Getting to Know The Coathangers: A Bitchtopia Interview

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The Coathangers is an Atlanta-based band made up by Meredith Franco (Minnie), Julia Kugel (Crook Kid),  and Stephanie Luke (Rusty).What makes them stand out from other similar bands is the fact that they switch instruments during their songs and easily combine aggressiveness with playfulness. Their lyrics are blunt and relatable and it is evident that they have a strong bond with each other.

Last year, we interviewed the band during their North American tour while they were promoting their most recent album, Suck My Shirt.I was able to catch up with them in London during their European tour to discuss their evolution as a band, their touring experience and the story behind their stage names.

When you started out, you had no previous experience as band. How did you decide that you actually want to become a band and do this for real?

Julia:  It was around the time that we made our second record. We were like, “Oh shit. This is for real.” It’s true. We were messing around. It wasn’t a serious thing, a serious way to express ourselves, but it wasn’t We weren’t like, “We’re going to take over the world. I think we should woo some record labels.” It wasn’t like that at all.

Stephanie:  We’re just having a good time. We’ve always wanted to be in bands, we see our friends be in bands, so, “We can do that.”

Julia: Then the second record’s when we were like, “Oh shit, we’re a band?”

How did you actually start playing instruments and learning all of that? Was it right from the start or did you just- It took you a long time to actually feel like you’re really good at playing instruments?

Meredith:  We’re still trying to always get better and get better on our instruments.

Julia:  We could only get better when we first started. There was no other choice. We had no idea where to go, but only …

Stephanie: Nowhere to go but up.

Julia: We had little bit of training. What did you play? The clarinet? I played classical guitar and some piano and she played saxophone and started tinkering around on drums. Really always wanted to play drums.

Stephanie: That’s true.

Julia: I never used a pick before, it was a finger pick. I said, “Hey look at this.” Then she said, “Oh look at this.” She’s like, “Po po po po po.” Then we were like, “Oh great. We made a song. We’re so proud of ourselves. We should make another one.” Over the years, we’ve just been–when we realized we were a band and people are going to listening to us and we somehow represented all of womankind. We have to be fucking on it. That’s another thing. You don’t see a lot of guy bands be like, “How are you completely influential on every male out there?” It was girls— It was a responsibility handed to us. We were like, “We better get better.” so that we don’t get accused of things.

 What is the music scene like in Georgia?

Stephanie:  It’s good. It used to be more–when we were coming up, there’s a couple of local record labels that helped us get our start. It was a little bit more family oriented back then. Now, there’s still good bands. We’re not there a lot so we don’t really know for sure.

Julia: Every time we come now, there’s 10 new bands.

Stephanie: Everyone plays with everyone. Everyone helps. It’s very incestuous.

Julia: It’s great.

Stephanie: It’s good. It’s like family style thing.

Are there any in particular from your friends that made you realize that you actually want to be like them and do that?

Stephanie:  I don’t know.

Julia:  Of course, seeing The Black Lips play and all the stuff, it was the land they’re representing and they were very pro-Atlanta. Everywhere they went they would represent Atlanta. First time I saw them it was actually in Austin. I never saw them in Atlanta. I was like, “Hell yeah!” It was more like, “We’ll go out there. We’ll represent our city.” I was like, “Fuck you! We don’t care. In Atlanta we’re like bleh!” Beat Beat Beat was the first bands we went on tour and The Carbonas. It was very punk rock aggression. That was really attractive.

We were like, “We can do that.” That’s in us. We’re like that. We’re not like, “Uhh.” Which is fine if you sing about lollipops and ponies. It’s great, but that wasn’t where we were coming from. That’s what inspired us to just go and to see them act wild. We were like, “We’re wild too. That’s fine so fuck you all.” That was good.

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Photography: Tatiana Tenreyro

 

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 It seems like aggression is a pretty big part of this band.

Meredith:  It seems like if it were–maybe it’s a lot of frustration that comes out. We never thought we were that aggressive and we even never thought …

Julia:  It’s our way to let it out.

Stephanie: You start writing songs and we were like, “What am I going to write a song about?” For us, playing music is very cathartic. It comes from a very guttural place. I want to write about shit that makes me–that pisses me off or made me upset. Because then onstage, you can be whoever you want to be. When we get offstage, we’re like, “Hey what’s up?” That’s up there, but this is down here.

Julia: To a level, we’ve got …

Stephanie:To a level. We’re not hate mongers. We’re not hating everybody, but it’s just a cathartic thing. What do you want to sing about? I don’t want to sing about what we called…

Julia:  In your early 20s, when we were— It was during the Bush administration and we were angry, in general.

Stephanie: Atlanta’s a very violent city.

Julia: In your 20s you’re supposed to be upset about shit. You’re supposed to think you could change the world. That’s where we were coming from. We were like, “Bah!”

