In a 2013 Folio Weekly interview, Stephanie Luke of Atlanta punk trio The Coathangers described the band’s origin story thusly: “We just picked up our instruments and started playing.” Their first few full-lengths embodied that DIY simplicity, with straight-ahead punk riffs and snarling yet sugary lyrics (we still love the 2007 rager “Don’t Touch My Shit” something fierce) that pleased punk fans but left demanding critics wanting more.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the band’s 10th anniversary last year — 2016 album Nosebleed Weekend, their fourth for longtime label Suicide Squeeze Records, went far deeper than anything in The Coathangers’ previous discography, wowing major outlets like Spin and PopMatters, making Paste’s Best 50 Albums of the Year list, and even earning a rare A-minus rating from ultimate rock critic Robert Christgau, who raved that “this all-woman Atlanta trio are ready to rule American punk.”
And guess what? As Julia Kugel told Folio Weekly last week, these one-time adherents of that old Keep It Simple Stupid ethos have even more fire to spit in 2017, beginning on Feb. 1 with the first show of their tour in St. Augustine.
Folio Weekly: Any particular reason why you’re kicking off the tour in the Oldest City?
Julia Kugel: Logistically, it works. Even though I live in Southern California, the band is still based in Atlanta, and Florida deserves its own week of touring — it’s hard to hit the state on the way back from anywhere. Plus, no one wants to drive in the Northeast in February. [Laughs.] Please, no.
Nosebleed Weekend commemorated the band’s 10-year anniversary and was hailed as your best work. Do you feel it represented a major step forward for The Coathangers?
It’s not the last you’ve heard from us, for sure. We really challenged ourselves, but it was just one step in our evolution. Now that we’ve started writing and recording new music for a couple of releases coming out in 2017, our music has a different energy. Because of the things that have happened politically, because we’ve had time off to reflect on life and what we want to do and where we want to go … Our music’s always a snapshot of where we’re at mentally and physically at the time, so the music that’s coming out next is a little bit more aggravated — a little bit more frustrated. And that feels good to go back to our roots of being angry. Although it would be nice not to be frustrated. [Laughs.]
What specifically about the politics of 2016 frustrated you the most? Gender issues? Obviously the band has been outspoken about abortion rights since the beginning.
We’ve been questioned about gender since we started. I was always taught that the personal is political, so you live your personal life in a way that is a political statement. And that’s what we have done. We started the band on our way back from an anti-Bush rally, so in a way, this election feels like going back in time and reliving what was happening. It’s infuriating, you know? Like, how can this happen? I thought we’d moved on. But it was sort of inspiring in a fucked-up way. And we want to inspire other people to be vocal, be loud and stand up.
Did anything specific tip you over the political edge?
For me, it really started when I realized that police were shooting black people for no fucking reason. So it wasn’t even a gender thing. I started talking onstage about what was happening with our police force. How this racism still exists. And that it was all of our problems. That was the first time I was, like, “Shit, who I am up here, going on a rant?” But maybe it’s something that needs to be heard, even when you’re having a good time.
After 10 years of hardcore touring, is it still possible to tap into the early spark that drove The Coathangers? Conversely, what do you get out of live performances now that maybe you didn’t when you were younger?
The last time we played in Atlanta was one of the most fun shows in a long time because I was pretty much sober. That’s different than when we first started out. And that’s not for every show. But it makes you more focused — you start toying with certain aspects of the show that you didn’t before. I mean, when we first started, we just wanted to get through it and not fuck up. Now, it’s about enjoying the experience of it — really interacting with the energy of the crowd and interacting with each other. That’s never left for The Coathangers. We get on stage and have fun playing together.
That probably goes a long way when you’re in a punk band that plays 25 shows a month.
As long as you’re stoked, you’re going to be in the right mindset. It’s pretty insane to want to do this to yourself for over 10 years. It weighs heavy on your family, your personal life, your body and your mind. On everything, you know? Even with all the benefits that you get from being in a band, you also have to pay a lot. So you have to find something in that moment to make it all worthwhile.