Opinions waver on whether there actually is a right-wing-engineered "War on Women" going on in our country. If there is, Atlanta garage-punk trio The Coathangers represents the first line of feminist defense. Guitarist/vocalist Julia Kugel, bassist/vocalist Meredith Franco and drummer/vocalist Stephanie Luke do strike the perfect balance between hardcore political stands and raucous late-night shenanigans, though; their band name does reference a grotesque term for early, often self-inflicted abortion — but some of their best songs boast boozy titles like "Don't Touch My Shit" and "Nestle My Boobies."
Over the course of four full-length albums, The Coathangers have evolved, adding depth and complexity to their songwriting and instrumentation while whittling their lineup down from four members to three. Folio Weekly caught up with Kugel, Franco and Luke — or Crook Kid Coathanger, Minnie Coathanger and Rusty Coathanger — to talk about feminism, Girls Rock Camp and the Fountain of Youth.
Folio Weekly: Have The Coathangers visited St. Augustine in the past?
Meredith Franco: Julia has been to St. Augustine, but Stephanie and I have not. She went as a child and drank out of the Fountain of Youth. She's still 5 years old.
F.W.: Critics gave your last album, "Larceny & Old Lace," a lot of credit for maturing The Coathangers' supposedly juvenile sound. Was that a conscious effort?
Stephanie Luke: At the beginning, we just picked up our instruments and started playing. And the more you do it, the better you get. Hopefully, at least — that's always the goal. We're always pushing ourselves to try different stuff.
F.W.: So these days, for instance, would you write a simple song at the demo stage and then build upon it, rather than just sticking with that rough version?
S.L.: If we come up with something but think it's a little too simple, we'll think about how we can make it more intricate. Not over-intricate or overdone, but we don't want to stay at just one level.
F.W.: Two recent tributes to fallen friends, "Jaybird" for Jay Reatard and "Derek's Song" for Derek Shepherd, have added depth to The Coathangers' repertoire. Were those challenging to write?
S.L.: They were totally natural. For me, personally, it's hard to write a happy song. [Laughs.] Music's totally cathartic for us — especially during the live show. So it's singing about our friends' passing to remember them but also to heal, you know? Keeping those people memorialized means a lot to us.
F.W.: Not all of your songs are that personal, right?
S.L.: We're trying to be less literal and not tell a specific story but a story that everyone can relate to. Whether it's about relationships or death or getting fucked over by the man, whatever. The shit that we're writing is far more advanced in terms of being less storytell-y.
F.W.: Obviously, you get tons of questions about being an all-girl band. But how important are matters of sexuality, gender and feminism?
S.L.: At first, I think we were overly sensitive to the fact of being an all-girl band. But every band gets shit for something — it just so happens that we get shit for being three women in a band. Or we get asked about how different it is. I wouldn't know because I'm not a dude, you know? We never try and be preachy, but we're all feminists. People just get that word confused with being anti-man. Feminism means equality across the board. We just want to be treated like everyone else. Sometimes people say stupid shit about us being women, and we just let it roll off our backs.
F.W.: Have The Coathangers been involved with Girls Rock Camp?
Julia Kugel: Yes, and it's been awesome. We played one time at SXSW on the first day of Rock Camp, and the counselors said, "If no one stands up or moves, don't worry about it — all the girls tend to be shy on the first day." But once we started playing, they started popping up, and by the end of it, we handed out microphones to all the little girls and told 'em to scream. You should have seen these 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds screaming their faces off! The surprise on their faces to be able to make that noise in a safe environment and let out that frustration basically showed them that it's OK to be a woman and be aggressive. Those experiences hold so much meaning for us because most of the time we're just playing in bars, which have little meaning in people's lives.
F.W.: So you've been to St. Augustine? And even drank out of the Fountain of Youth?
J.K.: I love St. Augustine. The beaches are so chill. And we had just a total chill-out — very rarely can life be so quiet. But we're stoked to play a show there. It always makes a difference when crowds care. That's the thing about smaller towns and scenes: Everyone's stoked and unjaded. So we're super-excited to come to Florida.