They played Webster Hall before the garage roller-door on band practice shut: meet New York-based pop-punk set, Drowners
19-year old Matt Hitt was minding his own business taking in the phalanx of sights and sounds of New York’s Times Square when he got a tap on the shoulder. “I thought I was getting mugged,” he remembers, more than a little bashfully. Unbeknownst to Hitt, the tapper was a modelling scout, and the tappee would spend the next few years zipping between the planet’s couture hotspots, working for brands like Prada, Gareth Pugh and Jil Sander. “That was pretty weird,” he says, now a comparatively wizened 25. And you believe him, because if there’s rock’n’roll pretence or a veiled, bubbling ego behind his words, he disguises them remarkably well. “Modelling got me my Visa,” he offers cheekily, “for which I’m forever grateful.”
Wiry, affable and open, Hitt,singer/songwriter of Drowners, smiles and laughs easily and often, tousling his fringe when reminiscing or, more often, when said reminiscences embarrass him. Discussing modelling, his fringe is tousled often – not through embarrassment with the job itself, more through reflexive modesty and preference for self-deprecation. The catwalks of Milan must have been a surreal sea change for a lad hailing from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales. “I didn’t really think about it at the time…” he tails off. Was there ever a ‘fuck me’ moment? “There were plenty of ‘please fuck me’ moments.” And, with that, he and his bandmates – towering Ray-Banned guitarist Jack Ridley, thoughtful bassist Erik Snyder and Hull-born drummer of all of three weeks Joe Brodie – burst into the first of many bouts of guffaws.
We meet shortly after their gig at The Old Blue Last, the band still fizzing from the reception they received. Hitt “could hear the crowd over the band, which is a first,” and Ridley agrees: “It’s fucking amazing. I couldn’t ever imagine getting used to it.” Matt recalls a gig where “we walked up the street and there was a line round the corner, and we were like, ‘who the fuck else is playing tonight?!’” This is newfound popularity due, in part, to the band’s eponymous debut album landing in January – twelve brisk, sugary nuggets of rollicking garage-pop, not so much disguising its Smiths, Strokes and Britpop influences as peacocking them as armour. The Drowners is Hitt’s favourite Suede song after all, and archly foppish song titles like Unzip Your Harrington and Ways To Phrase A Rejection are redolent of the Anglicised linguistic couplets employed by Mssrs. Mozz and Anderson. Injected with New York swagger and a dash of pop-punk propulsiveness, the album’s success, and that of the uproarious gigs supporting it, come as little surprise.
Hitt’s so grateful for his Visa because of the myriad opportunities moving to New York provided. Like fashionista forebears The Strokes, the city’s scene played a huge part in their rapid ascent. Hitt met Ridley before moving there, introducing him to Snyder and original drummer Lakis Pavlou in Manhattan’s bars. “I think we all enjoyed boozing before we met,” muses Hitt, “then things just…escalated.” New York’s influence extended further than a mere fondness for drinking: “If you go there, you’re productive…I feel like Manhattan’s like London if it got squished.” Its wealth of creative people and places catalysed Hitt’s songwriting and the band’s work ethic. “Everyone plays guitar drunk as shit at 1am” oozes Ridley’s thick American baritone, “but will they wake up at 10am and actually do it?”. Hitt concurs: “All talk and no trousers. We lucked out because we all gave a shit.”
Giving a shit paid off remarkably quickly: they secured a support slot with The Vaccines solely off the strength of the few songs they had recorded. “We got the gig without having practised so it was a kick up the arse,” remembers Hitt, presumably in something of an understatement. “So were were going, ‘fuck it, let’s have our first gig, let’s play Webster Hall.’” Manhattan’s Webster Hall has a capacity of one and a half thousand. “I think they’d [The Vaccines] sold it out as well.’” Even with a warm-up show in front of a hundred fans “we were all shitting ourselves.” The band’s first EP also managed to score them support gigs with Foals and Arctic Monkeys. That’s quite some Rolodex for a new band.
Following their hectic UK jaunt, and to capitalise on the album’s release, comes a US tour slumming it in questionable motels. “We’re nowhere near arrogant enough to be above sleeping on the floor,” says Ridley, quite sincerely, before Hitt suggests “It’s like having three girlfriends.” “Three smelly fucking girlfriends,” quips Ridley. Hitt becomes thoughtful, and tousles his fringe. “Being super proactive, appreciative and roughing it is – I’m not saying it’s written in the stars – but maybe why things have happened so quickly. I’ve always thought I’d rather be broke in a band than in a shit job.”
Honestly, he probably doesn’t have to worry about either.
Words Luke Holland
Fashion Editor Danielle Emerson
Photographer Finn Andres
Grooming Liz Taw using Rodial skincare and Aussie haircare
Fashion Assistance Elizabeth Fowler