Stephanie: In an angry place, a frustrated place.

Julia: Yeah. A frustrated place, no angry, just frustrated and feeling this…the voices are really–the only weapon we had was our voice.

How much do you draw from personal experiences in terms of our writing?

Julia: All of it.

Stephanie: It’s all, personally. For the most part. Some are more fun, but that’s even personal. About the way we joke about stuff. Like a country song or …

Julia:  It’s almost an homage to … It’s all personal.

Stephanie: It’s all personal, just different ways …

Julia:  We write happy songs too or sound happy, but they sound happy but they tell you to go way or something. My Baby is a good one.

Stephanie: That’s what music is, I think, it all is for us. We grew up, we’ll sing to bands that were singing about personal things. I think, I don’t know.

Julia:  I think everyone has to write about personal stuff.

Stephanie:  Isn’t that what music is for?

Julia:  I think I head Bruce Springsteen once say he got over all his personal shit and he started telling other people’s stories. We’re not at that point yet. We’re still telling our own stories.

  For you specifically (Julia), how does writing for Coathangers differ from White Woods?

Julia:  Because this is a group thing. White Woods is stuff that I’ve always done and it’s softer. It’s not about ponies, but it sounds like it could be. It’s more personal in a different way. It’s the softer side of serious. It explores in a completely different part of who I am and my personality. This is more …

Stephanie: It almost has a tragic sound to it in a very poetic… It’s more of a—

Julia:  It’s just different.

Stephanie: We’re writing stories and maybe we’re writing more poems. It’s great.

Meredith: Because that’s you.

Julia: This is a completely different experience in writing because all 3 of us have a say and it’s everyone’s influence. That is completely out of control of everything and that feels nice too, to not have to— I do it exactly how I want it and boom. There’s no pressure, there’s no timetable, there’s no anything. It’s just, whenever it’s done, it’s done. Here, it’s become our life. It’s a completely different experience.

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What is tour life for you? You seem to go on perfectly well.

Julia: Yeah.

Stephanie:We’ve known each other for a very long time. I think that helps.

Meredith: We’re sisters.

Julia: Yeah we’re sisters. We fight like sisters and we love each other like sisters. It’s forever. it’s forever.

Meredith: Sucker!

Julia:That’s right. Even if you piss me off or I piss you off, we’re cool. I love you anyway.

Stephanie: That’s the best part. We could be completely honest with each other and we have to move on and grow from it. I’ve grown more in this band than I ever would have.

Julia: We have to hang out every day for the next few weeks. It doesn’t matter. We learn to let go of a lot of stuff.

What’s been the best place you’ve toured so far in?

Stephanie:    London.

Julia:    London!

Stephanie:    It’s all so different. Has a great thing about it. Coming to Europe in general was great.

Julia:  It was a huge step, playing England for the first time. It was also huge, we just went to Australia and Japan. Japan is a completely different world of amazing, wonderful, confusing stuff, you’re just almost lost in this Disneyland.

Stephanie:  A different world. Almost.

Julia: Completely different.

Stephanie:  Because it is. It’s totally different.

Julia:  Beautiful and it’s amazing. If you don’t know Japanese, you don’t know anything. It’s very humbling to feel like … The bands there are really amazing. They play so hard and so technically well.

Meredith:  We learned a lot.

Julia: We learned a lot. We pushed ourselves. We had to play for an hour and a half at some shows.

Meredith: We usually play for 45 minutes.

Julia: That’s a long time.

Stephanie: What do we remember? What are we going to do?

Julia:  If we don’t have enough—

Meredith: We can repeat songs.

Stephanie: That was the most interesting place we’ve toured.

Julia:Going from Australia to Japan to Australia is the wilder England. There’s California and Texas and England and Australia’s like they all had a baby. Everyone’s chilling then you go to Japan and everyone’s so on and so nice. Touring in general, every tour is different. We can do Europe one time and it’ll be one experience, because it’s winter time. We’ll do it another time and it’s summer time. It’s completely different experience. The US, we got to see the US tour. That was pretty amazing. When we saw the desert the first time, driving through was like, “We have a desert in the country? Fuck! It’s a big country. It’s huge. Really big.”

Meredith: Even Canada. Going through national parks. It’s so beautiful.

Stephanie: We love it all.

Meredith: Bottom line, we can’t pick.

Stephanie: Everywhere is great.

Julia:Mostly London.

Stephanie: London is great.

 Do you have any weird or interesting stories about touring in London?

Stephanie: There’s got to be one.

Julia:  Weird or  interesting…

Stephanie:  I don’t know if we can say it, but at the last show, that guy came up to us and asked us to write that song. That was interesting. Can we say that?

