Listen: Overcoats Perform Music From 'Young,' Plus A Little Amy Winehouse

Apr 24, 2017

Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell met in college, and their friendship grew into a sisterhood. Today they share the stage together as the band Overcoats, singing in tight harmonies with voices that are nearly indistinguishable.

"I think we did feel a magic when we sang together," Mitchell says. "We could tell that our voices just sort of blended in this very crazy way, and kind of cradled one another.

Mitchell and Elon visited NPR's studios to perform selections from their debut album, Young, and talk about their lives and music with Ari Shapiro; along the way, they break into an a cappella rendition of the Amy Winehouse song they first bonded over as students. Hear the full conversation at the audio link.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell met in college. Their friendship grew into a sisterhood, and now they share the stage together, singing in tight harmonies with voices that are nearly indistinguishable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHTTIME HUNGER")

OVERCOATS: (Singing) Nighttime hunger and all the fears that it brings tend to fade in the light.

SHAPIRO: Two parts that have merged to form something new.

HANA ELION: Peanut butter and jelly, literally, yes, because we're different but we complement each other so well.

JJ MITCHELL: Wow, Wow.

SHAPIRO: Done.

ELION: I've got my radio face on today.

MITCHELL: Someone put their thinking cap on this morning.

SHAPIRO: Hana and JJ are now the band Overcoats with a debut album called "Young." They came by our studios to chat, play some music and sing, starting with the song "Nighttime Hunger."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHTTIME HUNGER")

OVERCOATS: (Singing) When the darkness comes, it takes everything from me.

MITCHELL: "Nighttime Hunger" for us is kind of an anthem against anxiety. We wrote it because we were both feeling a little bit depressed and anxious and kind of lost towards the end of college. And we came up with that chorus. And something about singing those lines, when the darkness comes, sort of banished the anxiety for us. And when you sing it you get lost in a different way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHTTIME HUNGER")

OVERCOATS: (Singing) Then each morning pulls me from the deep.

MITCHELL: Our music's been described as sounding like a diary entry that nobody was supposed to hear. And we love that...

ELION: Is that a compliment?

MITCHELL: ...That's coming across because for us, a lot of our purpose and in what we do in being musicians is we really like to sing about the things that people aren't talking about or feel uncomfortable sharing or feelings that feel shameful like depression, anxiety or, you know, being nervous or being - one of our songs says, I miss him more than I should. It's about those feelings that you don't want to admit to others and yourself.

SHAPIRO: There are plenty of songs about depression and anxiety that are themselves depressing songs. This is not at all a depressing song.

MITCHELL: Right.

ELION: Yeah. That's not our task. Our task is to take those feelings and make them empowering by the fact that you're admitting them.

SHAPIRO: And also, when you perform it, you dance to it.

ELION: Yes.

SHAPIRO: You're like...

ELION: Oh, we're having a great time.

SHAPIRO: ...Expelling the demons physically on the stage.

MITCHELL: Yes.

ELION: Yeah. That's what it feels like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHTTIME HUNGER")

OVERCOATS: (Singing) When the darkness comes, when, when, when, when the darkness comes...

SHAPIRO: Will you each tell me your first memory of the other?

ELION: We were in an anthropology class together, and JJ was, like, in a cool head band.

SHAPIRO: Is this freshman year?

MITCHELL: As was I. I'm sure...

SHAPIRO: Freshman year?

MITCHELL: Yeah, freshman year of college.

ELION: Head bands were in this year. This is six years ago. Oh, my God.

SHAPIRO: Oh, you're so old. You're so old.

ELION: I don't even feel like I've been alive for six years.

(LAUGHTER)

ELION: But I remember seeing...

MITCHELL: That's, like, half my life.

(LAUGHTER)

ELION: I remember seeing JJ in this class and connecting with her and thinking she was really cool and wanting to be her friend. And then I also remember the first time we sang together and we realized we had the same favorite song. But...

SHAPIRO: What was that favorite song?

ELION: That favorite song is "You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse.

SHAPIRO: And did the two of you sing that together?

ELION: We did.

MITCHELL: All the time.

ELION: We still do.

SHAPIRO: Will you just a little bit? You don't have to do the whole thing.

ELION: You go.

MITCHELL: (Singing) Meet you downstairs in the bar and hurt...

ELION AND MITCHELL: (Singing) Your rolled-up sleeves in your skull t-shirt. You say, what did you do with him today and sniffed me out like I was Tanqueray.

SHAPIRO: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

ELION: Steel trap.

SHAPIRO: So that was the first thing you sang together.

ELION: Yeah. I think so.

SHAPIRO: Is it weird to think that two young women in college might meet and become friends over an Overcoats song?

ELION: That just gave me chills all over my body.

MITCHELL: I have chills. (Laughter) I have chills.

ELION: Like, that would be incredible.

MITCHELL: Wow.

ELION: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Want to do another song?

ELION: We'd love to.

SHAPIRO: OK, tell us what this is going to be.

ELION: This is going to be "Little Memory." And this is actually the very first song that we ever wrote together. We sat down our senior year of college at Wesleyan.

SHAPIRO: How many years ago was that?

ELION: Two years.

MITCHELL: Two.

ELION: Yeah. And we were like, do you want to - do you feel inspired? You want to write something? And we wrote this start to finish.

ELION AND MITCHELL: (Singing) Through past lives lived with you, and I've been thinking 'bout if I'll see you again, hey. So pick me up and you can run as fast as you want, and we'll get lost for the last time. When it's solved then I'll let go. I just need one more little memory, little memory.

SHAPIRO: That was beautiful.

ELION: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Overcoats is here in the studio with us. The band is JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion. When you realized you had written this first song together at the end of your college career, did you think of it as the start of something that would become a music career? Or was it like, check, finally, we wrote a song, good job, now on with our lives?

MITCHELL: This is JJ. I think we did feel a magic when we sang together. We could tell that our voices just sort of blended in this very crazy way and kind of cradled one another. And we were like, oh, that's amazing.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: That's such a great word - cradled one another - to describe two voices fitting.

ELION: It's how it feels, yeah. All I know about it is, you know, all of our friends were, like, looking for jobs and, you know, we were both like thinking about that stuff, too, at the time and so we just kept going.

MITCHELL: We were writing theses at the time, and so for the first three months of songwriting together, we wrote all of our music from midnight to 3 a.m. because we would have to finish, like, chapter three. And then we'd, like, call each other and be like, OK, I did my writing. Where are you?

ELION: Finished my bibliography, want to come over?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Your roommates must have loved you.

ELION: Oh, they were so pissed by the end of the year.

MITCHELL: Yeah. But very quickly it sort of became the only thing we wanted to do. Music was definitely not what we thought our careers would be. But yeah, there was something really special.

SHAPIRO: What would you like to play to take us out on?

MITCHELL: We are going to play "Hold Me Close."

SHAPIRO: OK, tell us about this before you play it.

MITCHELL: For us, when we were writing it, it was about the men in our lives from generation to generation and what the modern man looks like to us. And how we...

ELION: (Unintelligible).

MITCHELL: Yeah, and how we have to react and live in relation to that.

SHAPIRO: JJ and Hana, thank you so much.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

ELION: Thank you so much for having us, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell are the duo Overcoats. Their debut album is called "Young."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ME CLOSE")

OVERCOATS: (Singing) His words don't mean a thing. It shows right through his teeth. He walks the world like I should know what it means. He's a man of armor, don't blink, no need to please, but he still looks to me to cuff his sleeves. So hold me close till the night turns gray. Different faces, but the song's the same. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.