Happy Accidents

The Coathangers’ party-starting Rock testifies to the power of chasing whims and instincts

click to enlarge Started as a lark, The Coathangers have developed into an internationally acclaimed Rock & Roll powerhouse.
Started as a lark, The Coathangers have developed into an internationally acclaimed Rock & Roll powerhouse.

P

unk Rock has a rich history of musicians sourcing political figures for inspiration. The Sex Pistols kicked the door open for the genre by gamely taking on the British government, Dead Kennedys needled California Gov. Jerry Brown on “California Über Alles” and Hardcore rabble-rousers Reagan Youth used their very moniker to mock the Gipper and Hitler in one sly motion. Then, in the 2000s, George W. Bush’s aggressive anti-terrorism strategies made him an everlasting (and easy) fount of inspiration for Punk bands. In a roundabout way, he was crucial to creation of The Coathangers.

While on a long road trip to an anti-Bush rally in Washington D.C. in the mid-’00s, Candice Jones, Julia Kugel and Stephanie Luke cooked up the idea of starting a band — an idea they had never talked about before — just so they could call it The Coathangers. It was, by all accounts, a crack about the notorious less-than-ideal abortion tool. Upon returning home, the trio — plus friend Meredith Franco — began cranking out clatter in living room practices. 

They were as ramshackle and haphazard a project you could find. Kugel used to play acoustic guitar but took over electric guitar duties and Jones played piano when she was younger so she got the keyboard. The other two members, meanwhile, were total novices. Although Luke had a drum set she acquired via an ex-boyfriend, she had never played drums before, and process of elimination determined that Franco would be picking up the bass for the first time. (Everybody sang.)

From all this, things began to snowball: They went from playing for the hell of it to practicing to practicing in a more official space to joining the bill on a house party show. A water main break nearly sank their inaugural show, but The Coathangers did eventually go on.

“Then we ended up going on tour,” Franco, 28, says, “but we never even thought we were going to play a show in general, nevermind tour and still be a band six years later.”

What separates the Garage-y Atlanta outfit (now a trio after Jones’ recent exit) from other authority-inspired Punk bands is that they never plotted to make political music. Really, much like the makeshift lineup assignments, nothing much about The Coathangers seems planned. During Franco’s CityBeat interview, variations on the phrase “It just happened” popped up repeatedly.

They weren’t inspired by any style of music or any certain aesthetic, and their taste for comedy — evidenced by their sarcastic, spastic “Nestle in My Boobies,” which is about what the title says — comes from no specific place either. To that end, the group’s skittish, disheveled, loud, lo-fi-leaning and often tongue-in-cheek music syncs seamlessly with the band’s origins. They are at once combative and earnest. Their first record was 2007’s The Coathangers and they’ve continued to run amok since.

“We didn’t even know what type of music we were going to play. We’re not like, ‘Oh, we’re going to play Punk. We’re going to play Rock & Roll,’ ” Franco says. “Now it’s still the same thing. We just write whatever and that’s what it is. [When people ask] ‘What kind of band are you in?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know. I guess it’s Rock & Roll.’ ”

On Facebook, The Coathangers call themselves “Yes! Wave,” a half-joke of a genre that plays off the noisy, Art Punk style No Wave and exalts the group’s peppiness and love of a good time. They’re often painted in the press as party animals in a live setting, which Franco cops to being accurate.

“When we first started, because we weren’t really that good at playing, we would try to have a party. We would make cupcakes and have balloons and confetti and try and take away the attention from us not [doing] that well at playing, so every show was a different party. We still do that,” she says. “We like to have fun and we want everybody else to have fun, too.”

The backstory behind the title of last March’s Suck My Shirt, the group’s fourth record, clicks with this ideology. The title comes from when the group bought a bottle of tequila during recording and then attempted to preserve the precious last drops by sipping them off someone’s shirt after a spill.

Though still lighthearted on record, the band members have grown to be more serious in how they approach writing the music and handling the idea of the group itself. Franco discusses the tremendous upsides she’s received because of The Coathangers, like meeting incredible people and traveling the globe. The three-piece will soon be embarking on its first European headlining tour and will hit Australia for the first time early next year. The band have most of 2015 mapped out from the recording side too, with 7-inches in the works and songs for a fifth record in the hopper.

It’s not been all peaches, though.

“The recent thing that happened that really sucked was when we got robbed in Portland,” Franco says, referencing an August incident. (They recouped some money with an Indiegogo campaign.) “It obviously happened while we were playing. To be having the best time — one of the best shows — and then to walk outside and have everything taken from you [was tough], but it wasn’t our equipment at least. But you know, stuff always happens that you don’t think is going to happen or you don’t expect it to be this way, but what are you going to do?”

Since The Coathangers initially formed, Franco says that the band members have remained like family through all the events they have experienced together. How does she feel about taking what was once just a gag so far?

“I guess we were kind of surprised at first. When we went on our first tour, I was really surprised, but now I’m just used to it. It’s my life,” she says with a laugh. “It is. It’s our lives. We still work and stuff, but this is our main thing. It’s not just a joke. This is our dreams coming true.” ©

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