The colorful murals of Little Five Points—a hip neighborhood east of midtown Atlanta, populated with bookstores, thrift shops and tattoo parlors—are the backdrop for a record release party today. The Coathangers, a Five Points all-women quartet, is celebrating its self-titled debut in the parking lot of Criminal Records, a cramped area landmark stuffed with used CDs and comics.
It's a sunny September afternoon, and people mill about, drinking free PBR and waiting for the band to start playing. On the sidewalk, Julia Kugel tunes her guitar as Candice Jones practices keyboard lines. Drummer Stephanie Luke hands out homemade goodie bags, and Meredith Franco, the bassist, bends down to check her amp. Then, they're on.
These songs have been rehearsed until every clipped note and every abruptly awkward power chord chop comes out raw. The blemishes are planned, but none of it seems contrived. The tunes on The Coathangers, the debut people are here to celebrate, were made by novices: Kugel took classical guitar lessons as a teenager, so power chords are a tad foreign to her. The rest of the band has a bit of musical experience, but none of them had been in a band before joining The Coathangers.
But it barely matters how The Coathangers play—the dirtier, the better. Each song is a short burst of punk. After a handful of songs in 30 minutes, the concert is over. The band writes about what it knows, ostensibly a mix of getting pissed off (by men or otherwise) and having fun. At the release show, pink cotton-ball clouds and construction paper cutouts of unicorns adorn the amps. Bubbles spray from machines, refracting the sunshine as they drift. The playful sentiment clashes against Coathanger songs like "Shut the Fuck Up" and "Don't Touch My Shit," but "Nestle in My Boobies" is one of many lighter examples. The verses are short and witty; the chorus, catchy and chanted. The lyrics sound tossed-off, but the hook sticks because of its careless simplicity.
"We'll say something that's retarded, like 'Nestle in my boobies, it's so comfortable,' and it turns into a controversial hit tune," Franco says.
"A lot of it comes from personal experience," adds Jones. "Every song is about something that actually happened in real life."
This carefree attitude radiates from the band members. Their offstage chatter is full of gesticulation. Kugel and Franco dance in their seats, as Luke—the most reserved member of the band—puts the group's goal in perspective. The members don't take themselves seriously, she says, and they aren't trying to impress anyone with massive chops: "We started the band for fun, and we all agreed that as soon as we stop having fun, there's no point. I think our music reflects that."
Rather, things have gotten more fun for the band onstage. At an early house party, the anxiety of playing for a group of close friends and the proximity of the audience was stressful. "We had a very tough audience. It was people who had known us for years and years and were like, 'What are you doing?'" Kugel remembers.
But they didn't pay attention to the naysayers, and initial nervous energy quickly turned to passion. Countless practices, a few big shows and a debut CD later, four friends who initially had no marketable music talent have become a rightful buzz band.
"I never thought we'd have a record on vinyl, a CD that's selling at Wax Facts," Franco says. "It just kind of happened almost by accident."
The Coathangers plays Blackbeard's Lost Weekend at The Cave Friday, Oct. 26, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. Beat Beat Beat and Spiderbags are also on the bill. Blackbeard's starts Thursday night with The Adult Film Makers, Coffin Bound and Stone Figs. The Gondoliers, Thee Crucials and The Butchers play Saturday night. See next week's Independent for a story about The Gondoliers.