specific point in your college career and in your life. How does that inform the music?

HE: I think we started writing together when we both really needed an outlet to make sense of what we were going through. We were both having intense relationships and we were getting ready to graduate college and we were talking about stuff that was happening with our families. Writing became this outlet through which to understand the world and release healing and all of this stuff. Once it became our outlet, it has been that outlet since. So, I think it was really just all the stuff that we were going through and we were like, “Let’s write something about this — write something about what we’re already talking about,” and that’s how it started.

AC: I was wondering what input you have about the creative process and how you find a balance of how personal you want to be and how much of yourself you can put into an album?

JM: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I’m not sure how much of it is a conscious decision to include versus exclude certain personal facts, or to write in a slightly more universal tone. I don’t know how much of it is predetermined by us, but I think one thing that helps in a collaboration … is that you can bounce these ideas off of one another. I think Hana and I will write in a way where we’ll try something and if the other person is like “I know exactly what that feeling is,” or like … “I understand what you’re saying, but this is a clearer way of saying it.” We have each other to kind of translate our deepest feelings into a form that is, you know, readable to the outside world and makes sense as a song that others could connect to. I think we use our friendship as a jumping off point for that. We never really limit ourselves. We’re not like “that’s too personal.” We lay it all out there.

AC: What were your plans for after graduation before you realized that you could make this music thing work?

JM: That’s a funny question because I feel like part of the reason that we ended up being able to pursue this is because neither of us had a concrete plan. … There was sort of nothing really that captured me in a way where I was like, “I want to leave school and do this particular job,” or whatever. We’re both multifaceted people, interested in both creative things and also more intellectually driven as well. I studied Middle Eastern politics and Hana studied philosophy of religion, so there was not a clear path for us. … And as we gained momentum and traction, we were just like, “Okay, let’s keep going, this is really, really good.” And now it’s been almost three years and I haven’t really had the desire to do anything else.

HE: Yeah, I think it’s just like following the passion. If there’s something you’re passionate about, go do that and throw your whole heart into it. There’s things that we could’ve done — and we did do some of them.  … I think [music] was inspiring us in a way that nothing else was. So whatever it is, whether its a nine-to-five or not, I think it’s just about following the passion.


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