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The Coathangers Hang Up Vulgarity, But Still Rock Hard

The Coathangers set themselves apart from the punk resurgence

Courtesy Coathangers

The conversation I have with the punk rock trio begins with Britney Spears: “‘You want a Maserati? You better work, bitch.’”

“I sing that line to myself all the time,” laughs The Coathangers’ guitarist and vocalist Julia Kugel-Montoya, referencing the 2013  pop anthem, “Work Bitch”. Spears didn’t exactly inspire the punk trio, but the line still rings in Kugel-Montoya's head six years after its premiere, especially now that she’s four days deep into the band’s disaster-prone West Coast tour. First there was a blizzard while trying to head from Portland to Seattle, as drummer Stephanie Luke was behind the wheel with zero visibility. “It was a total whiteout,” Kugel-Montoya says. Then came a mudslide. “We’re not used to that, but it’s definitely been an adventure.”

The group’s genesis began 13 years ago when The Coathangers unified during Atlanta’s burgeoning punk scene. “It was awesome, very familial,” she remembers of the scene’s early days. “Everyone was in a band with each other, trading members, but we stayed together. We had friends encouraging us. It was very positive and nurturing.” The environment wasn’t ideal, as the group started during Atlanta’s major crime wave. “We were always performing in the shittier areas and a lot of our friends got shot,” she says. “We had to really stick together.” While it’s a different climate now that the film industry has infiltrated the city and real estate in the area is booming,  that hasn’t stopped the band from remaining true to their unfiltered roots—only now it’s slightly tweaked.
It’s just so foreign to the rest of the world how deeply entrenched in gun culture we are. We look like we just shoot each other all the time.
Known for their brutally honest approach to message music, The Coathangers—named after the organizational tool that infamously doubles as a home abortion device—created music that generated a buzz which carried them for over a decade and a half, complete with a slew of albums, EP’s, live projects, and singles. Loud and lyrical, it was quintessential Punk, though things changed once the ears multiplied. “We used to be able to say anything because we didn’t think anyone was listening,” Kugel-Montoya reflects. “So there’s a freedom associated with being young and starting out and not feeling the repercussions of anything.” She continues, "We were assertive, maybe even aggressive and that attitude was fun, but after a while we almost feel more responsible now for what we say and how we say it.”  She points to their earlier cut “Tripod Machine,” where lines like, “I fucked you so hard I skinned my knees” wouldn’t exactly fit their 2019 credo. “Those lyrics were so ridiculous,” she jokes. “And the song was really thoughtful, but those lyrics? Yeah it can be a problem.”

The spring release of their project The Devil You Know upped the ante, as the group still provides musical poignancy, but its driven to a wider audience. They also opted to truly focus on having fun like they did when they first started. “It was honestly to just go back to the beginning and find our pure joy,” the artist says. “We clean-slated it, had some time off, and came back in.” The group took a two-month break from their extensively grueling tour schedule to regroup and find their collective voice. “We did do a few shows during that time, so it was a fake break,” She admits, though with the current political climate, there was still plenty of fodder. “Yeah, we were pretty riled up when we wrote it,” she adds. “Which we always are.”
The compilation boasts a sonic shift too, opting for more melodic tunes and harmonies that still relay the same messages as before, only less “brash” as Julia puts it. “I don’t think we consciously censored ourselves or felt censored,” she explains. “We just wanted to be more thoughtful. We didn’t feel stifled. It was a nice opportunity to progress. All of our records have been a progression into newer territories.” “F The NRA” is the most socially conscious of the 11 tracks, where the group tackles the country’s gun control policies—or lack thereof. It’s a stance that can even carry over to their overseas audience, which has been something of a culture shock for the band at times. “They don’t know what the NRA means to us, but they know what oppression means,” she mentions of their international fan base. “It’s just so foreign to the rest of the world how deeply entrenched in gun culture we are. We look like we just shoot each other all the time.”

At the heart of it all, though, is their live show Notorious for their performances, it’s still a focal point that defines The Coathangers as they remain consistent even through their growth as individuals and as a band. Only now, their audiences span from curious young punk kids to grown adults who have been riding with them for nearly two decades. “Everywhere we go there’s that older gentleman who is in a leather jacket saying, ‘I used to go to shows in the ‘70s all the time,’” Kugel-Montoya says fondly. “He only comes out when it fuckin’ matters, so when he comes to our show, we high-five.”

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