The Coathangers: A punk band never afraid to speak their mind
Riotous three piece lass kickers The Coathangers have always been sticking up for the little guy, fighting for the people who are often unheard in the mainstream for well over a decade now. The path they follow on their chaotic sixth record, The Devil You Know, released in an uncertain time when the world seems crazier than ever is befitting to the authenticity of the band.
A lot of bands become distant from each other when they get round to album six, they may even travel to shows separately and be more like business partners than team-mates but The Coathangers couldn’t be further from that, they are more like a sisterhood who are prepared to fight one another’s corner to the death whether that be literally or figuratively.
America is in a seriously weird place right now, especially if you’re an outspoken minority who isn’t afraid to speak out against the people running the country. Fellow Atlanta citizen 21 Savage, for example, was recently arrested by ICE and threatened with deportation back to England just days after he slammed Trump on SNL, but The Coathangers think it’s a great time to be a punk voice in the States and we shouldn’t be frightened.
Stephanie Luke, AKA Rusty Coathanger, sat down with Far Out about the new release, what it’s like being in a punk band in Trump’s America and whether artists have a duty to be political in this current divided climate.
The new record, The Devil You Know, sees the three-piece link-up again with producer Nic Jodoin who has the likes of Curtis Harding and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on his CV. Having also produced 2016’s Nosebleed Weekend: “This new record is definitely still classic Coathangers but we also pushed ourselves and developed some new sounds and vibes,” Rusty explained about the new record. “Working with Nic again was a pleasure. He knows our sound to a T and he also pushes us in a positive way so we’re able to construct the songs in the right way.”
Since their last release in April 2016, it’s fair to say a lot has changed on both sides of the Atlantic and, typically, The Coathangers aren’t afraid to use their platform to share their voice. The punk scene has endured ups and downs throughout the years, but of today’s climate is anything to go by there’s plenty of lyrical inspiration: “It’s awesome, there’s so much to say and to write about,” Rusty explained as I was about life in a punk back in 2019. “It’s very cathartic to be able to perform and connect with fans that feel just as frustrated as we do about the current political situation.”
One politically charged track on the new record is titled ‘F The NRA’, which sparked me to ask whether they feel there’s a need for bands to be political in this day and age and “I don’t think it’s anyone’s duty to do anything,” she argued. “I do, however, think it’s important when bands do say and write about certain political and social issues because that’s part of being an artist. Having the freedom to say how you feel is amazing,” she added.
The band’s vocalist, Julia Kugel, is herself a political refugee having fled Belarus many years ago, fleeing what is now the last dictatorship in Eastern Europe. Having delicately touched on the impact of politicised lyrics in music, I wondered how Rusty felt about the xenophobic discourse that has become more paramount over the last few years. Unsurprising, with some passion, she said: “It’s awful, obviously, right?” to which I obviously agreed and beckoned for elaboration. “It’s almost as if we are regressing as a society,” she added. “However, these types of close minded, racist people have always been around, I feel like recently they are crawling out of the woodwork more so because of Trump.”
The Coathangers have been using their voice for 13 years now. The band are, undoubtedly, a real sisterhood. “It’s wonderful, we are so lucky to have each other not just as bandmates but as sisters. We get to explore the world and connect with people all over and it’s an amazing feeling.”
For those who have had the pleasure to witness the explosion of energy authenticity that is The Coathangers live, the idea that this tight bond of a band are undoubtedly in their element when in front of a crowd. The idea of a ‘sisterhood’ makes total sense when watching the trio engage on stage, their connection is undeniable. But with connection comes a whole bunch of hard work and it’s that hard work that has allowed The Coathangers to sound as tight as ever when performing, the challenge comes when attempting to transmit that live sound to record. Last year though, they achieved it by recording the record live. “It was a bit nerve-wracking at first because you’re trying to play the songs perfectly but also trying to give it that raw energy at the same time, but it was a blast,” Rusty explained.
“Traveling to Europe, Australia, Japan were all crazy and exciting tours, getting to play with bands we’ve grown up listening to like Refused and OFF is wild, and just being able to put out albums that people actually respond to.”
The Devil You Know marks the sixth studio album for The Coathangers and their fifth with Washington-based independent record label Suicide Squeeze Records, a label that triumphs the same hard-working and down-to-earth charm as the band themselves. “There’s so many ways to get your music out there nowadays without the help from a major label. The rise of smaller labels started by young people is also exciting to see, there’s a lot of hustle goin’ on which is great to see,” Rusty explained with the kind of level-headed sense of somebody who has seen how the dog-eat-dog music industry works.
For The Coathangers, life lurking around in the shadows of punk and just outside the mainstream shithole is place the fits them just right. A band that won’t be swayed by anybody or anything, staying true to the music that represents them as a sisterhood best, surrounding themselves with any sisters that want to join the ride.