Nestle in my Boobies” is a big hit with the family, says Candice Jones, 29, the keyboardist for Atlanta’s the Coathangers.
“Nestle,” one of the band’s signature songs, is also a favorite of Meredith Franco’s family who, as I talked with Jones, were eagerly gearing up to watch their little girl lay down the bass for some fantastically simple, fantastically catchy rock ’n’ roll about boobies and such at a show in their hometown, Providence, Rhode Island.
“I think at first it was, like, shocking,” says Jones, aka BeBe Coathanger, laughing. “But now it’s just cute.”
Shocking and cute — the Coathangers’ dichotomy in a nutshell.
The quartet, all friends, formed in 2006 on the way back from an anti-war rally in D.C. after a “why not?” whim inspired them to go thrift-store shopping for instruments. No one had been in a band before. Jones had a “Chopsticks”-level piano education. Stephanie Luke, aka Rusty Coathanger, had lots of tattoos (her latest, a caricature of the band on her thigh, was recently featured on TLC’s L.A. Ink) and had maybe played the drums a few times. Franco, aka Minnie Coathanger, had never touched a bass. Only Julia Kugel, aka Crook Kid Coathanger, the one born in Belarus with the Victoria Jackson vocals, had ever really played an instrument before — classical guitar.
“We just started making up songs,” Jones says. “Julia and I lived together and we moved the drum set in, and we all just hung out. We would go out for Margarita Mondays and then come back to the apartment and make some noise.”
Despite their back-alley beginnings, the group, in just three-and-a-half years’ time, has three 7-inch records, two full-length albums, and an uncanny knack for crafting a hook from chaotic noise. The Washington Times described their sound as “new-wave party punk,” but Coathangers songs earn comparisons to everything from Death From Above 1979 to Teenage Jesus & the Jerks to a more jaded, pissed-off Toni Basil. Onstage, they Betty Boop their way through subversive “Monster Mash”-able clap-clap odes to broken tambourines and Tonya Harding. They swap instruments. They all sing. They shoot Silly String. They bat balloons. They’re in on the joke.
“`The trick` is to not take yourself too seriously,” Jones says. “I mean, we take it seriously in the fact that we work hard and put ourselves into writing the songs, but we don’t take ourselves as people too seriously … everything we do we think is pretty hilarious.”
Like squealing about their breasts in “Nestle” (arguably their most structurally simplistic song, and notably omitted from their MySpace page) in order to pull the carpet out from under the notion that punkish all-female bands are only popular because of them, taunting the aroused elephant in the room with lyrics like: “Spread ’em out, push ’em up, put your head right in ’em/ Scoop ’em, squeeze ’em, boy you gotta please ’em.”
“You have to understand, when that song was written, we were amusing ourselves,” says Jones, who can remember — maybe — only one interview in which she wasn’t asked about the song. “It was inspired by true events. Meredith’s face happens to be breast-level with Julia, and Julia hugged her and said ‘just nestle in my boobies.’ And it’s all a joke and it was entertaining to us and we wrote these words that we thought were really funny. And then, the next thing you know, there was, like, a debate on whether or not we’re feminists because we would write a song like that … that we were objectifying ourselves. Or, you know, whether it’s OK to grope us. Which it’s not. If you want to keep your hands, it’s not all right.”
Besides, if anyone thinks that sexually playful lyrics from a “girl” band can somehow extinguish the burning bra of hipster feminism, Jones says they’re focusing on the wrong song.
“If you think ‘Nestle’ is rude, on our first 7-inch `Never Wanted You`there’s a song called ‘Tripod Machine’ that might take the cake on vulgarity.”
What’s it about?
“A sexual encounter,” Jones laughs, and leaves it at that. (We can’t understand any of the lyrics beyond the title and scattered phrases such as “I skinned my knees,” and “Bend me over baby!”)
Of course there’s also the issue of the band name, which, despite its simplicity and instant punkability (it beat out Intrauterine, Gorilla Face, and That’s So David Blaine) might raise a few eyebrows itself: Is the appropriation of the propagandized symbol of what is commonly seen as pre-Roe reproductive oppression meant to be a statement? Ironic? Ambiguous? All of the above.
“That’s what you have to know about us,” Jones says. “It’s a little bit of everything, always.” •