Over a decade ago, the now familiar face of Chris Hoganson found himself anew in Portland from the small town of Marquette, Michigan. Filled with the wide-eyed, bushy tailed-ness of many young and vigorously focused artistic types upon arriving in the city, Chris eagerly sought to find his place in the refreshing West Coast market that was Portland so many years ago. His musical adeptness found him quickly immersed in the local scene, which was an entirely different success game back then.
Chris was responsible for starting the infamous (and now, unfortunately defunct) house venue Dekum Manor. Located just off MLK in North Portland, Chris curated a teeming variety of shows at the Manor, where he refined relationships with those who performed there, as well as his past musical endeavors (including the much loved Don Hellions and The Reservations) and finally his current project The Fur Coats.
Deemed the “haunted mansion R&B band,” which is an incredibly fitting description, Hoganson and the Fur Coats trekked on despite their individual separation from the Dekum Manor. A considerable “super group,” they had no trouble fostering an ever developing and lasting following based on the sheer wealth of talent compiled into their one entity. Shining bright both as a whole and as individual members, the Fur Coats make for a laudable example of a set of musicians that encompass and possess a depth of musicianship spanning far beyond what can be heard on their discography as it stands.
The eight members of The Fur Coats include Chris on vocals/organ, Nathan Weber on bass/vocals, Vinh Nguyen and Matty Lynch on drums, Thomas Hoganson also on drums and vocals, Anna Tyler on piano/organ, Jacob Early on guitar and Betty Downey holding down the saxophone as well as the band’s artwork.
Having just released their debut EP, Desperate, last month, we met up with Chris inside a dark van on a rainy Saturday night to discuss his new release, old bands and the Dekum Manor, among other things.
Noise & Color: What was Dekum Manor like back in the day? I had been there, but not when you were around.
Chris: It was significantly different. It was actually pretty beautiful. We moved into the house sometime around 2004 and at the time it was really funny because we moved into the place and I thought – ‘Oh, no one is going to come to these shows. It’s way too far away.’
N&C: It’s out there.
C: It seemed so far away. But the first show we ever had was of this band the New Bloods. We recorded their record and had their release show there. It was fucking awesome. No one complained. A ton of people came out and everyone was cool. The next logical step was to have them everyday for the next eight years. One time, Thrones played there because he had a different gig set up but it fell through. He came over and played, but no one knew it was there, so it was like me and four other people and it was the greatest set I had ever seen. It was just Joe Preston in my living room thrashing.
N&C: Did you meet the rest of the bandmates in that house?
C: I met Betty there. Betty’s my long term companion. I’m gonna call her my old lady because it irritates her and I like it a lot. I taught her how to play sax. I met my bass player Nate and my guitar player Jake in our hometown of Marquette, Michigan. This is all significantly before when we started this band. I met Anna there too, she plays keys in The Fur Coats but all of this was probably five years before we started this band.
N&C: You were in Don Hellions at the time?
C: Yeah! Don Hellions was kind of my first organ band.
N&C: From Don Hellions to Fur Coats, how do you feel like your musical interests have progressed?
C: Don Hellions started as a recording project I was doing, that was just saxophone and drums. Maybe 10 sax tracks and one drum track and then I sang over the top. I was trying to figure out how to make that [sound] work in a live setting. The only way to really do that is with one organ and one saxophone, as opposed to like, nine. That’s kind of how that one came to fruition. Then when I started writing on organ that’s when I realized it was what I wanted to do. The Reservations was kind of an iteration of that, where I was writing rock n’ roll songs and r&b songs, but not really. I was trying to go for this organ, garage rock sound. The Fur Coats is different in that it’s mostly modern r&b songs with a couple punk rock songs tossed in there for good measure. I feel like it took me awhile to hone in my song writing in this kind of a musical aesthetic. It takes awhile how to figure out how to put an organ, a sax, guitar, bass and a drums together, ya know?
N&C: What are some of the artist that influence the sound that you play now?
C: It’s weird. I don’t really listen to a ton of music, haha. I kind of have this thing where I spend so much time writing music that it just sort of informs itself over time. I’ll write like 100 songs and use a couple of them. Then those 100 songs will inform the next batch of songs. The only bands that really influence me I guess are like Curtis Mayfield and Suicide. I like crooners and I like freaky music. There isn’t really a lot of it.
N&C: What was the inspiration behind the Desperate EP? Do you write all the music?
C: I do. I usually record all the songs first by myself.
N&C: And then you bring everyone else in?
C: Yeah. But it’s really incredible. Everyone in my band is so amazing, I feel like I have the best band in the world. I’ll write a song and I’ll bring it to them. They learn the parts but then they’ll change it in a way that makes it a thousand times better than it would’ve been. They also have really good dance moves.
N&C: I noticed that at the Oregon Music News magazine party.
C: Oh yeah! But the inspiration for the record was really subconscious, I was just writing a bunch of songs in a row. It sounds weird, but all the songs are pretty much about girls and death. It’s kind of this inherent urge to procreate and then also thinking about your imminent demise. I’m not saying I want to have any children but yeah, all those songs are about being in love with girls or wanting to be in love with girls or being trapped in a…
C: Hah, no, but that jam is pretty good. It’s an opus. But yeah, it’s like love and existential crisis make up that entire album. That’s the most concise way to describe it.
N&C: I can hear that in basically every song. I wanted to ask you about “Grey Man.” It’s my favorite track.
C: You’re the first person that’s told me that. That’s awesome.
N&C: Really? But yeah I hear those things clearly in that song. The guy’s character that you’re singing about is trying to take the color out of this girl because he’s grey?
C: Well, yeah, kind of! That’s actually about me and my old lady. I’m currently wearing a grey suit and at the time I was driving a grey van. But it’s just about feeling that you are lacking something that you like that you know that someone else has and you want it to be a part of your life. Really, it’s about me always wearing grey or brown suits and my old lady wears muumuus all the time. With really weird tropical prints. I love them. I just think it’s really cool that she does that and it kind of encapsulates this thing that she is and something that I’m not. I kinda want to be, but not necessarily.
N&C: That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.
C: Most people don’t ask me about that song. [When we play live] we try and go for the more groove-like songs.
N&C: What are the plans for the future, is there another album in the works?
C: We’re actually taking the next month off of playing shows. I’ve been writing a new record for the last six weeks or so and it’s almost done. I’m trying to find someone to put it out currently. Desperate was self released – we had a couple offers to put it out but the time frame was way too long, like we could put it out in nine months or a year. I don’t like sitting on songs that long. I think our next record will be out, if i had to guess, I think March would be a good estimate.
Stream The Fur Coats’ Desperate EP above and watch the wacky, lovesick video for the album’s title track below.