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ATLANTA MUSIC NEWS: The Coathangers redux

Divisive band’s first album is reissued

The Coathangers By Ryan Russell Web
Photo credit: Ryan Russell
THE COATHANGERS: Meredith Franco (left), Stephanie Luke, Julia Kugel, and Candice Jones.

In the summer of 2006, four young friends decided to start a band together — so they could play at a friend’s house party. Singer and guitar player Julia Kugel, bass player and vocalist Meredith Franco, drummer and vocalist Stephanie Luke, and keyboard player Candice Jones each had very little experience playing music up to that point, but why let that spoil a good time?

It was a year building up to a boon for punk and garage rock in Atlanta, carved out by a rising scene of local acts such as the Black Lips, Beat Beat Beat, Frantic, Carbonas, Deerhunter, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, and more — enabled by a small network of DIY labels including Die Slaughterhaus, Rob’s House, and Douchemaster Records. Raw, primitive, and fun-loving rock ‘n’ roll bashing was the order of the day, and the Coathangers delivered every time they played.

“I just keep thinking about how much fun we were all having back then,” says Kugel. “We really didn’t know what we were doing — nobody did! That’s what made it such an incredible time in all of our lives.”

Less than a year after forming, the group went into Nickel & Dime Studios to record their self-titled debut LP on Rob’s House Records. It was the label’s first full-length offering, coming on the heels of several 7-inch singles, complete with artwork by Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox.

Sporting songs such as “Tonya Harding,” “Don’t Touch My Shit,” and “Shut the Fuck Up,” the LP channeled the mania of the group’s live shows into what became an immediately divisive record —  you either loved the Coathangers or you hated them. The group’s allies rallied behind their caterwauling live shows with members switching instruments between songs, each number a scattershot of demure songwriting and shotgun-blasts of feminism, vulgar humor, and female empowerment. The group’s name was a punk-rock jab at the anxieties of living in a world where the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling was under constant assault by right-wing zealots.

The tension the Coathangers generated by their presence alone created a charged atmosphere of elation and animosity, fueling the ever-growing crowds they attracted. 

The group’s detractors attacked their wardrobe, gender, and the juvenile tone of songs like “Nestle in My Boobies,” regardless of their burgeoning musical chops. This did little to deter the band members.

The Coathangers have played all over Europe, and as far away as Japan and Tasmania. They’ve released six LPs via Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records, coming to a head with the stylishly evolved songwriting of “F the NRA” from 2019’s The Devil You Know.

Keyboard player Jones departed after the group’s third album, 2011’s Larceny & Old Lace. Luke has gone on to play in other acts including NRCSSST with Dan Dixon of PLS PLS. Kugel, who lives in Long Beach, has released recordings as White Woods, and most recently plays in Soft Palms with Scott Montoya, formerly of The Growlers. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“Musically things have changed somewhat — Steph has always come at these songs from a really big place, and I have always come at our songs from a place of smallness,” Kugel says. “We’ve grown a lot as a band and as individuals, but we’re still all about those same ideas — the same messages of empowering women, having fun. I find it absolutely amazing that we’re still dealing with all of the very same issues today.”

On December 4, Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records is reissuing the Coathangers’ self-titled debut. The reissue — with 500 copies pressed on “confetti crush splatter vinyl” and 500 on “neon strawberry-banana pinwheel” vinyl — has been remastered by Scott Montoya, and comes complete with two bonus cuts: “Never Wanted You,” which first appeared on a 2007 single, and “Wife Eyes,” from 2010’s Hard Candy 7-inch. Both singles were originally released via Die Slaughterhaus.

In 2020, nearly 14 years later, the group’s debut album is as confrontational and fun-loving as ever, and a snapshot of a more exuberant time in Atlanta’s musical history. —CL—