Interview: Matthew Hitt of Drowners

By on Thursday, 28th July 2016 at 11:00 am
 

“Well, it was more about liking the way the word looked written down than the fact it was a Suede song”, Drowners frontman Matthew Hitt says about his band’s unique name. “Having said that, that whole Britpop thing has influenced my writing, lyrically. I think Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn are master songwriters, and I regularly revisit their records.” Hitt and his New York City-based band released their second album on Frenchkiss Records, ‘On Desire’, in June. You can read my review of the long player here.

Their eponymous debut album, which was released in winter 2014, was described by Q as standing in stark contrast to the electropop saturating the airwaves that year. “When I started writing the songs for the first record, I feel like every band I went to see in New York were drenching themselves in reverb, and there was a lot of like drawn out 4-minute songs,” explains Hitt. “So I guess I was trying to do the opposite of that and have everything trimmed and clipped into the bare essentials. My attitude to that has since changed, but it was really a reaction to the bands I was seeing live at the time. Nowadays, I think we just try to write music that is some sort of reflection to who we are and what we feel as a group.”

Hitt quickly dismisses the cliché of the difficult second album. “It wasn’t really that difficult because by the time we came to writing it ,we all had ideas we wanted to try, and that meant things were exciting again. After touring the first record, we were all ready to start working on new things. When we first met Claudius [Mittendorfer, their producer for ‘On Desire’], we talked about wanting the record to have an atmosphere to it in the way that [Echo and the Bunnymen’s fourth album] ‘Ocean Rain’, for instance, does.” Working with Mittendorfer turned out to be a comfortable for Drowners. “He was very helpful in showing us how to technically achieve these different sounds. We all got along with him, and so the environment in the studio was pretty light and fun. We would try a lot of things out and constantly bounce ideas. I just look back on it being a really fun experience.”

Something that one will latch onto quickly while listening to ‘On Desire’ is the pairing of lyrics on painful subject matter regarding breakups with oddly joyful sounding instrumentation, especially in the guitar work, reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s exemplary playing in The Smiths. Hitt concurs with this. “Yeah, that painful lyric / joyful music thing is something I think we all love about songs in general. It’s certainly present in The Smiths, and for that reason, they are a big influence. I’ve been a lifelong fan, so it makes sense that it affects my musical vocabulary.” When I ask him what other artists had guided them along in the making of the new album, he says, “While we were writing this record we were also listening to a lot of Roy Orbison, ABBA and Echo and the Bunnymen, so I guess they all influenced it too.”

The stories told in the songs on ‘On Desire’, in particular ‘Someone Else is Getting In’ (see live video from SXSW 2016) and ‘Conversations with Myself’, are hard-hitting on the emotions and seem very personal, which Hitt says is true to some extent. “I think they’re a combination of personal experience, things I’ve overheard people say and things I’ve read about. I think the songs that are on the record were chosen because they shared themes. The main one, I think, being the idea of desiring something. I spoke to Erik [Lee Snyder, Drowners’ bassist] a lot on this record about the types of things we wanted to sing about so I got some ideas from him. Um…otherwise, it’s the same thing I always do: keep a notebook of lyric ideas and browse through it to see if anything ‘fits’ with the music we had written.”

A standout track on the new album is single ‘Pick Up the Pace’. I asked Hitt if he could tell me about the writing of it. “Well, Erik and Daniel [Jacobs, Drowners’ drummer] wrote the music for it, and we recorded it at Electric Lady Studios. I walked around listening to the recording for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out the top line. I wrote it the lyrics one morning and recorded it that afternoon. I guess it’s about lack of communication in general, and the evasiveness that can come from that.” The Welsh-born singer even brought in part of his upbringing to add personal flavour to the track. “In my mind, it all takes places in the village I grew up in, hence the reference to terraced houses.”

Earlier this summer, Drowners toured in America as support for another band we’ve covered a lot here on TGTF, The Joy Formidable. Hitt says it was a great experience. “The tour was a lot of fun. It was a few weeks before the record came out, so it was interesting to see what kind of reactions we were getting to the new songs that most people hadn’t heard before. The Joy Formidable are lovely people and we had a couple of nice evenings with that lot.” As for the rest of the year, the band will be pretty busy getting ‘On Desire’ out there live to the masses. “We play Lollapalooza at the end of July, and then [there’s] more touring. I know we’re heading to the UK and Europe in October, which I’m pretty excited about. I love touring the UK.”

And lest you think that Drowners would ever rest on their laurels during these dog days, think again: “I know we’re also keen to start writing more new tunes, so I suppose that’s how we’ll spend our summer.” But what if they’re tired of having their heads down, of being studious musicians working on new material? Matthew Hitt has a solution that will work in a pinch. “We always listen to ABBA’s greatest hits in the van. Full-on Swedish singalongs.”

‘On Desire’, Drowners’ sophomore album, is out now on Frenchkiss Records. The band appears in Chicago at Lollapalooza this coming Saturday, the 30th of July, at the BMI stage at 3.20 PM.

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