Julia: Probably. We got to co-write, basically, with Jeffrey Lee Pierce. We used to using his lyrics to write a song for a compilation that they do every year of Gun Club covers and stuff. After he saw the show, the man that was in charge of it, he was like, “He usually don’t do this, but you guys, I’ll give you the lyrics and you can put it to music.” That was fucking amazing.

Stephanie:  Because we do a Gun Club cover and he was that. He was like, “I like the way you do that.” That’s the biggest honor ever.

Julia:   That happened in London, for sure.

Stephanie: That was at the Shacklewell Arms.

Julia: That was really amazing.

Meredith: All of our shows are really good here.

Stephanie:  London knows how to burn down.

Julia: That’s really good.

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Tell me about your stage names. I still don’t know the reason why you chose stage names when your music is so personal. 

Stephanie: That’s a good question.

Julia: That’s a good question. Because in the beginning, we’re like The Ramones. Everyone’s last name would be Coathanger and who would I be? Because we’ve setup a Myspace and we were like, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we … ”

Meredith: We didn’t want to put our real names.

Julia:It’s Minnie, she’s small, and Rusty because she’s rusty. Rusty! It all fits and I’m Crook Kid, because I’m crooked. Literally my face is crooked. The crooked smile.

Stephanie:  No. You’re beautiful.

Julia:  It’s also a play off of the Coathanger thing. Probably, when you start out, you’re a little bit more guarded. You’re like, “You’re personal and exposing yourself, but you don’t want people to get too close and start poking at you.” It was really nerve-wracking for us to even get on the stage and play. The first show, people are like, “You should play the show.” We were like, “No. No thank you. I think we’re good. We’ll just wait until next time.” We were guarded in that way. We wanted to express ourselves, but we don’t want to be …

Stephanie:  You’ll only know our real name if you really know us.

Julia:    If you read an article.

Meredith:   At shows and stuff and  on tour, people like, “Minnie! Rusty! Crook Kid ” If someone says my real name, I’m like…

Stephanie:    “Who are you?”

Meredith:      “Who are you talking to?”, “Who the heck are you?”

Stephanie:    I think now, it’s different because it’s gotten out and that’s okay.

Julia:    When they do interviews, we’ll … It’s out there.

Stephanie:    It’s more like a nickname. Now it’s a nickname.

Meredith:      It’s a nickname.

Stephanie:    It’s a personal …

Meredith:      People only call me Minnie, but a lot of people— Shannon will only call me Minnie. Some people.

Julia:    So did Chris in Japan. Julia-chan and Minnie-chan.

Minnie-chan sounds cute as fuck.

Stephanie:    Fact.

Julia:   For me, I was a different person when I was onstage at first when we started out, because I am more of reserved and stuff. When we were onstage and I was screaming my balls off, it wasn’t something that I did on regular. It is what it is. It was just a funny thing. The whole thing came out like, “Wouldn’t it be stupid if we did that?” We’re like, “Yeah.” Then people started like, “Why did you do this?”, “I don’t know.” Sometimes we just thought about it.

Meredith:      I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.

Stephanie:    I guess we haven’t thought about anything entirely.

  How do you think you have involved as a band since you started out in 2006?

Julia:     Minnie-chan?

Meredith:    How haven’t we?

Julia:    In every way.

Stephanie:    Full circle.

Meredith:    From playing to …

Stephanie:   Psychologically, personally.

Julia:    Learning to be onstage, learning how to treat it more seriously, and learning how to answer questions about yourself. A lot of stuff. Because it was really odd being questioned about everything.

Stephanie: It’s not just learning how to play the instrument better. It’s also learning like, “This is who I am.” Because sometimes, these people will be like, “Because you did that, I did this.” I’m like, “Oh shit.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no.” I need to be a little bit…

 That actually happened?

Stephanie:    Yeah. Definitely. You’re more self-aware of things that you say and do. You know what you’re doing and why you’re doing them. Also, just learning how to deal with really difficult situations during on tour and survival.

Julia: Physically and mentally exhausting.

Stephanie: Also being grateful for all the things we’ve done. It’s full.

Julia:  It’s everything. We’ve seen the world through this thing. We’ve gone so many places through this band. It’s been a huge gift. For some reason, everywhere you go, people are like, “Come on. Come in my house. Do you need some food?” That we’ve never met and you really see the kindness of where— maybe growing up in Atlanta, you get to be a little bit more guarded, maybe you think everyone’s going to–not everyone, but a lot of people want to shoot you because we have a lot of violence there and stuff like that. Now, the people are just so kind. You go around the world and you see that everyone’s basically the same and everyone’s pretty kind. Those were a lot of lessons. This band has given us so much. I’m going to cry.

Stephanie:   I know. I feel so emotional.

Julia:  I’m gonna cry.

Stephanie:  Just get in here. Come in here. Put your hands around.

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