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Dollars to Pounds: Drowners

San Francisco-born Kim Taylor Bennett fled to Europe at 11, currently resides in London and once played guitar onstage with Green Day. She’ll report on new British music every other week.

Last year, I decamped from London to New York for a two-month sojourn. One of the bars I found myself frequenting in the East Village was Black Market on 7th and Avenue A, where I met the wry, quick-quipping Matt Hitt, who DJs there every Sunday evening: “Matt Hitt plays the hits.” If he’s at Black Market, you can pretty much guarantee a hilarious number of pretty girls perched on bar stools making moon-eyes at Matt.

Hitt’s been playing rhythm guitar in the band Skaters for the best part of a year, but he’s also the frontman of Drowners. Born in a small village in the Rhondda Valley in Wales, Hitt’s been having an on/off love affair with New York since he flew out to the States to teach guitar at a summer camp at 19. Sweet-talked by a model scout in Times Square, Hitt has spent the past six years slouching down international catwalks for Gucci, Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen and Rag & Bone, among many others. He might be living in New York, but the breezy indie-bop jangle of  “Long Hair” and the rest of the songs off his debut EP are unequivocally Britpop. (It’s also the first release on ex-Kaiser Chief Nick Hodgson’s label, Birthday Records.)

I caught up with Hitt a few weeks ago, when he was back in Wales visiting his family and trying to lay down some “subpar demos”. Read my interview below and check out the video for “Long Hair,” featuring cameos by Blood Orange, Spector, Har Mar Superstar, Skaters, Adam Green and Alexa Chung.

Before Christmas you came over to the UK with Skaters for a sold out mini-tour, which finished in Hull. True or false, after the show you went round the club asking girls: “Do you want to kiss me?” Haha! That’s not true! Not true. That might be true. I can’t remember!

I think it might be true, but I heard none of the girls were interested. I suppose I’m not their cup of tea in Hull. I don’t know whose cup of tea I am!

Maybe you’re just a hit with American girls due to the accent. That’s depressing. That means I can never pull a deaf American. No! That’s not true! It didn’t happen. Michael [Cummings, Skaters’ frontman] and I are the only single ones, and Michael went home early so I was the only one to pick on.

Lyrically, do you tend to pull from a personal place, or keep it observant and detached? There have been a few occasions where people I’ve written songs about have been in the crowd and then I’ve thought, “Oh God I hope they don’t pick up on this little in-joke that I’ve put in verse two!”

Has anyone asked you straight off, “Is this about me?” No, but I’ve probably drunkenly, willingly told people in an attempt to seduce them! Haha! “You know, song four, that was all for you!”

What was the first music that made an impression on you? My grandfather—who was like a Teddy Boy—made me a mixtape of ’50s music when I was ten. It was full of very clichéd stuff for Americans, I imagine, but not that clichéd for someone from Wales. I was like, “Hey man, Buddy Holly, Eddy Cochrane, that shit’s cool, I’m going to get a guitar!” I didn’t bother learning guitar for another two years.

Would you consider yourself a British band or a New York band? My vocabulary and references are British, but everyone else in the band is American. Invariably, from writing the music until we play it live, it changes, because Erik [Snyder] and Jack [Ridley] play in a really American way. American guitarists play in a totally different way than British guitarists. The songs they first learn to play are different; their techniques are just slightly different. My music is British till I take it to them and they impregnate it with America! I’m like a British mother impregnated by American sperm.

What do you miss most about the UK? I miss old British people. I think they’re more charming than old American people. Like really old women in shops, when they talk to you and ask you to get something off the shelf for them, they call you “Love”. I miss kind, old people. I also miss pubs. If you go to a bar [in New York] it’s got all the same type of people in it, or everyone in there is within 15 years of each other. And they’re probably all wearing very similar clothes. Bars tend to be for genres of people, whereas pubs are full of weirdos. I miss that.

There’s definitely more of an everyman sense about pubs in the UK… It’s nice to be able to sit next to a bunch of nurses who just go off work, and then on the other side a bunch of builders, swearing, and then a bunch of old men, and then a bunch of chavs trying to beat you up. You go into a bar in New York and you’re like, “Ah shit, I’m one of 30 people wearing a leather jacket!” Maybe it’s time I bought a new jacket.

 Maybe it’s time you started hanging out in different bars. Sophie’s, Black Market, you’re bound to find the same sorts of people there. Ha! That’s true. How dare you call me predictable! 

And what do you appreciate in New York? I like that you can walk into a bar and everyone in there is wearing a leather jacket. Haha! When you’re in New York for a long time you forget, but I was reminded of it coming home for Christmas. It’s rare to find so many creative people in such a condensed area. It’s full of people who think weirdly and want to do creative stuff. When you’re in New York you take it for granted, but it’s actually quite a rare thing to be surrounded by it.

It seems like people in New York are pretty proactive. They don’t just talk about doing stuff; they actually do it. Yeah, but I think it’s easier to do it in New York where you can be like, “See you in ten minutes.” Whereas when I lived in London it’d be like, “Right, see you in three hours if the Northern Line ain’t delayed.” Although having said that, there are still a lot of people—plus ones, we’ll call them—who talk about creativity and never do anything.

Although, as clichéd as it sounds, if you’re somewhere like east London, there is that same high population of people involved in interesting projects. Yeah, but I find them a lot more unapproachable than they are in New York. I feel like if I went up to someone in New York and they thought I was a weirdo they’d still say hello. Whereas in London they’d be like, “Alright, you dickhead, fuck off!” And I’m like, “I’m just trying to start an art collective, mate!” Haha! But that’s also a beautiful trait of British people: they’ll just call you out on bullshit.

How are your subpar demos going? I’ve got like four times the space and four times the instruments that I have in my New York apartment where I wrote most of the Drowners material, and I come home to Wales and I’m like, “Gah! I can’t write anything!” I haven’t got a TV in New York, but I have one here. I sit down and have a cup of tea and before I know it four hours have passed! I don’t know what to do. I’ve just been clicking refresh on Facebook and watching Coronation Street. It’s not going that well.

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Dollars to Pounds: Drowners