The Coathangers have been creating their special blend of garage punk for 13 years, and now after a long break in their breakneck recording and touring schedule, they will come back to Dallas with a matured sound and a fresh new album, The Devil You Know.
“There’s a big significance,” singer and guitarist Julia Kugel says of the band’s 13-year staying power. “I’ve been doing this for over a third of my life. We’re very lucky to be able to keep doing it.”
Since 2007, the band has kept to a fairly steady release schedule, with an album or EP release just about every other year with a baker’s dozen singles sprinkled throughout and an ambitious touring schedule to boot.
However, after releasing and touring their live album in 2018, the band took the latter half of the year off for some personal time to reflect on themselves, not only as a band but as friends.
“Having time off to process,” Kugel says, “gave us some time to write and relax and just be normal — to be in one place for a little bit and not be moving. Then we came back together having reflected on life.
“You know, even with our friendship, sometimes it’s important to just be friends and not bandmates.”
That time to reflect on the band and themselves helped inspire some of the more inward-focused tracks on the new album.
“It’s like, ‘Where am I in all of this?’” Kugel says of the new album’s perspective. “We’ve always been pretty honest in our lyrics, and it’s always been personal. But this one we definitely touched on all the most hurtful parts.
“It’s called The Devil You Know,” she says, “because sometimes the things you thought you knew, you didn’t know. It’s quite a complex experience that created a really interesting record that we’re really proud of.”
With the album’s focus on one’s self, one’s position in life and being straightforward with one’s opinion, The Coathangers have created some of their most openly political songs to date. In a sense, this focus on cold reality as opposed to metaphor is an act of rebellion against the absurdity found in the current presidential administration.
“I think we all got a reality check,” Kugel says. “We were all in this Obama-daze where we thought change was happening. Then all these little trolls came out and made us realize that this other side still exists. And it was kind of a necessary thing. I think the fear of it all got everyone so active, and it’s been so beautiful to see. People are using this opportunity to speak rather than just wasting it on frivolous stuff.”
Several songs on the new album have a more direct approach to political and social subject matter than we’re used to seeing from The Coathangers, like “Hey Buddy” taking on sexism and homophobia or “Step Back,” which tackles addiction. None of these tracks is as forthright as “F the NRA,” a devastating attack on the lobby group that champions gun rights.
“We’ve gotten nothing but positive messages," Kugel says. "One guy on Twitter was in a mass shooting, and he was like, ‘Thank you for writing this.’
“I guess on Facebook, which I don’t go on, there was some negative commentary, and some people made some political statements, but it wasn’t at all what I thought it could be like. It’s not really about ‘fuck the NRA,” Kugel explains. “It’s about ‘fuck oppression’ and ‘fuck people who are killing us with money.’”
Kugel has explained elsewhere that songs like these reflect the band’s increased attention on “conscious anger,” rather than the kind of generalized anger that many people associate with punk rock. But don’t expect a political rally at a Coathangers show. They are still focused on playing the crowd favorites and having a good time.
“An album is a snapshot of a time period,” Kugel explains, “but what we play live is, one, what we want to play live, and two, what we think is going to make for a fun show. No offense to any band out there, but when a new album comes out, and they only play songs from that record, it’s fucking awful.
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“We don’t channel anger at a live show, we channel joy in performing and having that interaction. When we’re making a record, that’s when we channel anger.”
Saturday’s show at Club Dada for Parade of Flesh’s Not So Fun Weekend 2019 sticks out in the middle of what would otherwise be an almost monthlong break in the band’s tour schedule.
“Dallas is one of the best crowds,” she says fondly. “It really honestly is … like every time.”