On Atlanta garage-punk three-piece the Coathangers' 2007 debut, the first track is a 20-second recording of a man's voice. "Why this record?" the unidentified voice asks. "Why should you listen to a full-scale discussion of the magic of thinking big?"
The following 12 songs provided the answer—because the Coathangers deliver punchy, driving anthems that straddle the lines of irreverence and anger, pure punk graced with a little Southern charm. For the band, "the magic of thinking big" has resulted in five albums in nine years.
"I think that quote is still relevant to our band," says drummer Stephanie Luke. "You should always be pushing yourself and always thinking smarter and working smarter, and always keep questioning things and pushing the boundaries of things."
The Coathangers had humble beginnings. They were friends working in a Georgia dress shop, literally hanging up other people's coats. They didn't know how to play instruments, but that didn't stop them from starting a band.
Their early albums exude summer-camp sing-along fun, with songs titles like "Shut the Fuck Up," "Don't Touch My Shit" and "Tonya Harding." On their newest album, Nosebleed Weekend, however, the Coathangers have started to get more expressly political. "Everybody's talking about smash the state!" they shout on "Watch Your Back." "Sounds to me like the final solution/Right wing, left wing, full of hate."
"Our music is balanced with some lightheartedness and with some heavy because that's how life is," Luke says. "You're either super-angry and it sucks and it's depressing, or you're having the best time of your life and you're stoked and happy. It's a roller coaster."
And sometimes it's both—like the band's name, a double entendre referring to their days working in a dress-shop and the DIY abortions women are forced into in places where the medical procedure is outlawed. In today's harsh political climate, Luke says she's been feeling inspired by Nina Simone's quote about artistic obligation: "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."
"We've never called ourselves a political band," she says. "I'd love to be able to write a song about what's going on politically, but I don't want to tell anyone what to think. I don't want to be bossy. I don't want to be onstage yelling at people, so I need to figure out a way to say how I feel—then I'd love to do that.
"When a woman raises her voice, people kind of freak out," she continues. "It's an idea we have to continue to fight against."
The Coathangers play Saturday at 1:35 pm.
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