Coathangers: growing older but not growing up – The Coathangers’ Stephanie Luke aka Rusty on how the three-piece has hit on a more mature sound for latest album, Nosebleed Weekend, but won’t be settling down anytime soon
The past two years have been intense for The Coathangers. With the departure of Bebe (Candice Jones) in late 2013, they went from a four-piece to a trio and set about making all the adjustments that entails. On top of that, their latest release, Nosebleed Weekend, was the first album recorded outside their home base of Atlanta, Georgia.
The crew, made up of Minnie (Meredith Franco – bass/vocals), Crook Kid (Julia Kugel – guitars/vocals) and Rusty Coathanger (Stephanie Luke – drums/vocals), upped sticks and made a beeline for Valentine Recording Studios in North Hollywood. They made a date with producer Nic Jodoin (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and initiated the first recording session at the studios since legendary producer Jimmy Valentine (Bing Crosby, Frank Zappa, The Beach Boys) closed the business in 1979.
The month-long hunker down in California to write and record proved to be an affecting experience for the band, and has made a distinctive impact on the album: it’s a collection of tracks that displays a sense of maturity, yet still has the injection of fun their previous records are known for.
Past albums titles Larceny & Old Lace, Suck My Shirt and Scramble took their inspiration from leftfield sources – the first from an episode of The Golden Girls, the second from an incident where their producer spilled Tequila on himself and the third from a method of crowding into hotel rooms on the sly.
So what’s the story behind the latest? “It’s more of a message than a great story,” Stephanie tells TGA. “The thinking behind the phrase ‘Nosebleed Weekend’ is basically based on karma. Kind of like, what goes around comes around, you give shit or do me wrong, then maybe the same comes back to you. Maybe in the form of a punch in the nose?”
She goes on, “There’s also a quite literal translation in that our bassist (Minnie) has the awful luck of getting nosebleeds on tour, usually having to do with stress or elevation changes. Some have joked about the idea of a drug translation, but that isn’t the case. Although, we always like to be a l’il tongue-in-cheek, so whatevs.”
Each of their albums has been described by the group as a snapshot of what was happening in their lives at the time. Stephanie sees Nosebleed Weekend as a signifier that the band is in a really great place right now.
“We worked really hard on this album,” she says. “And now we are getting great feedback. So, it’s a great snapshot to be a part of.”
The Coathangers have been playing music together since 2006. They started off as part of a joke, performing at a party. Off the back of that, they were offered – to their surprise – the opportunity to open for fellow Atlanta five-piece The Hiss.
Stephanie moved to Los Angeles soon after, where she stayed for a while working as a tour manager, before moving back to Atlanta once and for all. “It was fun for a bit, but it’s a really strenuous and thankless job,” she says. As The Coathangers began to tour extensively, the experience proved to be an enormous help.
“It’s what taught me how to tour and get gigs,” she explains. “We sometimes don’t have help on certain tours, so we end up tour managing ourselves anyways. So it’s only different in the fact we get to play at the end of the day.”
Having recently immersed themselves in an extensive European tour, they have become well versed at life on the road. Not only have they nailed the art of touring – and it is an art – but they have also mastered live shows. Coathangers gigs are joyous and raucous affairs and feature the trio interacting with, cracking up and blowing away audiences with their wicked combination of hilarity and punk principles. Their latest album and subsequent shows in support of it have been leaving a trail of devotees, both old and new, in their wake.
A favourite track on the latest album, Squeeki Tiki, features a chorus played entirely on a rubber squeeze-toy. This isn’t easy to recreate while touring, as they need a ready supply of squeeze toys. “My co-worker Adrian at The Star Bar (on her day job, Stephanie works as a bartender at the beloved Atlanta haunt) actually bought Julia a whole box because someone stole hers at our record release in Atlanta. We are all stocked up and ready to go! However, they do not need to be tiki-shaped…”
Joking and goofing around are all part of the Coathangers’ make-up. Known for their engaging live shows, they relate to and interact with audiences in a way that is increasingly scarce, even in the most off-the-beaten track venues.
“We take ourselves seriously, but never too seriously,” says Stephanie. “At the end of the day, we aren’t curing cancer, you know? The power of humour – we think – actually reminds people that you can be in a band, but should never put yourselves above your fans or the music itself.”
Their DIY, punk ethos has fuelled the band along the way. Their decade-long career, which started by chance, has seen The Coathangers transition from lighthearted twentysomethings to credible thirtysomethings, and what began as a laugh has now become a commitment. These shifting priorities come with added pressure, with people often asking if they’re thinking about settling down.
“It’s a bizarre pressure, but we don’t think it’s necessarily sexist,” says Stephanie. “It’s almost more of a natural issue of biology to us. I mean, you can go on tour if you’re pregnant, but none of us really would want to, you know? We just are really committed to doing the band at the moment, and we all hold serious relationships back at home while doing so.”
Seeing The Coathangers hang up their guitars and call it a day is unthinkable. Their music is so addictive and engaging, it would trigger some serious withdrawal symptoms if these guys were to give it up. But, they’re all for encouraging others to pick up their mantle. If seeing The Coathangers going to town on stage conjures up yearnings to pick up a guitar for yourself, Stephanie urges you to do it, and says that age or what people might think shouldn’t stand in your way: “Just do it! Who cares how old someone is? If it’s something you really are interested in or passionate about, nothing will hold you back, not even your fears or other people’s judgement.”
Most important, believes Stephanie, is to have fun. Having fun when there are lots of people depending on you to deliver on stage and putting across those fun vibes isn’t as easy as it sounds and though The Coathangers make it seem effortless, it does actually take some graft – whatever they might suggest. But keep it up, Coathangers. We’re loving your (hard) work.
The Coathangers are touring in the US throughout the summer.