Top image: Drowners, photo by Butch Hogan
Drowners wear those leather jackets well on upcoming sophomore record, On Desire. Originally from a small town in rural Wales, frontman Matthew Hitt unzipped his Harrington and moved to New York, where with Jack Ridley III (guitar, vocals), Erik Lee Snyder (bass) and Daniel Jacobs (drums) the band formed.
Spurred by the idea of performing live, Hitt began to write. The results made it onto their 2013 Between Us Girls EP, and it seems they were onto a good thing, because Frenchkiss Records soon came a-knockin’. In perfect synergy, Gus Oberg and Johnny T (The Strokes, The Virgins) joined the fold to produce their 2014 debut album, with hook-laden songs such as Luv, Hold Me Down and Long Hair propelling their powerful, pop smarts as not only a band to watch, but one with standing.
Rightly so, as the polished offerings of On Desire are not only a decidedly sharper take on their melancholy-drenched-pop, but offers Drowners as successors to wry British observation and the States fuzzed out, moody melodies. On Desire is on point, and Drowners are onto big things.
Clementine Zawadzki: You toured your first LP extensively, did this impact your upcoming record? Were you writing a lot on the road?
Matt Hitt: I think touring the first album made us realise where the good bits and the bad bits were in the first batch of songs. After touring the first album for like a year and a half, we’d sort of built up a bunch of ideas. I find it’s too difficult to concentrate on tour, so I don’t really do any writing on the road, just mostly in the gaps in-between the tours. I keep a notebook going for lyric ideas, but that’s about it. I’m otherwise enjoying tour life.
CZ: What makes On Desire different to your debut LP?
MH: We worked with a guy called Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Johnny Marr) – who’s got a wonderful name – and he was initially proposed to us to mix the record. He mixed Temples’ record that we liked, so we met up with him and sent him some demos, and he said he wanted to produce it as well. I think recording an album with someone who predominantly mixes albums kind of led to a different production. The sort of ‘finished’ sound was already in his head and we were just putting the pieces together to achieve that. With the first record, we kind of just plugged in and played our set, but this one we did a lot of pre-production and he helped us with the arrangements, so it was a completely different experience. We took our time in the studio as opposed to just partying for two weeks.
CZ: Was that your experience with the first record?
MH: Well, I didn’t really know any different. I thought “put a mic here, put a mic there and we’ll just record it,” but I soon learned that was completely wrong and there are lots of magical things you can achieve in a studio.
CZ: Did the songs change much during the recording process?
MH: We wrote a lot of it together, which we hadn’t done before. There was what Claudius would call ‘left turns’. Some of the songs we wrote to completion, but a lot of them we only finished about ninety percent and purposefully left them open-ended. We did that so it could be shaped afterwards and so that we weren’t attached to certain parts. Claudius basically came to our rehearsal every week and made notes, and we agreed with pretty much all of his notes. They changed a lot under his guide.
CZ: Your sardonic lyrics have a quality to them like The Smiths and bands of that ilk. Why do you think their meaning doesn’t get lost in the upbeat melodies?
MH: We’re all just naturally pre-disposed to being a little dark, sort of glass half empty. I will like a song lyrically, even if I don’t like it musically. I also think that in the kind of genre we operate in, a lot of bands will use effects on the vocals, so it almost doesn’t matter what they’re saying. To me, it’s like you eliminate half the possibility of a tune if you do that. I love Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey and I think Alex Turner is amazing. So, lyrics have always been important to me, which is why they’re not always affected.
CZ: Is there a lyric of yours that stands out to you?
MH: I was particularly proud of the internal rhyme, the assonance in the Cruel Ways chorus: “I look to your face and see it’s telling me there’s no retort, and the things I thought are coming true due to your cruel ways.”
CZ: What’s the story behind Conversations with Myself?
MH: That song came about in a kind of Frankenstein way. Erik [Lee Snyder , bass] had written the riff and then I wrote the choruses. Erik gives me books to read from time to time, and he gave me No Exit, the Jean Paul Sartre play, which takes place in a room in purgatory, and it’s kind of about that. Emotional purgatory.
CZ: What themes run through your music?
MH: I’ve always enjoyed listening to people argue, like eavesdropping, and in New York it’s like the richest place you can do it, in terms of subjects or quality of material because people argue on the street all the time. A lot is inspired by books, and then I think writing collaboratively. I wrote the lyrics, but they’re sort of a product of talking about certain things, so they’re kind of a compilation.
CZ: What brought about the change in how you write?
MH: To start off with, I was only writing songs because I wanted to play live, so in order to play live you need songs. It was kind of a fluke that we ended up touring it. We always intended to write together, and everyone’s got really good taste and a good bullshit radar, so I used to filter the songs through the other guys anyway. It’s kind of like that, but everyone had ideas this time around.
CZ: Do you disagree on much?
MH: Yeah, on a lot of things. But we tend to focus on our common ground rather than our differences. Diplomacy is the key.
CZ: Your live shows are really energetic, but unlike other bands of this nature, on record it isn’t as raw. Is this a conscious decision?
MH: Yeah, I think there should be something different; not just between the record and the live show, but it should feel different from gig to gig. You’re performing with an audience, and that adds a different level of enthusiasm or drunkenness. I like enthusiastic crowds. We’re in sort of a weird point now where we’re playing predominantly new songs to people who’ve never heard them, so I think once the record comes out that’ll be a lot easier. There are a lot of variables in a live show and I think that should be reflected per situation. We also all grew up playing in punk bands, so there’s probably an element of that we can’t get rid of. It’s ingrained in us, so no matter how slick or synth-y the album may be, there’s sort of a scrappiness we can’t let go of.
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